Jonathan, Matthew and Marian Hope all died minutes after they were born. Their brothers and sisters didn't live much longer. Many died or were abandoned in ignominious places such as dumpsters and public restrooms. But they didn't die in vain.
They were buried with a hero's honors, bringing hope and inspiring respect for life to many.
Tim Jaccard originally founded the Ambulance Medical Technicians' Children of Hope Foundation and Safe Haven program, based in Mineola, N.Y., to give unmourned deceased babies dignified burials. And burials don't get much more dignified than this.
During the ceremonial funerals, 23 Blue Knights on police motorcycles escort the baby hero to the church. Flags unfurl for the procession into the church, 275 police and firemen in full dress uniform become the baby's honor guard, six pallbearers accompany the tiny casket and bagpipers play “Amazing Grace.” A helicopter overhead drops down and dips in salute from the aviation bureau.
On average, Jaccard says, 700 mourners attend the Mass for the abandoned babies. Funerals held at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan have drawn as many as 1,500.
As a member of the Ambulance Medical Technicians of Nassau County, Jaccard had many successes in delivering babies in the most unlikely places, including near a rock in Central Park. But after he buried 51 abandoned babies who died tragically, he established the foundation in 1998 to see that, in death, these babies were treated with the dignity they didn't receive in life. And given a name.
“We want the child to have an identity,” Jaccard explains. “By giving them the same last name they become part of the Hope family.” The person who finds the baby gives the first name to the child.
“It helps with the closure and helps them heal,” he says. “At the Mass we like to have that person do the first reading or carry the flowers in. This becomes part of the child's history and gives the child dignity.”
A caretaker, for example, discovered Baby Holly Hope abandoned in the park. He chose the name Holly because he found her wrapped in a tablecloth along with pieces of holly.
All the babies are buried in Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, N.Y., in the “family plot” called the Island of Hope. But the name Hope implies life, and that's where these holy innocents become heroes. They're saving other babies on the brink of abandonment.
Regularly, after news coverage of a baby's funeral, like one last December at Our Lady Resurrection of Life Church in Brooklyn, the foundation gets calls from several birth mothers in distress.
Children of Hope's most important goal is “to prevent the death of newborn infants,” Jaccard says. “We try to get the mothers to call the crisis line so we can help them through the pregnancy, get them back on track after the birth and improve their life. We're looking to help the mother and child at the same time.”
Father Bill Koenig, pastor of St. William the Abbot Church in Sea-ford, N.Y., lauds Jaccard for bringing hope to both situations. In the sad times, “his great vision is how this baby was a creation of God,” says Father Koenig, who's presided over some of the burials. “And the reason for our hope is the baby being safe with God now.”
At the same time, by helping frightened mothers and finding good homes for the babies they give up, Father Koenig notes, “He gives so much hope to situations that looked pretty bleak.”
Emily's experience with Children of Hope is typical. She had decided to give her baby up for adoption but lived out of town. Since she wanted to be near the adoptive family for the delivery, Children of Hope got her a place to live and took care of her from her fifth month through delivery, including food and utility bills. Jac-card accompanied her to doctors' appointments and now, months later, continues to check on her.
“When I called to get a ride to the hospital for the delivery, I called Tim,” Emily says. “I'm not sure what I would have done if he and the Children of Hope had not been there. Now my life is going in a totally different direction. They were definitely a godsend.”
The foundation sets up some young women, such as those rejected by their families, in an apartment furnished from a St. Vincent de Paul Society and helps them get jobs. Some companies support Children of Hope by employing these women. “We teach them to get their life back together,” Jaccard says.
Mary Green, who volunteers with Children of Hope, says she will never forget the December night she accompanied Jaccard and his wife to deliver a newborn baby boy to his adoptive parents.
“To see the baby's new grandparents, aunts and uncles waiting — there was the greatest feeling I had in my life,” she says.
Jaccard opened another major avenue of hope to save infants before they're abandoned when he added the Safe Haven program. In 1998 he inspired and wrote, along with New York Sen. Lorraine Hoffmann, his state's Safe Haven law — the Infant Abandonment Protection Act — whereby a birth mother can relinquish her baby with no questions asked to places such as any hospital, police station or fire station up to five days after the baby's birth. (Specifics vary by state.) To date, he's been presenting and helping write Safe Haven laws in 45 states.
Many women are learning the message. Last year the crisis line took 2,905 phone calls. The line reached into states as far as Indiana and Florida. In the last three years, there were 46 adoptions and 29 safe newborns relinquished under the law.
One sight that sticks out in Father Koenig's mind speaks volumes about Children of Hope's purpose and message.
“When Tim was at Mass one Saturday, he and his wife had this newborn baby he helped rescue,” the priest says joyfully. “The image of him being in the front row was like that of a proud father.” And a witness to hope.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.