Men’s group honors their own with special funeral tradition

Members of the Men of Nativity Honor Guard greet the family of Perry Selfridge following his funeral last November. PHOTO BY JOHN CAUFIELD

by Joe Bollig

LEAWOOD — A line from Shakespeare’s play “Henry V” says, in its most essential form, what the Men of Nativity Honor Guard is all about:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

The Men of Nativity at Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood has been a vital men’s group since its founding in 1989. And since then, men of the parish have formed special bonds, according to Bill Oades, one of the group’s co-founders.

But it wasn’t until 2012 that they found a way to honor their brothers when one of them died.

“Mike Nolte came up with the idea to honor our deceased with an honor guard,” said Oades.

They formed the Men of Nativity Honor Guard that same year.

Any member of the men’s group can be a member of the Honor Guard. They have no meetings or activities other than this: to gather and honor a brother and comfort his family at the time of his funeral.

Since they first formed up for Fred Heid in 2012, the honor guard has attended the funerals of 12 of the men’s group’s members.

What they do is fairly simple, said Mike Bartkoski, a member of Men of Nativity for 10 years.

When someone in the group dies, any one of the honor guard members who can possibly make it attends the funeral.

There, said Bartkoski, and sometimes accompanied by their wives, they sit as a group until the priest is ready to do the final commendation.

At that time, the men rise, go to the center aisle of the church and line the aisle facing inward. They place their right hands over their hearts as the casket, family, priest and acolytes pass. Sometimes, they line up to form a corridor from the church door to the hearse.

There is no requirement to have a certain number of honor guard members present. Usually, however, between 20 and 50 men show up.

They have a dress code, but do not strictly adhere to it.

“We ask they wear dark suits and white shirts,” said Bartkoski. “We get pretty close to that. Most guys — not everyone — has a dark suit.”

They will also wear special black ribbons with gold lettering made for the occasion and worn on their lapels. The lettering has the name of the deceased, birth and death dates, and a poem: “No man is an island. No man walks alone. We all need each other, to bring our brothers home.”

As far as Oades and Bartkoski know, no other parish in the archdiocese has an honor guard for members of a men’s group, other than the Knights of Columbus.

Families seem to appreciate the gesture.

“When we’re standing there lining the aisle and the family comes by, it’s moving to them that we’re honoring their husband and father,” said Bartkoski.

“It’s important for the family to see that their deceased meant something very significant to a group of men,” he added.

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