QUINCY -- Quincy Notre Dame High School junior Harry Zhang refers to Scripture to help explain his motivation for serving others in a time of loss.
"In Bibles they said feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bury the dead," Zhang said. "We do what we can do."
When a family working with Duker and Haugh Funeral Home doesn't have people able to serve as pallbearers, students involved in QND's St. Joseph of Arimathea Society step into the role.
"This is just a way to show our support and love and prayers to the family that is going through a hard time and show that they're not alone in this," QND senior Jenna Zanger said. "I just thought it was a great opportunity to share my faith with them."
QND started offering the service informally last spring with a small group of seniors. Then this school year, they formed the society named for the man who took Jesus down from the cross and placed him in his tomb.
"I read a couple of articles of some other schools across the nation that did a similar thing and thought that's a really positive thing to fulfill the mission of the school and everything we're trying to do," said Mike Young, who oversees QND's campus ministry.
"We talk about Catholic social teaching, and one of those things is bury the dead. That's a hard one to live out (beyond) going to visitation and funerals for people we know. How do we live out that call from Jesus to bury the dead? This is a real tangible way to do that."
Young took the idea to Jared Haugh at the funeral home, who wondered at first how much of a need there would be.
"Then it seemed like right off the bat we had several families -- small families or families way out of town -- who needed pallbearer assistance. It's worked real well," Haugh said. "We've used it more than I really thought we would."
About 20 QND students participate, with six on hand for each burial. They've seen people buried simply or with full military honors.
"It's really a cool experience, really humbling," Zanger said. "We present the family with our condolences and with a card saying we will hold Mass in the dead's honor and we will continue to pray for them."
The funeral home provides training and detailed directions for the students, which Zanger said was needed.
"I'd never done this," she said. "I was kind of nervous. I don't want to mess this up."
Before each funeral or burial, the students and Young hold a prayer service in the QND Chapel.
"We pray for the soul of the dead and also their family. We learn a little bit more about this person so we have a sense of who they are," Zanger said.
The students go where needed -- churches for a full Catholic Mass and burial, the funeral home or the cemetery. They earn service hours for their work, but more important, they make a connection with the community.
"I've been honored to be a pallbearer two other times for family members, and having that connection with that person and having that love for that person just gave me this really whole sense inside," QND senior Andrew Dixon said. "With the visitation and the service, we hear about their life. We hear stories from the family. It's like we are the family then."
The students then work together to serve the family.
"It's all about teamwork," Dixon said. "If you're distributing the load, no matter who it is, it's not terribly heavy."
The society is open to all QND students, male and female.
"You have the cliche movie scene where there are a bunch of guys walking out in all black carrying the casket, but it's nice to see girls our ages are interested and willing to participate and give back like that," Dixon said. "It also shows that the guys can have a sensitive side. If the girls are willing to do something like that, the guys can, too."
Heading back to school after a burial, the students always reflect on the experience.
"The best part is seeing how we can make such a difference in their life doing such a small thing and taking a little bit of time out of our day," Zanger said. "They are so appreciative. It just means the world to them."
Young hopes to see QND expand the service to Quincy's other funeral homes.
"It's not like we're just serving those who are Catholic because we're a Catholic school. It's for anyone who has the need," he said.
"Pallbearers are necessary to a funeral. There's no way around it, so it certainly has helped us in the practical sense. The kids have been great -- respectful, mature, just what we need," Haugh said. "Both us and the families have been blessed by it."