The Deacon's Bench

At an age when a lot of young people are spending their free time dating, drinking or hanging out with friends, here’s a kid from Kentucky who’s hanging out with a much more quiet crowd. Very very quiet:

Cory Kress, a 2007 graduate of St. Xavier High School, is an exception. The former St. X wrestler and honor student – who’s heading to the University of Kentucky this fall – has attended dozens of burials for indigent men, women and children in Jefferson County. He serves as a pallbearer, leads prayers, reads Scripture passages and offers heartfelt condolences to the decedents’ family and friends.

He was recognized for this service by the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office at a ceremony July 10. County Coroner Dr. Ron Holmes and Deputy Coroner Buddy Dumeyer presented Kress a plaque and praised him for his compassion.

Kress – and a growing number of students from Catholic schools in the area – are members of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, which assists the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office’s indigent burial program. Kress distinguished himself as one of the founding members and most dependable volunteers.

“It seems so sad for someone to live a whole life and then die alone,” said Dr. Ron Holmes, County Coroner. The indigent dead who “have no family, no friends – at least we can send them off with a prayer. If it weren’t for Cory and the other kids, they would have nothing.”

In the past, people who had no money or family were buried without ceremony, prayer or even a grave marker at River Valley Cemetery in Southwest Jefferson County. Holmes changed this when he started the burial program several years ago.

With money from fund-raisers and other donations, the program provides headstones, and grave markers and aesthetic improvements at the cemetery – a desolate-looking place set against a landscape of sludge generated by an LG&E power plant.

Holmes also has started to carve wooden crosses for the caskets, and a sewing group from Epiphany Church – which has supported the program in other ways, too – makes funeral palls.

All of these things, Holmes said in an interview, give dignity to the dead. But perhaps none provide more dignity than the prayers and concern of the young people attending the burials.

“When I hear there’s a funeral, I try my hardest to be there,” said Kress. “This is something that needs to be done. The more people at a funeral the better.”

Kress learned about the society from his wrestling coach and teacher, Ben Kresse, who formed St. X’s chapter of the society – the first in the area – in the spring of 2006. And Kress was sold.

“As Coach Kresse always says, ‘You come into the world with people all around you,’ ” said Kress. “ ‘You should leave the world with people around you, too.’ ”

Since then, Kress has attended 80 to 90 percent of the program’s funerals. In the summer of 2006, he attended every burial.

That’s nothing less than remarkable. I’ve been to a few sparsely attended funerals at my parish, the kind where you can count the number of mourners on one hand — and most of those are employees from the funeral parlor.

What Cory Kress is doing is a beautiful and enduring work of mercy — and one that the beneficiary cannot acknowledge in this life, but certainly will in the next.

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