They entered and left through the narrow gate.
In between, they participated in the Communion of Saints, sharing prayer and fellowship with those who had gone before them.
About 50 eighth-graders from St. Peter Interparish School in Jefferson City took part in an All Souls Day pilgrimage to their parish cemetery.
Father Jeremy Secrist, pastor of St. Peter parish, led them and several teachers in praying the Rosary together as they walked about a mile.
Upon arriving, they gathered around the burial place of Monsignor Joseph Selinger, who was pastor St. Peter Parish from 1904-38.
Fr. Secrist talked to them about the Communion of Saints and of the need to remember and pray for those who had lived and died before them.
“I realize that cemeteries are oftentimes around this time of year places that are scary,” he told them. “But I’d ask you to keep in mind that actually, cemeteries, along with churches, are the holiest ground you could be standing on.
“Because this ground, this place, has been consecrated or blessed, so that all of these people — some of whom might be relatives of yours — are resting here, and we pray in peace, awaiting the Resurrection,” he said.
He pointed out that most of the headstones face east, the direction from which the Bible indicates Jesus will arrive at His Second Coming.
“All of these who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, are awaiting the return of the Lord,” the priest said, “so that when He calls them forth from the grave, they will rise to meet Him.”
The students spent some time quietly exploring the cemetery, including the burial places of some of their relatives and ancestors.
“As you go about, remember the people who are still in need of your prayers,” Fr. Secrist told them.
In loving memory
Cambri VanLoo felt surrounded by God’s love during the procession to the cemetery.
“I knew God was looking down on us and watching over us,” she said.
She found peace at the cemetery, as well.
“I saw many familiar last names of people I know,” she stated. “This made me think about all of my relatives that have passed away that I don’t even know about.”
She called to mind her great-grandmother, who had recently passed away.
She’s convinced that her prayers can help those who have gone before her reach the fullness of union with God.
“They may need some extra prayers to make it there,” she said. “We need everyone to pray for all the people who have passed away.”
Let us assist them
Lauren Mathews and several friends drifted about the rows of weathered headstones, taking in the names and dates.
“We made the observation that several people died under the age of 50 or even younger,” she said. “It reminded me how lucky we are to live in this modern age of medicine.”
She said many people think of a cemetery as someplace creepy.
“To me, it is a place where we reflect on the lives who were buried there,” she said.
This was her first All Souls Day visit to a cemetery.
“As Catholics, we believe that our souls go to either Heaven or Hell, and our remains stay on Earth after we die,” she stated. “The souls that die in a right relationship with God enter purgatory after death to cleanse themselves from sin before entering heaven.”
That’s why it’s important to pray for them, on All Souls Day and throughout the year.
“Our prayers themselves cannot free people from purgatory,” she noted, “but we can speed up the process by praying for them.”
Payton Ratcliff wanted to visit the graves of those who had been there the longest.
“I figured that they have less family members that remember them,” she said, “so I wanted to pray for them and hope their life was good.”
Richard Mosha spoke of asking God to be merciful to the souls in purgatory and to help them find the right path.
“It is important we ask God to do this because sometimes even lost souls might need a little help every once in a while,” he said.
Payton said it’s important to keep the faithful departed in prayer.
“When you pray for the dead, it can connect you with Jesus in a lot of ways,” she said. “It can show you how to become calm with giving your spirit to God.”
“No matter what, everyone should be loved, living or dead,” she added.
Works of art
Sophia Abbott felt a cascade of emotions during the pilgrimage.
She found the cemetery, still resplendent with autumn color, to be quiet and peaceful — “a beautiful place to rest forever.”
Yet, each grave has its own sad story to tell about passing from this life into the next.
“You could feel the quiet and gloom in the air,” she said. “You could picture all the funerals and tears there.”
She said each of the graves contains a work of art — “art that grew on with the person and gained color and life as the years went on and even in death their art continues in heaven.”
“Each person is a work of art and never stops being that way, even in their eternal resting place,” she said.
The graves themselves, while paved with tears and sadness, are also works of art and love.
“So while I was there, I made sure to remember to pray and thank God for the lives these people had,” she said.
“It’s nice to take it all in on a quiet day and remember that even in death, you never stop being a beautiful creation of God and His own work of art,” she stated.
Awaiting the Resurrection
Seven of Sady Garner’s relatives are at rest in St. Peter Cemetery.
Among them are her great-great grandparents, Otto and Kate Kroeger; her great-grandparents, George and Mary Scheppers; her great-great aunt, Rose Anne Masters and her husband Frank Masters.
“Also buried with them is my cousin Corina Pfenenger, who died at birth,” she said.
Foster Dunlap said he found the pilgrimage interesting. He saw gravestones of people who died long ago, and some with surnames he had heard before.
“This was a little weird to see due to their still being some relatives of theirs that are still alive,” he stated.
He was surprised to hear Fr. Secrist talk about cemeteries as some of the holiest places.
He thought about how some of the people at rest in the cemetery are still in purgatory, awaiting heaven.
“It is important to remember those who have died and to pray for them, to try to help them be able to reach heaven faster,” he said.
“We may be able to help them pray for us, too,” he added.
Carved in stone
Calen Jones beheld many interesting things.
“I saw some very cool gravestones such as a big statue of Jesus,” he said. “There was also a gravestone that looked like a mini version of the Washington Monument.”
He was intrigued to find the burial places of priests who had died while serving at St. Peter Parish.
He paused at a section of babies that died anywhere from 6 months to 2 years old.
He peered into a mausoleum containing two coffins illuminated by sunlight through stained glass.
“Being there made me think about how I will have to deal with losing a loved one in the future,” he said.
The weathered headstones reminded him of people who no longer have anyone on earth to pray for them.
“It’s important for us to remember and pray for those who have died because they could need our help,” he said. “We ask God to have mercy on each person so that they succeed in the final judgement.”
The students gathered again around Msgr. Selinger’s burial place to pray and receive a blessing from Fr. Secrist before walking back to school.
Lauren said going to the cemetery and praying the Rosary with her classmates was amazing and uplifting.
Payton said she felt really close to God during the pilgrimage.
“I’m very glad that I get to go to this school because I get the opportunity to pray with the Lord and focus on all the gifts,” she said. “Walking field trips like this one give me the experience of always having God in my life.”
“I felt satisfied after we were finished with our walk because we did something good,” said Cambri. “I am happy that we got to have this experience.”