(Note: Chicago, IL – Baby Zachary Lucas Johnson made headlines early in January 2012 when a 13 year old girl put him in the trash in Country Club Hills. He was dead by the time police found him. He is making headlines again at a unique funeral with six additional babies who were left unclaimed or disclaimed by their parents.)
I don't usually talk much about my ministry here at St. Raymond (although all kind of wonderful things are happening), but there is something I'd like to share with you. On September 24th we celebrated the funeral for seven abandoned babies whose bodies were being held at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office from one to two years. These babies were found in terrible situations – landfills, garbage cans, or were the victims of criminal activity.
This came about through one of our school moms who founded Rest In His Arms after she read a tiny article in the newspaper a few years ago about a baby's body that was found in a landfill. Susan was inspired to do something to give this baby a dignified and respectful funeral and went about researching how to do this. The result was the creation of Rest In His Arms. Susan approached our pastor to ask if we could be the host parish for this service and he said "yes" and then asked me, as the Director of Care Ministries, to coordinate everything with Susan.
There are no words to describe this experience. As heart-rending as it was, so many people and organizations have given of themselves to make this happen. A local funeral home donated their time and personnel to provide all the arrangements needed and the Archdiocese of Chicago has donated graves throughout the archdiocesan cemeteries for this purpose. These babies were buried at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. Because there were seven little caskets, we actually built pedestals which we placed on the altar steps and draped with coverings sewn by one of our cantors. One of our Moms Plus groups provided teddy bears which we placed by each pedestal and then took to the cemetery, and the members of our Seamless Garment/Respect Life Committee laid a yellow rose on the caskets during the offertory.
Each of the caskets was carried in during the entrance procession by someone involved with Rest In His Arms...from the medical examiner's office, from Save the Abandoned Babies, the director of the mortuary school, and by Hank, our business manager. One casket was carried by the deputy chief and a detective from the Cook County Sheriff's office who found and investigated the death of that baby. If the babies are not named, Susan names them so they each have an identity. She explained that often the police officer or sheriff who finds them will give the babies a name.
Steve Dombrowski, our pastor, gave a wonderful homily without diminishing the tragedy and reality of what happened to these babies. He incensed each one during the final commendation and blessed each one with holy water as they were leaving the church. Over 200 of our parishioners and visitors gathered around these babies for the mass and also came to the cemetery to lay them to rest.
This was covered on WGN and ABC TV news; WBBM radio, and in the Chicago Tribune.
I feel it was a grace and a privilege to do this for these babies. As Susan said during our many planning meetings, these are not just her babies; they are all of our babies.
Further information about Rest In His Arms can be found at www.restinhisarms.org and Save the Abandoned Babies at www.saveabandonedbabies.org.