Adolescence is a vibrant period of personal growth coupled with an expanding appreciation for the fullness of the human experience – including our history. Part of our mission as a Jesuit school is to develop our students’ capacity to see the world beyond themselves, and we have a unique opportunity in our sesquicentennial year to help them do so by learning about the rich tradition of Canisius High School.
Recently, Canisius students formed a connection with an alumnus of their alma mater – he was, in fact, our oldest living alumnus (at age 107) until his death on September 13th. Mr. Casper Ligotti ’29 graduated 15 years before Canisius began its move to Delaware Avenue. He went on to attend Canisius College, but his father’s death forced him to withdraw early. He served as a U.S. Army colonel during WWII, with assignments ranging from infantry to intelligence. Mr. Ligotti worked for decades at Ford Motor Company, and was an acquaintance of Henry Ford.
We learned that Mr. Ligotti had only one living relative, a grandniece, and no one to serve as pallbearers at his funeral. Canisius has followed the lead of other Jesuit high schools in establishing a St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, through which students serve as pallbearers at the funerals of those in need. Sometimes, this includes the homeless, lonely, or otherwise forgotten. Students help to bear the weight of loss in several ways along with carrying the casket, they serve as witnesses to the lives of the deceased, and as listening ears to friends and family left behind.
The experience had a profound impact.
“Going to the funeral made me realize the strength of the Canisius community,” commented William Pratt ’20.
“It’s amazing how we can make connections with people, even after death.” Thomas Wood ’21 added, “I was caught off guard by how appreciative the family of Mr. Ligotti was.”
Perhaps Jack Perry ’20 summed it up best after serving at Mr. Ligotti’s funeral: “All life is valuable.”
This type of service is befitting the Jesuits’ rich tradition of service at the margins of society. It’s also in that vein that nine students prayed with incarcerated men who were making a weekend retreat at the Collins Correctional Facility in October. The Corporal Works of Mercy – including burying the dead and visiting or prisoners – are ingrained in the teachings of Jesus.
These are not easy tasks. Visiting prisoners opens the door to critics who think such people are not deserving of our care. Serving at the funeral of a stranger places one in an uncomfortable situation. That tension is important, however, because so often, this is where growth begins – at the margins, in tension.
The educational experience is constantly evolving at Canisius, while remaining grounded in our Ignatian principles. The St. Joseph of Arimathea Society and a new prison ministry at Canisius are new ways for us to live the Jesuit tradition of Canisius. Serving those in need empowers students to recognize the dignity of all people through experiences beyond the classroom.