Mourners gathered at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Staten Island Saturday to bury the dead, but this was no ordinary funeral. The two coffins contained the final remains of immigrants who died over 150 years ago.
Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians escorted two caskets - one a small, white children's casket with golden angels; the other larger and pearl-colored - into the church as bagpipes played "Amazing Grace."
The remains represent the thousands of unnamed Irish and German immigrants who came to America in the mid-19th century, looking for a new and better life, but instead ended up in quarantine on Staten Island because of severe illness. Many of those confined never made it out, and were buried in mass graves with little fanfare or record.
Workers found the bones during the construction of a new courthouse in St. George in 2000. At the memorial, attendees from the community, many wearing sashes with the green, orange and white of Ireland's flag, lined the pews along with local politicians, a representative from the German consulate and Irish ambassador to the U.S. Michael Collins. Edward Cardinal Egan, former archbishop of New York, presided over the interfaith ceremony. His sermon emphasized why, more than a century and a half later, it is important to honor the immigrants who had lain neglected for so many years.