Father Rodney Copp, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Waltham, leads a small group of mourners in funeral prayers at St. Patrick Cemetery in Watertown. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
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WATERTOWN — On a crisp, sunny morning in September a child was laid to rest in a small white casket surrounded by pink flowers in a donated plot at St. Patrick Cemetery in Watertown. After Father Rodney Copp, pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Waltham said the blessing, the 18 mourners in attendance joined him in praying the Lord’s Prayer.
But no family attended the Sept. 1 service for Frances Hope who was stillborn and abandoned by her mother in a Brighton High School bathroom.
“We come here this morning because we believe that all life is precious. We believe that all life belongs to God,” Father Copp said. “Her life, like our own, is part of God’s plan.”
Father Copp encouraged those gathered to pray for the child’s parents, saying, “We can only imagine the terror and fear that would enable anyone to do what was done with this child.”
Kevin Mojave, the custodian who found the pre-term child on June 1, spoke at her funeral and released pink and white balloons in her memory.
“I’m glad she’s at rest, and that she can go to heaven, play around and be a kid,” he said.
Mojave named the baby “Frances” after his late mother.
The name “Hope” was given after the Children of Hope Foundation in New York. The organization is dedicated to preventing the abandonment of newborns and providing burial for those that are abandoned and die. The children are all given the last name “Hope.”
Mojave called finding Frances Hope in a toilet of the women’s bathroom “traumatic” and said he spent the last three months trying to comprehend what happened.
“This doesn’t have to happen,” he said, his voice wavering. “No matter how bad things are, there’s help for everything.”
Mojave said he takes comfort in the fact that Frances was cared for and loved by those who made her burial possible.
Only days before the burial the Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston was contacted by Michael Morrisey, head of Baby Safe Haven New England, who had taken custody of Frances Hope and was seeking a proper burial place for her. The association identified and donated an available plot at St. Patrick Cemetery and coordinated arrangements with MacDonald, Rockwell & MacDonald Funeral Service in Watertown, who also donated their services.
Robert Visconti and Ken Robertson of the cemetery association attended the service. Visconti, the director of Catholic Cemeteries, said they attended to be sure that more than a handful of mourners were on hand to witness the child’s burial.
“From the Catholic Cemetery’s standpoint, we were there to make sure that the child’s grave was blessed and to say a prayer,” he said. “This was really about the child.”
The association also offered to provide a grave marker free of charge. But teachers at Brighton High School had already begun donating money that will pay for the marker, which will read, “Frances Hope. June 1, 2006.”
Morrisey, who championed the Baby Safe Haven Law in Massachusetts, said that he and his wife, Jean, want to let mothers know they have options when they cannot care for their newborns.
“We’re fighting to keep abandonments from happening,” he said.
Mojave added that he wished the mother of the child, who has never been identified, had known more about the Safe Haven Law in Massachusetts. The law, which became effective on Oct. 29, 2004, allows parents to legally surrender newborn infants seven days old or younger at a hospital, police station or manned fire station without facing criminal prosecution. The Department of Social Services then takes custody.
All but four states have safe haven laws allowing mothers to relinquish custody of their babies at a designated public place up to anywhere from 72 hours to 90 days after birth.
Morrisey said that since the law was passed in 2004, only one newborn has been abandoned. In the four years before that, 13 babies were abandoned and six died.
The Morriseys now run the non-profit group Baby Safe Haven New England. They have also arranged two funerals for abandoned children, one for Francis Hope and another for Rebecca Mary five years ago.
Barbara Bucelewicz, a friend of Mojave, brought her four grandchildren to the funeral.
“I thought it would be very good for the kids to come here,” she said. “The baby deserved a proper burial.”
Bucelewicz said she has explained the Baby Safe Haven Law to her grandchildren. She hopes that someday if they know a peer who has an unwanted child, they will assist her in seeking help, she said.