Mourning the Little Ones: Holy Spouses Mausoleum and Memorial of the Unborn Offers Healing, Hope
They are the unforgettables — babies who were miscarried and babies who were aborted. Today they have a place where they will not be forgotten and a place that brings comfort and healing to their mothers.
They are the unforgettables — babies who were miscarried and babies who were aborted. Today they have a place where they will not be forgotten and a place that brings comfort and healing to their mothers. It is the Holy Spouses Memorial and Mausoleum of the Unborn at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Copatroness of the Unborn, in Bakersfield, California. It is a fitting memorial for National Sanctity of Human Life Day, commemorated each Jan. 22, and always.
The peaceful setting for this memorial and mausoleum is adjacent to a grotto and mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Mass pavilion where a new church for the parish will eventually be built. While there is an older church a short distance away, Our Lady of Guadalupe is uniquely both a diocesan parish and a shrine. The memorial walls are centered around a life-size bronze statue of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Guadalupe, co-patrons of the unborn. Together they hold an unborn baby in their hands.
“Having a memorial place to honor my baby has been very healing, and it’s a very loving thing to do,” explained Rosa Figueroa, who lost her son Francis de Jesus in February 2014 due to miscarriage very early in her pregnancy. She finds comfort as she “entrusts that baby to the merciful hands of God and to Mary and Joseph at this memorial.”
“I think every human life has dignity, and I believe that a baby, no matter how small, is always going to be part of you,” Figueroa said. “He will always be part of me and part of my life and family. One day I want see my baby in eternity.”
Figueroa, who also has daughters who are 2 and 14 years old, does not live far from the memorial and attends Masses in the pavilion on the shrine grounds.
The Holy Spouses Memorial and Mausoleum of the Unborn includes small crypts for miscarried babies whose remains were preserved and plaques featured on the mausoleum’s walls to memorialize miscarried and aborted babies whose remains were not preserved. The mausoleum, dedicated on Aug. 22, 2020, by Bishop Joseph Brennan of the Diocese of Fresno is the vision of Father Larry Toschi of the Oblates of St. Joseph and pastor of this parish and shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Unborn parish.
Father Brennan chose the Holy Spouses, Mary and Joseph, as co-patrons – and easy choice since Our Lady of Guadalupe is already universally recognized as patroness of the unborn. The depiction of Our Lady wears a maternity band to show she is the pregnant Mother of God carrying Jesus in her womb. St. Joseph also has a traditional role as a pro-life patron; he has been called a defender of life, “especially the life of children not yet born,” by St. John Paul II at the Shrine of St. Joseph in Poland, so his patronage is also key at this shrine.
Father Toschi, who found this strong pro-life parish when he arrived 11 years ago, explained that in many cases of miscarriage and abortion, “a woman’s grief was not being recognized and a child’s humanity was not being recognized.”
In the case of miscarriage, he said there is often “no funeral offered, no consolation offered, no public recognition a mother has lost her child.” Even her husband might not feel things “as much as a mother with this baby inside of her.” And with the legalization of abortion, there is “a total dehumanization of the baby in the womb and everything there to deny the humanity of the baby in the womb.” Yet he has seen “a baby only 1-inch long, and the hands were perfectly formed and perfectly visible.”
But this memorial and mausoleum will help change that mindset. As Father Toschi made clear, “We wanted to recognize the grief of the mother and the family and to recognize the humanity of the child in the womb at any stage, even from the first moment of conception.”
He noted that when a woman first realizes she’s pregnant, her world changes. “If she loses that baby and then acts like nothing has happened, this denies her her whole experience.” Or if she has “expected to act like the experience doesn’t exist, there are consequences.” That mother-baby bond needs to be recognized.
“We wanted to provide a place where we could bury the remains of miscarried babies even at the earliest stages,” he said, “to provide a space for unborn babies in smaller crypts; and to have a funeral Mass. That ritual applies to babies in the womb at any stage. It’s the same ritual we would use for a born baby that dies without baptism.” (Liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council include a section in the liturgy for baptized babies and those who died before being baptized.)
A Grief Observed
Sandra Garcia, who has a 7-year-old daughter named Karol, suffered three miscarriages. Today, she’s comforted and peaceful in family life knowing her precious babies — Ariel, Luca and Esteban Gabriel — are entombed with dignity.
Initially Garcia “suffered a lot, not only emotionally for miscarriage but mentally,” she recalled. “My family didn’t understand why I wanted to bury the baby.” But when she spoke to Father Toschi, he instructed her to collect the remains so they can bury the baby and have a Mass. Yet her family told her she “should just let it go.”
But she could not. “I knew I had to bury the baby. I had to do something. Back then there was not a place to bury the baby.” Then came the memorial and mausoleum.
Garcia also “became aware that a lot of moms were going through the same thing” and was grateful that “Father Larry wanted to do something for the babies.” She said it was important for her to start the Unforgettables, the parish’s ministry that helps mothers who have lost a baby.
The name comes from Isaiah 49:15-16, a verse inscribed on the wall of the Holy Spouses Memorial and Mausoleum, next to the statue of Joseph and Our Lady holding their unborn baby: “I will never forget you; I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”
“As a Catholic, what we are called to do is bury the dead,” Garcia said. “It’s not just a calling for the born, but for the unborn, too. They also have a soul, and what mom wouldn’t want their baby to be buried? That’s why this is really important for me, for each to be buried with dignity.”
Work of Remembrance
Today, she is joined by two mothers who have gone through the same experience. Rosa Figueroa joined this year. These women call and then visit mothers who have miscarried either in the hospital or at home to offer comfort and a dignified way to collect remains if they choose for entombment.
“The main thing we do is try to bury the babies and also just talk to them about this, reinforcing what they feel. All of us have come through the same experience,” Garcia emphasized.
After Garcia and Father Toschi attended a workshop to start the Unforgettables ministry for post-miscarriage healing, she organized a presentation close to Mother’s Day and announced it in the bulletin. Father Toschi said more than 100 mothers came to learn about “healing emotionally, relationally and spiritually.”
“We got people there who miscarried recently and decades ago,” he recalled. “The Thursday after Mother’s Day we had a Mass for those babies. The majority did have names. This was the first time their baby was publicly recognized. It was powerful. We’ve been doing that every year since.”
And post-abortive mothers also have a place.
“The memorial is a blessing for women, for myself, who have had abortions,” explained Virginia Santos-Ruiz. “For so long, we suffer. People think abortion is you get rid of the baby and go on.”
“It leaves a hole in your heart,” she said. “With the memorial here, you’re able to recognize that baby as a human being that was a part of you, and you give him or her a name.” She has done that for her son, Daniel De La Cruz Santos. “That gives them that dignity they deserved from the very beginning and they never had. The memorial is a blessing greater than anything. It reminds us of God’s infinite love and mercy for us.”
Santos-Ruiz had once attended school at Our Lady of Guadalupe. When she fell ill in 2011 and then realized she “was missing something,” she went to volunteer at the school and was subsequently hired as a substitute teacher. Then Father Toschi asked her about working as the memorial’s development director. She came to realize “this was God’s whole plan and would be a part of something that would help me to heal,” she said.
She sees the memorial “is an amazing project” in many ways. Since she has told her story and serves with such empathy for other women, she said “women have approached me from other parishes and come out and speak to me. They know that now they are not alone.”
“We’re healing together here,” she emphasized. “You name your baby; put your baby there in the memorial. Your baby is no different than another loss. Every one had been created by God and had meaning. Our babies are no different than other children. It’s so needed.”
Healed and Consoled
At the mausoleum, there are small crypts for babies miscarried in the first 5 months, larger ones for babies up to full term, and wall space for 6,000-9,000 red granite plaques with room to expand to commemorate the unborn whose remains are not preserved. The memorial makes no distinction between a miscarried baby or aborted baby.
Because every human deserves a name, and the name also establishes an unbreakable family bond no matter how painful the loss, all the babies memorialized are named. Anyone from anywhere can name and memorialize their unborn child on the plaques. According to Father Toschi, they can bring the remains here for entombment in a crypt (subject to California and local laws elsewhere).
After learning of the Holy Spouses Memorial and Mausoleum of the Unborn, some people as far away as Pennsylvania and New Jersey have memorialized their babies here. As Father Toschi said, “For those from any part of the nation who have suffered the loss of preborns due to miscarriage or abortion and who do not have the remains of their children, the Holy Spouses Memorial and Mausoleum of the Unborn offers the opportunity to purchase a plaque in honor of their baby. No matter how recently or how long ago their loss occurred, this can be a powerful act of healing and consolation by giving a name and date of their baby to be engraved in stone and permanently honored with dignity and prayed for at the memorial.” He has seen with every family “so much emotion, so much gratitude, so much consolation having their baby entombed.”
“This whole project is a blessing like no other,” Santos-Ruiz emphasized. “This is where you’re going to get your grip and know there is a wonderful place for babies not to be forgotten. This beautiful creation on earth is by a wonderful man who heard the cries of people in his town. He has such a huge heart, with such a great idea, and he actually made it happen. We are so grateful.”
“This is the beginning,” Virginia added, hoping that other parishes will be inspired “from our idea. It’s needed everywhere.”
- prolife witness
- joseph pronechen
- miscarried babies
- victims of abortion
- prayers for the unborn
- National Sanctity of Human Life Day