Infant’s baptism held during funeral Mass in Dubuque
By Dan Russo
DUBUQUE — Bob Schuster never met his infant granddaughter Chloe Maglis in person while he was alive, but the two are bonded forever in the light of Jesus.
On Feb. 14, family members from across the United States gathered at Holy Trinity Church in Dubuque, part of Holy Spirit Parish, to pray for Schuster at his funeral Mass. During the liturgy, Father Andrew Awotwe-Mensah, associate pastor of the parish, also performed the rite of baptism on the three-and-a-half-month-old baby.
“We do realize that this is something that doesn’t happen very often,” said Stacie Halverson, the deceased’s daughter, and aunt to baby Chloe. “It really is highly unusual. We were all together at this moment. There were not just tears of sadness, but also tears of joy.”
Although it is not typical to hold a baptism during a funeral Mass, the family was able to obtain permission from Father Awotwe-Mensah and Father Dwayne J. Thoman, pastor of the parish. At first, the request was made for practical reasons. It is very hard for Bob and Carol Schuster’s five children and multiple grandchildren to get together in one place since they are geographically spread across the country.
After talking to Deacon John Stierman the Schuster family realized that there are some spiritual connections between baptism and a funeral Mass.
“The baptism is our birth into Christian life, and the funeral is our birth into eternal life,” said the Deacon Stierman. “It’s the only time in our lives that the paschal candle is lit, at our birth and at our funeral.”
Learning this made the family feel more comfortable with holding the two events together. Deacon Stierman, a member of the parish who manages the Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Dubuque, aided in Bob Schuster’s burial arrangements. Reflecting on that day, he said he saw beauty in what the grandfather and granddaughter were able to share.
“(Baptisms and funerals) mirror one another,” he said. “To me it just brings the joy of hope.”
Bob Schuster died on Feb. 9 from a heart attack. The 71-year-old was a retired salesman who had moved back to he and his wife’s native Dubuque about four years ago after spending many years in other states due to his career. His daughter Stephanie Maglis, mother of Chloe, lives in Washington, D.C. Her husband Nick’s career for the U.S. State Department takes the young family all over the world.
“(Bob) was only able to meet (baby Chloe) on Skype after she was born,” said Carol Schuster.
Before the recent funeral and baptism, it had been five years since all of the Schuster children had been able to get together at the same time, according to their mother. At the Mass, family members acted as servers, lectors and cantor. During the liturgy, Father Awotwe-Mensah also gave a special blessing to a couple that includes one of the Schusters’ sons who is currently engaged to be married.
“I think I can speak for everyone by saying we really felt our hearts were full that day,” said Halverson, who is a member of St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville. “We couldn’t imagine a more beautiful celebration of life.”
Loved ones describe Bob Schuster as a person who had deep faith which he expressed in a quiet way. He liked to complete “do it yourself” projects and instilled the value of hard work in his children. His wife said that, as a simple man, he did not like or seek attention, but he would have been touched by the funeral Mass and baptism.
“I thought it was so uplifting,” said Carol Schuster. “He would have been so happy. It meant so much to us. In the church, it brought all of us together. We felt very blessed.”
Cover photo: Father Andrew Awotwe-Mensah lights the paschal candle before the baptism of Chloe Maglis Feb. 14 at Holy Trinity Church in Dubuque. (Photo by Stacie Halverson)