BOSTON — On a sunny, cool day in early December, the friars of St. Anthony Shrine laid to rest three abandoned infants during a private, poignant burial at Mount Calvary Cemetery.
The Shrine’s Lazarus Ministry was doing what it has done for 10 years — celebrating Masses of Christian Burial for forgotten men, women and children, in this case, babies abandoned at local hospitals.The quiet service for Ada, Evan and John caught the attention of the Boston media, shining a light on this ministry to the forgotten.
“It’s an awful burden for these Franciscan friars to bear,” said a television reporter during the local Channel 5 news report. But the friars at the shrine take comfort in knowing they are able to perform this service for those with no family to attend them.
“I’m pleased that we were able to do this,” said Brian Cullinane, OFM, assistant director of the shrine church on Arch Street, in an interview with WCVB. “Even though these children were, in a way, forgotten, we want to celebrate that they are special in the eyes of God.”
Since it was established, the Lazarus Ministry has held funerals at no charge for 139 people, nearly one third of whom have been infants. The shrine has five plots in the Boston area and is working to raise money to purchase headstones for each one.
Before the Dec. 4 service, a small handwoven blanket and a teddy bear decorated by John Jaskowiak, OFM, with a ribbon and medal of Our Lady were lovingly tucked into each tiny casket. Philip O’Shea, OFM, who delivered the homily, told The Boston Herald that he was honored to participate in the Mass for the infants, but the service tugged at his heartstrings.
“These are people, these are fellow human beings,” Philip said. “You feel sorry that they couldn’t have stayed a little longer among us, and they couldn’t discover some of the wonders of life.”
Though the situation is heart-wrenching, the friars do not put blame on the parents for leaving their children.
“I think the parents are really damaged and hurt themselves,” Barry Langley, OFM, told The Boston Herald. “Whatever their personal circumstances were in the first place that caused them to abandon the baby, we’re not condemning them. It’s just the reality.”
Philip noted that though there is sadness in the situation surrounding the infants, there is also joy: “We believe that they are with the Lord, and that’s where we all want to be.”
Photos of the funeral and the burial can be found on the shrine’s Facebook page.
— Jocelyn Thomas is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.