WILKES-BARRE — A new program at Holy Redeemer High School will help grieving families carry the weight of their loss.
The Rev. Joseph Elston, chaplain and dean of students at the school, has spearheaded the formation of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry for junior and senior students.
The group has 96 members signed up and willing to act as pallbearers for the elderly, those with small or no family and the indigent.
Elston read about a similar program at a high school in Cleveland, and he decided to organize a ministry at Holy Redeemer. The students have yet to be called upon, but they understand the significance and importance of the duty they have promised to perform.
Four of the students sat down with Elston to discuss the program: Jeremy Worlinsky, 17, of Swoyersville; Matthew Lyons, 16, Forty Fort; Justine Bielecki, 17, Wilkes-Barre; and Thomas Lewis, 17, Pittston.
There are 587 students at Holy Redeemer and the Pallbearer Ministry is the largest student organization in the school.
“When I heard that there is a need for pallbearers it broke my heart,” Bielecki said. “I decided I wanted to help because they shouldn’t be alone. By doing this, it shows there are people who do care enough to want to carry their casket.”
Elston said when the students are assigned — so far all six pallbearers must be needed — the students meet with the deceased’s family to get to know as much as possible about the person they are carrying on their final journey.
And the students will be utilized at funerals for people of all faiths.
“That’s one great thing about the program,” said John V. Morris III, a local funeral director and former president of the Luzerne County Funeral Directors Association. “More and more we are finding there are families who are elderly and there are few members left to act as pallbearers.”
Morris said many funeral directors have had to hire people to carry the casket. He said many of those reliable people are getting older as well.
“The students are young and strong and can navigate hills and rough terrain,” Morris said.
Tribute to deceased
Morris said the program is to be commended because it’s not merely about showing up and carrying a casket. He said by having the students meet with families, it pays a special tribute to the deceased and the students benefit from learning about a person’s life.
“That shows true dignity and respect,” Morris said.
Worlinsky said participating in the ministry is about much more than just a nice thing to do.
“If a person has no family, somebody should be there to carry their casket,” he said.
Lewis agreed, saying having students to serve as pallbearers shows the family that somebody cares and that their loved one can be buried in peace.
“We will be there not because we have to, but because we want to be there,” Lyons said.
The students have to elect officers who will be responsible for assigning the students to each funeral. The students will dress appropriately, wearing their usual school attire — boys will wear a blazer with shirt and tie and the girls will wear their school sweaters and skirts. They will attend the funeral, church service and interment at the cemetery.
Each student will be assigned one funeral per quarter.
The ministry is named after St. Joseph of Arimathea, who owned the grave where Jesus Christ was buried.
Tom McLaughlin, owner of McLaughlin Funeral Home on South Washington Street, said there are often times when pallbearers are needed. He said having the students available is a “truly wonderful” service to the community.
“Father Elston and Holy Redeemer are to be commended for starting the program,” McLaughlin said.
Elston said ministry members will assemble the morning of the funeral for a brief prayer in the school chapel, then be briefed on the person they are going to serve and leave for the funeral. Transportation will be provided by the school.
When the student pallbearers arrive at the funeral home, they will pay their condolences to the family and await further instructions from the funeral director.
When the funeral is over, the students will return to school.