After a long day of traveling, David Penepent — a Knight from Msgr. Francis J. Connors Council 11544 in Norfolk, N.Y. — gathers the funeral directors at the back end of his truck. He has just finished transporting 30 human remains from New York City funeral homes overwhelmed by the coronavirus to crematories around the Northeast. As a man of faith, he leads them in a prayer:
“Eternal rest grant unto them oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their soul and all the souls who died during this pandemic rest in peace.”
Penepent has been a licensed funeral director for nearly 30 years. He also teaches mortuary science and runs the funeral services administration program at the State University of New York at Canton.
With more than 19,000 deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most funeral homes have converted their chapels into makeshift morgues because there is no other place to put the human remains. Families wait weeks for services. So Penepent offered his expertise to alleviate them and help families grieve through his “Hands with a Heart” operation.
And he’s been helping since early April.
“The family and the funeral director are entrusting into our care the hearts of their loved one,” Penepent said. “It’s my way of saying that their loved ones are being cared for with the care, compassion, love and mercy of funeral directors and students who extend their empathy to the families by acting in a professional manner.”
To date, Penepent has transported 740 human remains to their place of rest. They give each decedent a tracking number to monitor the body from the funeral home to the crematory and back again. He has traveled to upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Vermont, clocking between 3,000 to 4,000 miles per week.
On top of this mission, he is teaching college courses. But he is also teaching those who have volunteered to help “Hands with a Heart.” He’s giving them real-life experiences that can’t be found in a textbook.
“The work of a funeral director is a corporal work of mercy,” Penepent said. “What I’ve been doing has been acting on my faith and doing what I have to do to help the grieving families to put their loved ones to rest. My faith is the compass that leads me as a professional funeral director and that’s what I try to instill upon my students.”
Faith has been the driving force behind Penepent’s work, although he takes no credit. He says it’s “all God’s work.”
“I’m doing what he wants me to do,” Penepent said.
And his work is only part of what many are doing through the Knights’ “Leave No Neighbor Behind” initiative, formed to help Knights safely serve their parishes and community as well as spiritually lead their families.
Penepent practices social distancing and takes the necessary precautions to prevent himself from contracting the virus. But, he says, taking precautions shouldn’t stop charity towards others in need.
“Our Lord wants us to be helping one another. We have to stay connected,” he said. “If we lose sense of sharing our love with our neighbors, we lose sense of who we are as Christians and we cannot do that, because that’s not God’s plan for what we are as Christians.”
Share your story of how your council is helping strengthen people’s faith and offering support during this time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in a special bi— weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. Access Knightline’s monthly archives.
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