precious hope

Garden of Innocents continues dignified burials of unclaimed children

A memorial ceremony was held Feb. 8 for Precious Hope, an unclaimed child who died in the 1980s. Garden of Innocents provided a burial at Calvary Cemetery.

In the Garden of Innocents, the remains of 27 unclaimed children have been buried in 10 years -- 27 potential mothers or fathers, 27 potential teachers or law-enforcement officers.

"I think every time that we lose a child, what we as a community collectively lose is an opportunity," said Rebeca Navarro-McKelvey, founder of the Garden of Innocents. "We don't know what that child would have meant in our community."

The Garden of Innocents began in 2003 to provide burials for unclaimed children in the St. Louis area. Before the organization was founded, children who were not claimed by the next of kin were buried at the expense of the City of St. Louis' medical examiner's office. The children were buried in unmarked graves, not dressed and with no memorial services.

Now, each child referred to the organization by various hospitals and medical examiner's offices in the St. Louis area is given a name, a casket, a teddy bear, a handmade blanket, floral spray, booties, hat and a burial layette. A member of the clergy presides over a memorial service in the Calvary Cemetery Chapel. Services end by the grave site with the reading of a poem called "Little Angel of Innocence," written by one of the volunteers.

Most recently, members of the organization and community came together Feb. 8 to bury the remains of Precious Hope, an unidentified murder victim. The Calvary Cemetery Chapel overflowed into the hallways as upward of 50 people came to bear witness.

"We had 50 to 100 people from all walks of life, most of whom I didn't know," said Navarro-McKelvey, a parishioner at St. Peter in St. Charles. "They were just there because it was a good thing to do, and that to me is the presence of God."

Photographs in the slideshow below were taken by photographer Lisa Johnston at the Garden of Innocents, in October, 2009. Click the play button below to begin the multimedia slideshow:

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