What are my words now in my sorrow?
Today, Jim Skerl, was honored by his family, friends, and all those he touched. His Mass was beautiful and moving. Jim had arranged it all before his death so as not to be a burden to his family.
Something in the service that was quite unique left me trembling in the Love that was being expressed for this man. Here’s the background on this.
Jim was a theology teacher at St. Ignatius High School, in Cleveland, OH. About 12 yrs ago he wanted to have his students “live” their Christian faith in the local community.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Visit the imprisoned
- Bury the dead
Jim was attending to his students spiritually by suggesting they take one of the Corporal Works of Mercy out into their world. He began a program called the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Society. It’s open to only upperclassmen and more than 300 students each year take part.
The name of the program comes from the story when Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus claimed the body of Jesus after he died on the cross. See: John 19:38-42.
When someone dies and that person doesn’t have many friends or family, pallbearers are needed. There is a makeshift cemetery called “Potters Field” where indigent people (often with no name) are buried. Many of the graves are marked only with two sticks making a cross.
Jim wanted the young men of St. Ignatius to be available for these people as pallbearers and anyone else who might need them. Word spread and soon they had requests for several 100 pallbearers every year.
Back to the service today. I had wondered that so many of his students would want to be his pallbearers and how they might be chosen, if at all. Before the procession of the casket and Jim’s family, about 200 or so young men lined up on either side of the aisle. At first I wondered what was happening but it became clear almost immediately. They were all current or former students who had participated in this program of pallbearers. It truly was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. They were ALL his pallbearers.
Jim created many other programs with his students to serve the Cleveland community. You can read more about these here.
I met Jim back in the 90’s at John Carroll University (where he also went to college). He taught an evening class, Introduction to Religious Studies. This was my very first class at Carroll. I will never forget it.
I was raised as a Catholic; however, it had been a long time since I had been “practicing” my faith. I chose to attend Carroll partially to re-visit my beliefs AND it is a great school! It can only now seem like divine providence that my 1st class was with Mr. Skerl.
I was also taking a journalism class at the time and we had to write an article about someone with whom we were impressed. I chose Jim. I learned more about this man while interviewing him. Little did I know the real impact he was having on me at the time. He re-invigorated my faith in many ways beyond just his class. I got an “A” on the article, ha ha, but it was pretty easy given my subject.
Back in 1999 my mom died of pancreatic cancer. While I was at the hospice with my mom night after night, I reached out to Jim for guidance. We had stayed in touch periodically. He was a comfort to me in a very sad time. Jim also died of pancreatic cancer.
His students thought he was cool. He said his father used to call him “simple shit.” But, he was very proud of him.
Simple? Maybe – as in living simply. But, Jim was wealthy in his soul.
In one of Jim’s favorite books, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a fox tells The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “You become responsible forever for what you have tamed.”
Jim Skerl lived this.
During the service, the priest said that Jim’s nephew had said, “God must be so excited to get Uncle Jim there!”
I loved Jim Skerl.
Today, when you are out and about, please consider these words from Les Misérables (that Jim loved), “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Live your goodness.