Harvey Knights build tiny caskets for couples who suffer the death of a miscarried or stillborn child

by Paul Braun | New Earth

Leo Grossman, Faithful Navigator of the Monsignor O’Neill Knights of Columbus Assembly in Harvey, and Sister Mary Agnes Huber of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with one of the tiny caskets built by the Knights of Columbus. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

Its a tragic and heartbreaking experience no couple wants to go through…the loss of a child in the womb. Along with the shock and pain that comes with such a loss comes confusion, especially when it comes to how to lovingly handle the baby’s remains. The local funeral home provides caskets for babies and small children who pass away, but there’s nothing available to handle the tiny remains of the pre-born.

For 15 years, the late Francis Muscha of Harvey built tiny pine caskets and provided them to the funeral home to use for burials. At the time of his death, the funeral home had only three of these special caskets remaining, and soon there would be none. That’s when Sister Mary Agnes Huber, who works in Pastoral Care at St. Aloisius Hospital in Harvey, contacted the Knights of Columbus.

“I approached Leo Grossman when the funeral home ran out of the pine boxes,” said Sister Mary Agnes. “He said he would make them. I told him I only needed two just to have on hand, and he made ten. He made the first box with the padding, and I put the padding in the other nine.”

Leo’s tiny caskets are made of oak, outlined with decorative wood trim, sanded and varnished, and inlaid with a padded lining and a screen.

“They cost about twenty-seven dollars to make,” said Leo. “I use oak and cut the pieces to fit, then I hand-finish them with four coats of finish and put on the strips. It takes about nine hours for each one.”

A row of tiny graves dedicated for burying stillborn or miscarried babies lies on the south side of the cemetery in Harvey. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

Leo, who serves as Faithful Navigator of the Monsignor O’Neill Assembly of the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, is also a member of Knights Council 5217 in Harvey. His efforts, and those of his fellow Knights, caught the attention of state leadership, and in April at the North Dakota State Knights of Columbus Convention in Bismarck, Council 5217 was awarded the North Dakota Service Program Culture of Life service award for their work in helping to relieve the pain and suffering of parents.

“This is an important service,” said Father Franklin Miller, Pastor of St. Cecilia’s Church in Harvey. “It’s especially important when persons are hurting. It goes along with our Catholic belief in the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death. I’m very proud of our Knights.”

Father Miller says babies who pass away in the womb should be afforded the dignity of all persons, and having the caskets available allows these deceased children to have their holy burial place where their grieving parents and family members can go to remember them.

“I tell couples that suffer a miscarriage to make sure they give that child a name,” said Sister Mary Agnes. “We have a whole row of little graves at the cemetery, and even if their child wasn’t able to be baptized, it’s important they give that child a name before burial out of respect and love for their little one.”

Leo Grossman hopes their idea will catch on with other councils across the state, and their efforts are being forwarded by state officials to the national Supreme level for review. Nevertheless, Leo says they don’t do this for the recognition. They just responded to a plea for help, hoping to keep a tradition of mercy alive in Harvey for years to come.