BY: REGINA PLANCHET
A few steps away from the Portiuncula Chapel on Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus is a small stone tomb guarded by an eternal flame that shelters the bodies of seven unborn children. Almost every student is familiar with the Tomb of the Unborn Child but is unaware of how it came to be and who the unborn children are.
“On snowy January 22, 1987, the 14th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which summarily struck down all laws against abortion across the country, more than 500 people processed from Christ the King Chapel to witness the entombment of two babies killed by abortion,” reads a description about the tomb on Franciscan’s website. “They were given the names Francis and Clare. That tomb, one of the first in the country, stands as a monument to the sanctity of life. It challenges all who pray there to live their lives as a witness to the Gospel of life. Since that day an eternal flame has been added and five more children killed by abortion have joined Francis and Clare.”
According to the 1993 summer issue of Franciscan Way the idea of the tomb was proposed to the university by Mike Marker, co-director of the Human Life Center. One of his reasons suggesting the tomb was “to help people gain a deep understanding of the value of all human life,” said Marker. “We want to provide the chance for a change of mind and heart.”
According to a brochure about the Tomb of the Unborn, the Annual Pro-Life Memorial Service was held on January 21, 1989. “The body of Agnes who, at the age of 13 weeks, was a victim of abortion, was buried in the tomb. On October 10, 1990 a special memorial service was held at which the student body filled the chapel…the fourth child, given the name Jeremiah, was laid to rest.”
Since Agnes and Jeremiah, three other victims of abortion were buried in the tomb; Michael, who was interred on September 29, 1995, and Andrew and Joseph who were interred on November 20, 1998.
A statement from the school’s Public Relations Department described the tomb as “a place of prayer for the end of abortion and as a place of healing for survivors of abortion.”
“Thousands of visitors have knelt before the tomb with its eternal flame, most asking for a renewed respect for life in this country, some seeking forgiveness for having or procuring an abortion” the statement continued.
Lisa Ferguson from the office of Public Relations said the bodies of the aborted babies were given to Franciscan for proper burial by clinic workers or by people who found the bodies in dumpsters. Ferguson said she did not know specifically where the babies were from.
“Not knowing where the babies come from leaves open the possibility for those praying who went through an abortion that this could be their child,” said Ferguson.
The statement from Public Relations also said that the late John Cardinal O’Connor visited campus in April 1992 and was so moved by the tomb that he asked the Knights of Columbus to erect similar memorials in every diocese in the United States.
“I have been traveling in the pro-life movement for many years, but I have never been more deeply touched than to stand by that little shrine with the flame in front of it,” said O’Connor in the fall 1992 issue of Franciscan Way.