Bobby Hartlage, St. X teens make headstones for indigent

In the photo above, Bobby Hartlage, left, a member of St. Benedict Church in Lebanon Junction, Ky., and John Clay Storner, a junior at St. Xavier High School, work to add names and birth and death dates on tombstones for the indigent Oct. 25.  (Photo Special to The Record)

In the photo above, Bobby Hartlage, left, a member of St. Benedict Church in Lebanon Junction, Ky., and John Clay Storner, a junior at St. Xavier High School, work to add names and birth and death dates on tombstones for the indigent Oct. 25. (Photo Special to The Record)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Thanks to the work of Bobby Hartlage and students involved in the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society at St. Xavier High School, indigent people buried at Meadowview Cemetery will now have permanent grave markers.

Hartlage, a parishioner of St. Benedict Church in Lebanon Junction, Ky., and about 10 St. X students and faculty members, gathered Oct. 25 at an industrial garage in Fairdale to work on the tombstones.

Hartlage learned about the work of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society in March when he attended the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Catholic Men’s Conference. The society assists those who can’t afford a burial service or who do not have family or friends to attend a service.

At the men’s conference — one of the more than 100 services supported by the Catholic Services Appeal — Hartlage heard Ben Kresse, a theology teacher and moderator of the Ryken Service Club at St. X, speak of the need for volunteers with experience in concrete.

“For many years, we’ve been buying headstones (made out of granite) for $350 a piece. Last fall, we began to look at different ways, to make them out of concrete,” Kresse said.

At left, St. Xavier teachers Bobby Nichols and Ben Kresse and two students place tombstones in the sun to dry. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

At left, St. Xavier teachers Bobby Nichols and Ben Kresse and two students place tombstones in the sun to dry. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Hartlage has experience working in decorative concrete and said he thought he could be of service to the St. X group and those buried in Louisville’s
potter’s field.

“It was something I felt compelled to do. I was very touched with the seminar (Kresse) presented at the men’s conference,” he said.

Through the work of Hartlage and the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office’s initiative “Be A Memory Maker,” Kresse is now able to purchase headstones for $40 a piece.

Kresse said the group is about 500 headstones behind but said they are slowly-but-surely catching up. Hartlage has already made about 60 headstones (including the 20 the students assisted with on Oct. 27) since the spring. Thirty-five markers have been installed, a job the students also help perform.

The simple tombstones measure 12-inches by 16-inches. They include the deceased’s name and his or her birth and death dates.

“Working on the stones helps me concentrate and meditate on certain things. I think it gives people a sense of closure. It’s better than the little plastic white things (which currently serve as markers),” Hartlage said.

About 60 St. X students are involved in the society. Kresse said there is, on average, one funeral a week. (Students from other schools, including Assumption High School, Mercy Academy, Presentation Academy and Trinity High School, also participate in the burials and help create tombstones.)

Jordan Berry, a sophomore at St. X, has been involved in the burial program for two years and said he has learned a great deal from the experience.

“You learn about teamwork when you are all working together for one common goal. We are making these for people that really didn’t have much. It’s really humbling,” he said.

Berry added that he meditates about the person’s life as he works on the headstones.

“I think about how they spent their life. Did they live the way they wanted to?” he said. “It’s good to realize this was someone’s life that we are trying to put closure to. I’m more focused on the dash, the in-between (than on the birth and death dates).”

Tom Ray, a St. X. junior, said it’s important for students like him to support the persons buried in Meadowview Cemetery.

“Knowing that they are already dead and we are still helping them and we are caring about them still is important,” Ray said.

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