By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
When Mark Vogt — a senior at St. Xavier High School— was a first-grader at St. Patrick School, his teacher asked the class to make a doll depicting what they wanted to be when they grew up. Vogt made a film director.
“Mine was different from everybody’s,” laughed Vogt. “The other kids made firefighters.”
Vogt is now fulfilling that desire. He produced a short film on the school’s St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, which assists with the burial of homeless and indigent individuals.
And his film is the winner of the Charity and Social Service Honors medal, awarded by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the
Immaculate Conception’s Charity and Social Service Honors Program.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and chair of the National Shrine’s board of trustees, will present the medal to Vogt at a Mass on March 12 at the basilica.
Leisa Schulz, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s superintendent of schools, chose Vogt’s film in December to be submitted for the competition. Vogt made the film two years ago in a film-making class with the assistance of his classmate Jake Allgeier, who served as associate producer.
Vogt — who has received plenty of well wishes, including a congratulatory letter from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz — said he’s still trying to process the honor.
“I knew it would be a film that would be easy to get out there, because the concept is very touching,” said Vogt. “But I had no idea an award would come out of it.”
Many of those who know Vogt said they are not very surprised.
“I’m very proud. He’s a very talented student,” said Brian Mitchell, Vogt’s film-making teacher. “He has the eye for it and that’s something you can’t teach.”
Bobby Nichols, a campus minister at St. Xavier who works with the burial program, said he was thrilled with the news.
Nichols said that Vogt’s video captured what is often difficult to put into words.
“His video exposed the heart of the burial experience,” said Nichols, noting it’s difficult to describe “what it’s like being with strangers in this deeply intimate and personal moment.”
Ben Kresse, campus ministry director, said the Society has been trying to tell this story for 10 years.
“Whenever we can highlight the need for the poor and homeless to get a decent burial, it’s good,” said Kresse. “We’re hoping that others will bring this back to their community.”
Kresse recalled hearing, in January 2006, a report on National Public Radio about the burial program started at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio.
In the story, he said, Cleveland’s coroner told a reporter, “everyone deserves to be held when they die.”
Kresse said he knew right away this was something he wanted to start at St. Xavier.
St. Xavier students attended the first burial in April 2006, Kresse said. Since then the program has expanded to the other area Catholic high schools, as well as to Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville.
Vogt, who helped with burials prior to producing the film, said growing up he was taught to help the homeless, but wasn’t prepared for what it would be like to help bury them.
“It’s a humbling experience,” he said.
Cathy Reynolds, director of campus ministry, said there couldn’t have been a better time to win this honor than during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“This is one of the ways we can live out the mission and charism of the Xaverian Brothers, through the corporal works of mercy,” she said.
Reynolds explained that the students who take part in the burial act as pallbearers and lead a prayer service at the cemetery.
“What’s the most meaningful is that they get the sense of what it’s like to pray for someone who is alone,” she said.
The St. Joseph of Arimathea Society buries about 160 people each year, noted Kresse. Reynolds added that students take part even during the summer months.
“It’s impressive,” she said. Reynolds recalled one hot summer day seeing between 30 and 40 students dressed in suits at the cemetery.
This level of commitment is why Kresse said he knew they had a “wonderful story to tell.” “Mark told it very well,” he said.
Vogt’s film can be seen at https://vimeo.com/stxministry/sjoas.