On the Monday after Pentecost, the Catholic Church honors the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title “Mother of the Church.”
It was especially fitting that, in 2023, the feast coincided with Memorial Day, said Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in his homily at Calvary Cemetery on Monday, May 29.
For it is Mary, Mother of the Church, who is not only a model of faithfulness but of obedience and sacrifice — all virtues possessed by the fallen heroes whose memory is venerated on this day, said the archbishop.
“When we take a look at Mary, and the significant role of Mary, it’s easy to see why we can celebrate on this day, which is a day that remembers those who have sacrificed their lives,” he said. “What drove those individuals to do what they did? What drove them was a sense of their duty. What drove them was a virtue of obedience. What drove them was a love for family, for God and country.”
Archbishop Listecki was at Calvary Cemetery to say a special Memorial Day Mass and to participate in a patriotic program staged by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Masses were also offered that day at other Catholic cemeteries throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but Calvary’s Memorial Day tradition has an especially impressive pedigree, going back almost 100 years.
“One of the great things about the Blessed Mother is the fact that she was obedient to the mission that was given to her. Because of her obedience, her son comes into the world and salvation is given to all of us,” said Archbishop Listecki. “Obedience is an oftentimes forgotten virtue. But every one of the graves we adorned (of the people who have) given their lives practiced that virtue.”
Memorial Day, the archbishop continued, is a moment for reflection and gratitude.
“Too often, it is said of many of us that our memories are very short, that as soon as we go through an event or an occurrence, in less than a few years we forget,” said the archbishop. “We have to understand that we can never forget, because what is represented in the lives that we honor here on this Memorial Day represents who we are.”
The Mass was held at the base of the cruciform hill, upon which sits the cemetery’s historic chapel. Following the conclusion of the liturgy, attendees processed several yards to the graves of veterans of the Civil War, nearly 300 of whom are buried within the cemetery.
“We assemble once more to pay our tribute of love and respect to our ancestors who saved the Union and abolished the stain of slavery from our nation. We likewise gather to honor the memories of those men and women of all our nation’s wars who gave the last full measure of devotion to the cause of liberty and freedom,” said Grant Johnson, Camp Commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Col. C.K. Pier Badger Camp #1. “We pledge anew our dedication to their memory and to the principles for which they valiantly fought and nobly died. May these sacred rights and traditions aid us in acknowledging the true cost of freedom and spark within us a genuine sense of gratitude to all of our nation’s veterans, both living and deceased.”
The morning’s patriotic program included a recitation of the Gettysburg Address by an actor representing President Abraham Lincoln (local teacher Nicholas Bur). There was also a cannon salute, musket salute and rifle salute.
The program’s keynote address was given for the first time by a woman veteran — Ruby Scheuing, who served as a U.S. Army nurse in Vietnam from February 1967 through February 1968, personally caring for casualties coming directly from the field. The widow of another veteran of the Vietnam War, Scheuing is a member of a Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans chapter and a volunteer with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. She also speaks at schools and libraries as part of the I Am Not Invisible initiative, which promotes awareness of women veterans and their history. In 2021, she was named the Milwaukee County Veterans Association Veteran of the Year.
Scheuing talked about the origins of Memorial Day, which was established as Decoration Day in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic. At the time, it was a day to adorn the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers. In 1971, it became the federal holiday known as Memorial Day.
Scheuing urged all those present to remember the true meaning of the day.
“Memorial Day is one of those days when we celebrate family gatherings. We have cookouts, cold beer, boating. The swimming pools open, even the bathrooms in the local parks open up today. It’s a day when we celebrate with family,” she said. “I just want to ask you today, as you’re celebrating with your families, if you take a moment, say a prayer, honor those men and women who served, who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may have the freedoms that we have today.”