The idea for the Our Holy Innocents Project came to Richard Jordan one day in 2010 when he was visiting his wife Linda’s grave in Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Belleville.
Not far from her gravesite sat the Children’s Garden, where infants lay in rest. Many of these babies do not have headstones marking their final resting place. It turns out many parents will arrange a burial space, but lack the funds for a permanent marker for their baby’s gravesite.
Jordan thought it would be a great way to honor Linda’s memory by providing headstones for infants and their families who were too poor to afford a stone.
Jordan took the idea to the cemetery’s office manager Dee Dee Murray and its director Joe Hubbard. They were enthusiastic.
“Dick was the second person to come to my office that month asking why so many babies didn’t have headstones. I figured it was meant to be,” said Murray.
The next stop was Tisch Monuments, which supplies a good deal of the headstones for the cemetery. They too were on board. “They gave us a good price for the stones,” Jordan says. “Almost cost.”
When it came time to name the project, Murray realized that that weekend was the celebration of Our Holy Innocents. Again, it was like it was meant to be.
The first headstone was set in April 2014 for a baby that had been discarded by its family. “He was literally thrown out the window,” Murray said. The baby didn’t have a name, so Murray and Hubbard named the baby Jeremiah Jackson, after the prophet Jeremiah.
Jordan says that the project really pulls on the heartstrings of those who find out about it. “Almost everybody who hears about it wants to donate,” he said. There have been lots of generous donors. Some from as far away as New Jersey.
The project started off slowly, with only a trickle of donation, but really took off once it was publicized in some of the Sunday bulletins.
“Families are so appreciative,” he says. “Oftentimes I will be out at the Children’s Garden and a family will see me and they will tell me how thankful they are for the program, how seeing the headstone has given them a sense of closure. And of course there’s always tears.”
Some have even come back years later and donated money for another stone.
Sadly the need doesn’t end. “There is more need all the time,” Jordan says.
So far the program has bought stones for 23 babies, with four more going in soon. Murray says the cost of a stone is about $185.
Jordan says while the program has changed over the years, to him it will always be a memorial to his wife, who passed away in 2008. “It’s helped me carry on after she passed away. In my heart, it will always be about her.”
Our Holy Innocents Program accepts donations in any amount and will be used to help families buy the headstones for their children who have passed way too soon. For more information contact Dee Dee Murray at 618-397-0181.