Two Delbarton School boys clad in school uniforms — khakis, dark sports coats and green ties — were solemn as they bore a tiny casket across the snow-covered ground.
The small, white coffin held the body of an abandoned infant boy who was being laid to rest at the historic Orchard Street cemetery in Dover, just 3½ miles from where the boy's body was found in Mine Hill in October.
The pallbearers — members of Wave-4-Live, a pro-life ministry at the Roman Catholic school in Morristown — were burying the child because of their chosen spiritual work: honoring unclaimed bodies for burial.
Earlier Monday, before the interment, the schoolboys, who petitioned the Morris County Superior Court to obtain the infant's remains, held a funeral at the school's St. Mary's Abbey Church in Morris Township. It was the ministry's fourth, and its second for a stillborn, Wave-4-Life adviser and Delbarton science teacher Elizabeth Mainairdi said.
As the students did their duty, eight of their peers, also clad in their Delbarton uniforms, stood by, holding white lilies and gerbera daisies. Above them, the sky was overcast, and the snow crunched as they walked toward the plot, donated by the cemetery, where they laid Anthony Mary — the name they'd chosen for the infant — in his grave.
The students huddled around the burial plot, nestled on a hillock among graves of Civil War soldiers, as the Rev. Hilary O'Leary read the Rite of Committal.
After prayers, the preparatory school students gently placed their flowers on the boy's casket before it was entombed.
"We think every life is worth a shot and worth a fight," John Manahan, a Delbarton junior, reflected after the services.
Monday's scene in Dover brought touching closure to a tragic case that unfolded in late October. On Oct. 24, the stillborn boy was found at the privately owned ReCommunity Recycling Center on Iron Mountain Road in Mine Hill. An employee found the body while sorting through recyclables brought in by trucks from at least 15 municipalities in Morris, Sussex and Warren counties. After an investigation by the Morris County Medical Examiner and the Prosecutor's Office, Delbarton gained custody of the boy's body and students prepared for his funeral.
A funeral and a ministry
Earlier at St. Mary's Abbey, Billy Schroeder, a senior at the elite high school, was composed as he eulogized Anthony Mary in front of 100 fellow students, parents and faculty members gathered for the Mass of Christian burial celebrated by the O'Leary. Others in the Wave-4-Life club served as pallbearers, altar boys, vocalists and Scripture readers.
"We recognize that his mother is probably scared, heartbroken and distraught," Schroeder said. "Just as we pray for baby Anthony, we should pray for his mother and father in this difficult time. Even when our society may not show respect for each and every life, we believe in the sanctity of life."
Upon hearing about the baby, Mainardi, the adviser, contacted attorney Drew Bauman, a former priest who has arranged guardianships for hundreds in his legal career. Working with the Morris County Prosecutor's Office and county Medical Examiner's Office, Bauman received permission from the Superior Court on Dec. 8 to serve as administrator over the deceased child so Delbarton could hold a funeral and bury him.
Students echoed O'Leary's funeral remarks that every life is precious.
"We don't want this child to be forgotten. We've come here out of love and respect," O'Leary said.
Students sang the school's hymn, Be Thou My Vision, as a classmate carried a crucifix and led the young pallbearers out of the church to the waiting hearse. Next to the casket was a framed message from Scripture that read: "You are worth more than many sparrows."
'We'll remember him forever'
"We showed today to Anthony Mary that he's part of the Delbarton community, and we want to extend our love to him and his parents," Manahan said.
Junior Finn Gannon, one of the two pallbearers, said the funeral was a natural extension of his belief that each life is sacred and valued.
"We accepted him into the Delbarton community like a brother, and we'll remember him forever," said Gannon.
Junior Jack Townsend read a passage from the Old Testament at the funeral. Later, at the cemetery, he said he credits his parents for instilling in him compassion for others.
"Today obviously was a very sad event and that the baby had to be abandoned, but he's in our thoughts and prayers," Townsend said. "So are his parents, who I'm sure went through a tough time."
Wave-4-Life, with about 70 student members, named the baby Anthony Mary after Anthony Mary Claret, whose feast day is Oct. 24, the day the boy was found. The name also gives a nod to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the lost, Mainardi said.
Toby Bizub, owner of Bizub-Parker Funeral Home in Little Falls, has a son who attends Delbarton and said he wanted to donate his services, including the hearse that took the baby's body to the church and cemetery.
Trustees of Orchard Street Cemetery in Dover, which dates to 1851 and is the resting place for soldiers from the Civil War, World War I and World War II, offered a burial plot on a rise that is shaded by trees in the summer, said trustee Paul Woods.
John Sperry, owner of G. Sperry & Sons in Dover, heard of the tragedy and offered to excavate and cover the grave.
"You get together as a community when something like this happens," Sperry said.
► Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the WFMY News 2 App now