I am greeted by a wooden casket hoisted on the shoulders of eight high school basketball players as I enter the lobby of Catholic Memorial School in early January. An American flag covers the casket. At 8 a.m., I expect a tired expression across the face of each young man and wonder how they will navigate the halls to the narrow chapel.
But, stoic and calm, the boys looked at ease. They walked tall, proud and sure-footed. Their composure surprised me as they made their way into the school chapel. Following the procession, I scanned the room to find an open seat. But the school’s theology classes packed every pew.
I stood in the back-left corner next to the tabernacle and watched the scene unfold. The mood felt different from most funerals. Every person in the room, faculty member and student alike, seemed to know their surroundings. If anything, it gave the school’s fifth funeral service for a homeless military veteran more of a welcoming mood than that of a somber “goodbye.”
A little unsettled, I kept thinking back to my first day of work at Catholic Memorial School. I remembered Vice Principal Tom Ryan giving the school’s new faculty a sound piece of advice: “If you want to let a student know that they’re loved, call them by their name,” he said to us. “After all, someone loved them enough to give them one.”
“If you want to let a student know that they’re loved, call them by their name. After all, someone loved them enough to give them one.”
When a person calls someone by their name, it shows the person that they matter—that they exist in the eyes of at least one other person. But what happens when nobody knows their name? And what happens when those who knew it no longer exist? Who reminds them of their own dignity then?
The questions began to flood my mind in the middle of Father Peter Stamm’s opening prayer. At the sound of the deceased’s name, U.S. Army Veteran Timothy Fowl, I remember thinking, “Who?”
Nobody knew Mr. Fowl at Catholic Memorial School. Few people outside of the school’s all-boys West Roxbury, Mass., campus did either.
In the days leading up to the New Year, a homeless Army veteran named Timothy Fowl passed away at the Brockton VA Hospital—miles away from the Grove Street shelter in Worcester where records show he used to reside.
He deserved better, really. The man sacrificed six years of his life to serve his nation as a medical specialist in the 1980s. He worked as a welder in the years that followed before falling on hard times. Years later his trail went cold.
At the time of his death, Mr. Fowl left behind no known friends or family. He received no heartfelt goodbyes.