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Benedictine monastery in Bristow offers a burial site for miscarried and stillborn babies

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Underneath the gentle shade of walnut trees lies a collection of toys. A miniature car, toppled over on the rain-soaked earth. A tiny dump truck. A stuffed bear.

These precious objects rest beside the names of children, etched in granite, who will never play with them.

They are left behind by parents who carry more "what ifs" than memories in their hearts.

In the cemetery on the grounds of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia monastery in Bristow, about 400 miscarried or stillborn children are buried, their gravesites no more than a foot long.

The five plots of the cemetery, known as "Saint Andrew’s Cemetery," are a place of healing and peace for many parents who have experienced the pain of infant loss, said Kara Palladino.

Palladino, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, started the children’s cemetery at the Benedictine monastery as part of a lay apostolate called A Mom’s Peace, which provides support to families grieving infant loss.

"It’s very taboo — people don’t like to talk about it," Palladino said. "But some people do want to talk about it, and those people can heal from that. So we provide the things that they need to heal."

How It Began

It was not that long ago that Palladino was in the same situation as the parents she now helps.

Palladino lost a son, Francis, to miscarriage in 2014 and was looking for a place to bury him — finding few options in Northern Virginia specifically for that purpose.

She eventually found the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, who offered a small plot in their cemetery as a gravesite.

After this, Palladino said she felt God calling her to help other suffering families in the same way.

"It’s something that I live every day and have lived every day since 2014," she said. "The Lord called me to do this and if the Lord asks something of you, you just show up."

 A Mom’s Peace was founded to support mothers of miscarried and stillborn babies by providing burial, bereavement and remembrance programs, she said.

Since the ministry’s founding, the sisters have gifted five cemetery plots for these infants, and Palladino has worked with about 400 families throughout Virginia and other states. Every child buried at the cemetery has an identical granite marker adorned with a Benedictine cross — a nod to the ministry’s partnership with the Sisters. A Mom’s Peace also provides family members with a matching Benedictine cross.

The ministry charges a small fee to help cover costs, "but finances should never prevent a grieving parent the ability to lay their child’s remains to rest," Palladino said. In cases where families do not have the financial means, donors have covered costs, and in the seven years the ministry has existed it has never turned away a family in need, she said.

"A funeral and a burial is very important," Palladino said. "It brings comfort to people, brings a closure of sorts so you can begin to move forward from there. Having a place to come and visit is beautiful."

The infant’s cemetery doesn’t take up much land — "these are God’s smallest children," after all — but it provides space for people to find peace, Palladino said.

"When you have an opportunity to come here and just sit and pray and meditate and say the Rosary, it really has an opportunity to move you, and then you put your grief somewhere," she said. "This becomes your place."

Benedictines

For the Benedictine Sisters, hosting Saint Andrew’s Cemetery was an easy decision.

Their Benedictine charism, "worded simply, we say we are seeking God in communion, by prayer and service," said Sister Andrea Verchuck.

"Whatever service our people of God in our area ask about, if we can do it we will," she said. "I thought, ‘If we really believe that life begins at conception, we believe that no matter how far along the baby is developed, it is God’s baby.’ "

The 26 sisters living at the monastery often visit the cemetery , as well as the monastery’s columbarium, in prayer. It’s part of the Benedictine way "to be among those who have gone before us," said Sister Joanna Burley, prioress.

"A Benedictine monastery is supposed to be a place where people can come to learn, to grow, and to be spiritually renewed," Burley said. "That’s the whole point of a Benedictine monastery. So to have a place where people can come to bury their children and to grieve and to feel the presence of God on these grounds, that’s very special. It’s a gift we can offer that other places can’t."

Find out more

For more information about A Mom’s Peace, visit  www.amomspeace.org.

Riedl can be reached at matthew.riedl@arlingtondiocese.org or on Twitter @RiedlMatt.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021