A group of students at Catholic Memorial High School, an all-boys college-prep school in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, held a funeral recently for a homeless veteran that they didn’t even know. John T. Fitzmaurice died on Nov. 6 and had no relatives to claim his body. These students heard that this 68-year-old Chelsea veteran would not be given a proper burial, so they decided to take the role of his family and give him the funeral that he deserved.
The students found out that the homeless man they knew only as Jon had no living relatives, and they decided to do something out it. The school partnered with Lazarus Ministry and Lawlar and Crosby Funeral Home to plan a proper funeral. They wanted to pay homage to the veteran and lay him to rest.
According to Catholic Memorial President Dr. Peter Folan, “Paying homage to a veteran, to bring him to our campus, to provide the burial rite he deserves, honor his legacy, and to help our boys realize that we have to stand with those that are marginalized. Those that are poor, those that many of our community casts out.”
So if you thought that all teenagers do are take selfies, you were wrong.
Catholic Memorial said that this is a testament to the students at the school. This kind gesture shows their students' true character, and how they are devoted to helping those in need. While the students didn’t even really know the man, they were grateful for his service and wanted to honor the sacrifices that he had made.
Fitzmaurice was laid to rest at Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon. He was given a full funeral mass in the chapel of Catholic Memorial School. The boys planned a full military funeral for him.
Statistics show that we are failing those who have served our country. While they deserve our respect for protecting us, we are letting them fall through the cracks. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, veterans make up about 11 percent of the United States homeless population, and 45 percent of those homeless vets are African American and Hispanic.
These students decided to honor and respect veterans and to do something. So, how can we take their lead and help veterans that are in need? The good news is that there are many community-based organizations that offer services from housing to counseling to helping veterans get back on their feet.
There are support emergency shelters where you can donate clothes, personal items, food or make cash donations. For a list of homeless veteran service providers in each state, click here. This is a great resource and will give you a place to start.
If you have the skillset and the time, you can volunteer as a mentor, counselor or legal aid. Some veterans come back and they need help learning basic life and social skills. They need employment training and placement and many need substance abuse counseling. If you are a lawyer, you can also donate your time to help veterans with any legal issues that are standing in the way of getting their life back.
You can also help raise funds for different programs. Contact local churches, schools and businesses and see if they are interested in helping you raise money. You can also reach out to large corporations and see if they would be interested in an employee matching program.
And last, like the boys of Catholic Memorial High School, you can help develop homeless veteran burial programs. There are several programs that have been developed over the years that are dedicated to giving homeless veterans proper burials with military honors. For more information on a successful national program, check out Dignity Memorial. Kudos to these boys for giving John the funeral that he deserved. He fought so we can be free and we owed it to him to give him a proper goodbye. RIP John.