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Interfaith Memorial Service Honors Body Donors to SLU School of Medicine

Medical students at Saint Louis University honored those who donated their bodies for medical education with an interfaith memorial service Friday.

First-year medical students place flowers in a basket at the School of Medicine's gift body memorial service. Photo by Maggie RotermundFirst-year medical students place flowers in a basket at the School of Medicine's gift body memorial service. Photo by Maggie Rotermund

The service is put together by first-year medical students, led by John Martin, Ph.D., director of the Center for Anatomical Science and Education (CASE), and MariaTeresa Tersigni-Tarrant, Ph.D., D-ABFA, associate professor in anatomy.

"This year we've seen a jump in student participation in the service," Tersigni-Tarrant said. "We have 140 out of a class of 180 participating in the service."

In addition to reading prayers, the students also perform the music, create the artwork and give personal reflections. 

Katherine Polednik said she was honored by the trust body donors place in medical students.

"Their body is the best educational tool we could ask for," she said. "They don't get to interview us, look at our test scores or see the hard work it took for us to get here. They donate their bodies and trust that we can do this." 

Jacob Hockman echoed that sentiment, saying donors give a gift to the world without ever knowing who will receive it.

"It is a higher service to others," he said. "There is no way for us to thank our donors, but I am grateful for what they have done for us." 

The service, held at St. Francis Xavier College Church, honors all the faith traditions represented in the medical school class. This year's service included Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Mormon prayers.

Mia Jenkins, a graduate student in anatomy, said she experienced God for the first time in an anatomy lab. 

"It led me to SLU and I hope I help others appreciate this gift as much as I do," said Jenkins, who also serves as teaching assistant in anatomy. "These donors are part of my life now as I study and explore what God has made through them." 

Each year, people donate their bodies to SLU School of Medicine's Gift Body Program through the Center for Anatomical Science and Education to educate medical students, allied health students and residents. In the past year, 445 people donated their bodies to SLU.

Twice a year, ashes are buried at Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery, 7030 Gravois. A graveside service is conducted by the medical school campus minister and attended by CASE faculty and staff. There is one common grave marker at the site with the following inscription: "Saint Louis University and its students gratefully acknowledge the charity of those buried here who gave their remains for the advancement of medical science." 

Those interested in learning more about the gift body program can call 314-977-8027.

 Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.