Over two dozen people gathered in Dunkirk to pay respects to a life lost.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish hosted a memorial service on March 14, for "Baby Jesse." a fetus discovered last August on the shore of Lake Erie State Park just south of Dunkirk.
Bishop Richard J. Malone and diocesan Pro-Life Activities Director Cheryl Calire wanted to make sure the remains of the baby were treated with respect and given an appropriate burial.
"My first concern, of course is for the little one found and the family," said Bishop Malone. "When we first heard and read the news, we began to make an inquiry about the fetus. Our particular concern was that a fetal death certificate be issued and that the child would have a proper burial."
A fetal death certificate is given when a fetus dies after 20 weeks. New York state health code law states that after 20 weeks of gestation, the remains must be treated as human remains.
Father Dennis Riter, pastor of St. Elizabeth's, delivered the homily at the memorial Mass.
"Today, in a small way, we come to affirm the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death," he said. "We don't know the circumstance by which this tiny child, yet unborn, lived and died. Somehow his body came to rest on a nearby beach. We don't know about his mother and father, and certainly we have not come to condemn them. But we do know that this fetus, although early in gestation, was a child of God, sacred because God had breathed into him the great breath of God. His soul is destined to live forever.
"Although never baptized, we commend little Jesse to God, trusting in the mystery of God's providence beyond all human calculations. We trust in the mystery of God's absolute, unconditional love, revealed in the cross of Jesus."
After the Mass, guests drove to nearby St. Mary's Cemetery, where Jesse was laid to rest across from the Shrine for the Unborn.
"Lord God, ever caring and gentle, we commit to your love this little one and hold him in eternal life. We pray for his parents. Give them courage. Where they will all meet one day in the joy and peace of Your kingdom, through Christ our Lord," Father Riter prayed.
Calire thanked all those in attendance and those who helped make the service and burial possible.
"It's important that we not just talk the talk, but we walk the walk," she said.
One lady in attendance came in memory of her own son that had died very young.
"I'm here just because I value life from conception to natural death," said Dunkirk resident Sally Keppel. "I had a little boy who died naturally, but have learned through that how precious life is, and just want to be here to support whoever needs it."
Michael LaMarca, a seminarian doing his field study with the Office of Pro-Life Activities, also attended the service.
"In many ways this has been a journey with Baby Jesse. I was thinking on Saturday during the memorial service that this was a completion of Jesse's ministry. Jesse's purpose brought a lot of education and awareness to me and to everyone there present. There's a sense of ministry completed," he said.
A family walking along the shoreline discovered the body Aug. 28, 2014. Erie County Medical Examiner determined the age to be 18 to 20 weeks. The cause of death was labeled intrauterine fetal demise or stillbirth.
Calire read about the discovery of Jesse and wondered what would happen if no one claimed the body.
"(Authorities) put out a plea, if anyone knew anything about it, to come forward, but my thought was, if no one comes forward, what's going to happen with this little baby," she wondered.
In December she was named custodian of the fetus, which she had named Jesse while in adoration.
The day before the service on March 13, Pope Francis declared Dec. 8, 1015 to Nov. 20, 2016 to be the Year of Mercy.
"I can't help but think that shows, in a small way, the richness of the teachings of our Church, that we are not in any way condemning or making accusation or anything in regards to this infant. We are proclaiming that we value human life at all stages," Calire said.