Parishioners at the Church of Saint Peter in Saratoga helped fund a local immigrants burial, which was held in Mexico by his friends and family (Emily Benson photo)
Parishioners at the Church of Saint Peter in Saratoga helped fund a local immigrants burial, which was held in Mexico by his friends and family (Emily Benson photo)
Father John Kirwin, associate pastor at The Church of St. Peter in Saratoga Springs, has been a volunteer for the Saratoga Immigration Coalition for years.

“They do a lot of things for the immigrant population,” Father Kirwin said. “As Pope Francis says, they’re our brothers and sisters and it’s our responsibility to help.”

Made up of a network of civic groups, faith communities and local residents, the coalition works on advocating, educating and supporting local immigrants in upstate New York. It’s a place for families to turn to, and a few months ago, when one family from Mexico needed help, Father Kirwin and the parishioners at St. Peter’s sprung to action.

In January, Sergio Arana Tamay, a farmworker at Salem’s Woody Hill Farm in Washington County, was getting ready for work one morning when he suffered a heart attack and died later that day. At the time, Tamay was making the final preparations for his wedding that was scheduled to be held in Mexico in early spring.

Suddenly the family wasn’t planning a wedding, but focusing on how to transport Tamay’s body from New York to Mexico for a proper burial. Because of COVID-19 precautions, it would cost over $10,000 to bring him home.

The family reached out to a local recruiter for the Migrant Education Tutorial and Support Services (METS) program in the area who helped spread word to the Saratoga Immigration Coalition and the Good Neighbors ministry at Cambridge United Presbyterian Church.

After word got out about the family’s plight, Father Kirwin hopped into action. “I made an announcement during Mass at St. Peter’s,” said Father Kirwin, who is retired. “I mentioned at the end of Mass that I would collect donations and turn them over to the collection.”

In one weekend alone, with barely any notice, Father Kirwin collected over $630.

“The people here are so generous,” he said, awestruck by the kindness of his parishioners.

Woody Hill Farms paid for half of the transportation costs, and the family was able to gather enough donations from friends and other local organizations to pay for the remainder. Any leftover donations went toward the funeral and burial.

METS members working with the Tamay family said that everyone was overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers. Having the body present for a funeral is not only an important Hispanic tradition, but offers the loved ones an opportunity to mourn in person.

“I lost a sister … and we had her body shipped to Albany,” Father Kirwin said. “If we were going to do it for our own, we should do it for others.

“I think it’s my Christian responsibility to go to bat for these people. Faith is not all about dressing up and playing house, it’s about rolling up your sleeves and helping people.”