by Robin Cuddy
“maybe death isn’t darkness, after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us—” —Mary Oliver
In “White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field,” poet Mary Oliver describes death in precise images drawn from nature—not as an end but as part of the never ending cycle of life. That cycle of life is played out at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio where 73 year old Ignatian volunteer Jim Swinerton assists the teenage juniors and seniors from the school in the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Ministry.
The Arimathea Ministry was founded in the spirit of Saint Joseph of Arimathea who assisted with the burial of Jesus. More than a third of the student body is involved in the ministry—close to 500 students. The students serve with dignity and respect for the dead and those who loved them. Six students in each funeral provide prayers, comfort, hope and pallbearer services to the elderly in the community and others in need. The students of Saint Ignatius have served in more than 1600 funerals in total—about 200 funerals a year.
For the past three years, Jim Swinerton has driven the van on Mondays and Thursdays that transports the students from Arrupe House at St. Ignatius High School to the funeral homes and cemeteries where the students provide their tender care. Jim, a 1961 graduate of St. Ignatius High School, comes back as an Ignatian Volunteer every year because he finds inspiration in the students at his alma mater. Jim also attended John Carroll University in Cleveland, another Jesuit institution. He claims he was just trying to get a good education in their fine business school—training which would lead to his former profession as a certified public accountant. Certainly, the Jesuits are known for their intellectual rigor but perhaps something about being a man for others rubbed off on Jim at those Jesuit schools.
At Arrupe House, the community outreach center at St. Ignatius High School, student volunteers work after school to provide educational enrichment and sports programs in soccer and basketball to elementary school children in the community. In the Labre Ministry, students bring food, clothing and good cheer to the homeless on the streets and in the shelters of West Cleveland. When Jim isn’t driving the van, he organizes the clothing donations for this ministry.
What can be learned from a man like Jim Swinerton in his humble service to the students of St. Ignatius High School and the community of West Cleveland? Perhaps, he is an exemplar—a role model to each of us as we strive to serve the Son of Man in his glory. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Robin Cuddy is a first year Ignatian Volunteer in Baltimore, whose service site is the IVC National Office. She is expanding staffing capacity in the areas of communications and administration.