As part of a collaboration between Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston and Catholic Cemeteries, the two entities came together on Aug. 2 to bless and dedicate a new space on the grounds of Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Lewiston for families who have suffered losses associated with miscarriage. The newly dedicated section of the cemetery is designated specifically for fetuses aged 20 weeks or younger.
On hand were representatives of Mount St. Mary's, Catholic Cemeteries and Catholic Health, including Julie Berrigan, executive director of the Mount St. Mary's Hospital Foundation; Sister Linda Lewandowski, OSF, chaplain of Mount St. Mary's; Aimee Gomlak, vice president of women's services for Catholic Health; Carmen Colao, director of Catholic Cemeteries, and Gary C. Tucker, hospital president/CEO.
After brief words from speakers and a prayer led by Sister Linda, they released boxes of butterflies by a stone butterfly monument Thomas Koch, president of Stone Art Memorial, made for the event.
"Those who will use this plot will come from diverse backgrounds. They will be rich or poor, black or white or brown. They will be different in many ways, but united by a common circumstance of which they have no control. They will experience a common grief for a child who was not long on this earth," Tucker said. "What we are doing here today is lessening the burden of that grief by providing them with a sacred plot of land on which to bury their loved one, a plot of land that God has blessed."
The dedicated section of the cemetery is a project of the Footprints on the Heart Program, which Mount St. Mary's now offers in order to help families who have gone through miscarriages, stillbirths, ectopic pregnancies or death of newborn babies and are struggling in these situations. Services include help with burial arrangements, counseling services, support groups and a chance to work with other parents.
"This program supports people in their most vulnerable period of their lives," Tucker said of Footprints on the Heart. "The length of time that this baby has been in their life varies from no time at all, to sometimes months or a couple of years. This allows them a chance to have support for grieving, healing and to come back and reconnect with their loved one whenever they need to as a source of support."
The partnership between Gate of Heaven Cemetery and Mount St. Mary's is the third such arrangement in the diocese. Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kenmore works with Sisters Hospital in Buffalo, and Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna does the same with Mercy Hospital in Buffalo. Both of these cemeteries also have similar sections for the smallest remains buried on their grounds. By continuing this into Niagara County, Colao expressed gratitude that the diocese has been able to continue expanding this service.
According to Colao, the project came about when he spoke with Berrigan and Koch, who has worked closely with Catholic Cemeteries for many years. "When I spoke to him about a project, he said, 'I've got something that will work out perfectly for this.' As you can see, it's a beautiful monument," Colao continued, referring to the stone butterfly. "I'm proud of the way this all came together."
"On behalf of our Catholic Cemeteries organization, the Diocese of Buffalo, in particular our staff that are here today, we'd like to single out our fine staff here at Gate of Heaven Cemetery," said Colao. "Under the direction of Peter Nicosia, our superintendent, (they) do a beautiful job in caring for all of our deceased loved ones that have been buried here, and hopefully some day we'll all be together with again."
Tucker, who fathered a baby lost at 26 weeks gestation, chose Gate of Heaven for the burial. "This space here, this sacred space, is here to remember the babies and to help families honor and remember their baby and come here and reconnect," he said. "We're very proud and grateful to our partners, Carmen Colao for providing this opportunity for us to have this here, and Mr. Koch, for the wonderful work of art."
After the dedication ceremony, Colao said, "It's just a beautiful partnership if we can bring comfort to those families that have lost a loved one like this and promise them permanent placement, and hopefully a home where we're all going to be together again someday with our Lord."