West Roxbury, Mass.— On Monday morning, the hearse carrying the body of U.S. Navy veteran Mr. Edward Beckman pulled into the front entrance of Catholic Memorial School where senior Marcus Gadsden stood alongside his speech and debate teammates.
Together, they prepared to serve as pallbearers for Mr. Beckman upon the request of CM's Vice Principal of Mission Integration Mr. Kevin Durazo.
However, Marcus knew little about pallbearing.
In fact, he knew little about Mr. Beckman aside from his military service and that he died with no known living friends or family. But, seeing the school's American flag at half-mast and watching the U.S. Navy guards greet the hearse, Marcus remembered the sense of purpose behind CM’s longstanding tradition of hosting veteran funerals.
“I think that, because a veteran risked their life for us, this is the least that I can do for them,” said Marcus, a senior from Randolph.
“They put their life on the line to give us the privileges that we have today. They let us live the life that we want to live. Personally, I’ll remember this event for a while.”
When the hearse opened its back door, Marcus hoisted the casket side-by-side his seven other teammates. Together, they carried Mr. Beckman into the school’s chapel where several CM theology classes gathered to provide a veteran who risked his life to serve his country, and who died with nobody else left to honor him, with a proper goodbye.
Mr. Beckman's funeral service marked the sixth veteran service hosted at CM in the past three years, a tradition that continues to shape the hearts and minds of the students who participate.
“I think that, coming from a Christian Brothers school and a Catholic education, we’re taught to help and to advocate for [the marginalized], especially our veterans,” said Marcus, who co-captains the speech and debate team at CM.
“It’s an honorable act and just the right thing to do. By committing yourself to living a life for others is the mission of our school and our Church.”
Father Wayne Belschner from St. Mary’s of the Assumption Parish in Dedham celebrated the funeral Mass. He applauded the classes in attendance for inviting Mr. Beckman (1951-2019) into their school community. According to Lawler and Crosby Funeral Home, Mr. Beckman died from leukemia and received an honorable discharge from the Navy in the early 1970s. At the time of his death, no known living friends or family claimed his remains.
After a short set of eulogies, CM President Dr. Folan addressed those sitting in the chapel. He explained how CM’s tradition of hosting funerals for veterans with no known living friends or family began in November of 2017 when the school laid to rest Army veteran John T. Fitzmaurice.
According to Dr. Folan, the practice provides a service to veterans who risked their lives serving their nation. It also serves as a manifestation of the CM Campus Ministry Department's mission, which calls for solidarity with the marginalized.
“Ethos is the Greek word for character,” said Dr. Folan.
“Ethos is used to describe the beliefs, principles, codes, and culture of a community. The challenge is to bring forth the values of an organization. Every organization has core values that they embody.”
Dr. Folan believes that the tradition builds a solid sense of character in the hearts and minds of every student who walks through the halls of CM.
“Here at CM, we embrace Gospel values,” he said.
“The funerals that we host are ways that we bring our ethos, our vision, and our character to life. These works of mercy have a profound impact on our boys and their faith. The act itself inspires them and helps them to see the world broader than themselves.”
Led by Vice Principal of Mission Integration Mr. Kevin Durazo and Associate Director of Campus Ministry Mr. Michael Dermody, the school’s Campus Ministry program encourages students to put such character into action. As a collective school community, students at CM complete over 16,000 service hours in the greater-Boston area each year at organizations such as homeless shelters, food pantries, and the neighboring West Roxbury Veteran's Affairs Hospital.
Upon the conclusion of Mr. Beckman’s funeral Mass, the speech and debate team returned to their duty. They lifted the casket of Mr. Beckman from the school chapel and brought him to the flag pole in front of the school.
There, Navy Honor Guards presented Mr. Beckman with full military rights when they played Taps and presented the nation’s flag to Marcus and his teammates.
In a final moment of silence, the ceremony ended. However, according to Marcus, the tradition left a permanent mark on his social conscious.
“In the future, I think I’m going to take service more to heart.,” said Marcus, after the hearse departed.
“I’m going to think harder about the purpose behind what I am doing. Is it meaningful? How will it affect me and change me as a person while I’m still affecting other people’s lives? These are the questions that I know I need to ask myself after experiencing such a profound ceremony.”