Learning a Life Lesson Through the McQuaid Pallbearer Ministry

A Student Reflection on Personal Transformation Through Service


Gabe Gelke, ’19 joins classmates while serving in the McQuaid Pallbearer Ministry.

I was carrying the casket of someone I did not know through a cemetery. I was one of a few people at the burial, none of them family members.

When I woke up on that January morning, I did not know that I was going to challenge a previously held belief. As I put on my tie and dress shirt, it felt like any other normal school day. I was expecting to go to school, be a pallbearer in a burial, and then go hang out with my friends. This Pallbearer Ministry was a new service opportunity offered at McQuaid, and I decided to give it a try for some community service hours. I was not expecting much of it, but I could not have been more wrong as the day was definitely life changing.

As we boarded the little white school bus for the cemetery, my friends and I talked of plans for the weekend, and about the sports scores from the night before. While the creaky bus rolled along, it still just felt like any other day.  Arriving at the cemetery, a question came into my mind. How would I act when I had to bury someone I never even knew? As I got off the bus and was shown by the funeral director how to pick up the casket, I felt a strong wave of sadness come over me. I felt that this woman whom I was burying probably never knew love, and never was able to experience many of the things that I had.

All I heard from my peers around me in school was that homeless people deserved to be homeless as they were lazy and could not find a job. I was caught up in the selfish idea that homeless people need to help themselves, and that we are not responsible for them. I am from a wealthy suburb where there are no homeless people. It was very immature of me to think this, but this idea was ingrained in my mind.

Carrying the casket caused me to think about other homeless people. I now think that many of them are also unfairly put into the conditions that they are living in. Many of them cannot help it, and there is nothing that they can do to change it

After hearing of the accomplishments of this woman’s life, I knew that it was not her fault that she was homeless. She had a very storied career at a major corporation and did not even become homeless until she was 70. There were conditions out of her control that caused her to be put into this tough place.

I feel that even though she did die alone, my friends and I being present at her burial was important. It gave her the dignity she deserved, and even though it seemed to me that her life had not impacted many, it had deeply impacted mine.

By the end of that day I had come to know that she was no different than I, or any of my friends. She was a human person, which meant that she had inherent dignity.

My heart had changed completely on this day. My former belief was ingrained in me, and somehow in a few hours that had changed. I now challenge others, and try to transform their image of the displaced and homeless. By challenging this belief, it pushes me to be present on more cold days to help bury the homeless.