Abandoned baby buried with love

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, June 28, 2015

Abandoned baby buried with love

The grandmother of baby Angel Antonio weeps over his casket prior to burial at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines on June 18. The infant was found dead in a gangway on the 2700 block of North Hamlin Avenue in Chicago on April 19, 2014. Rest in His Arms, a not-for-profit organization that provides funeral services for abandoned babies found dead, claimed Antonio's body and arranged for his funeral at St. Hyacinth Basilica and burial at All Saints Cemetery. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Resurrectionist Father Steven Bartczyszyn gives a blessing of abandoned infant Angel Antonio prior to burial at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines on June 18. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

The funeral for Angel Antonio was a far cry from his short life. The infant boy was found dead in a gangway on the 2700 block of North Hamlin Avenue on April 19, 2014, wrapped in a plastic shopping bag, his umbilical cord and placenta still attached.

“He was found in a Walmart bag, and we buried him in silk and satin,” said Susan Walker, founder of Rest in His Arms, a not-for-profit organization that provides funeral services for abandoned babies found dead.

Baby Angel Antonio’s tiny casket was carried by two Chicago police officers into St. Hyacinth Basilica on June 18 for a Mass, concelebrated by two priests and attended by about 50 people, including three Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus in full regalia.

The Mass was followed by a funeral procession to All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, where Angel Antonio was laid to rest.

Angel Antonio’s was the 34th funeral Rest in His Arms arranged, assisted with or advised on, Walker said.

“I keep hoping we’ll go out of business,” said Walker, a parishioner at St. Edna in Arlington Heights.

The funerals have become less frequent as Illinois’ Safe Haven Law has been expanded and more people have become aware of it. Under that law, a mother or father can relinquish an infant up to 30 days old at any hospital, police or fire station where staff is present, no questions asked.

Since the law first went into effect in 2001 — when it applied only to infants three days old or younger — 106 babies have been safely and legally relinquished, according to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation. Another 73 were abandoned; 37 of them died.

Walker started Rest in His Arms after, on her own, claiming the body of a child found dead in Lake County in 2005. In the first 16 months, she organized 16 funerals.

The funeral Masses are held in the areas where the bodies are found and burials are covered by donations, mostly in-kind. The funeral home, florist, church, musicians all donate their services. Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Chicago has given the group a plot of 48 infant-sized graves and donates burial costs.

When Angel Antonio was found, it had been nearly a year since the last abandoned infant died in Illinois.

The organization must wait until police finish investigating and the body is released to receive it for burial, if there are no objections.

In this case, the family also was amenable to the burial.

During his homily, St. Edna Deacon Jim Pauwels, who is on the Rest in His Arms board, asked everyone in the congregation to spread the word about the foundation.

He also thanked everyone who helped make the funeral possible, from St. Hyacinth Basilica Parish, Glueckert Funeral Home and Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago to the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

He spoke of the way people, especially parents, react when they hear about an infant being left to die.

“We may feel angry, or devastated, or confused,” he said. “How can anyone let this happen? What can we do? We didn’t know about Angel Antonio until he had already died. It’s too late to intervene, to save a life. There’s no way to roll it back, to have a different outcome.”

But that doesn’t mean that we can do nothing, Pauwels said.

“Even though we may feel it is too little, too late, the fact that we are here now is not nothing,” he said. “It’s something. It’s something significant. When we gather to pray to God, even just to lay our anguish before him, it is always significant, and it’s always good.”

He also advised those present to not let their anger get the better of them. The mother, who may be “little more than a child herself,” is facing the ruins of her life.

An 18-year-old woman, still in high school at the time, was arrested for the abandonment of the baby, and the baby’s grandparents attended the Mass.

Pauwels asked those at the Mass to trust God to care for the child they commended to him.

“We can trust in God’s mercy and God’s love,” he said. “We can ask God to bring this little Angel to heaven to live with him.”

Archbishop Cupich sent a letter, read at the end of Mass by Resurrectionist Father Steven Bartczyszyn, assuring those in the congregation of his prayers and saying that he would have attended had he not been traveling.

“It is important for us to celebrate the value and dignity in Angel Antonio’s short life,” the archbishop wrote.

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  • corporal works of mercy
  • rest in his arms
  • st. hyacinth
  • all saints cemetery

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