WINNEBAGO, Illinois – What began as an idea by some people at St. Peter’s Parish in South Beloit, Illinois has resulted in a beautiful corporal work of mercy for 243 people.
The cremated remains of these people – unclaimed, unburied and some even unmourned – were finally laid to rest with dignity and respect on January 24 through the combined efforts of the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office and Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Winnebago, which is located in the Rockford Diocese.
After receiving a request from South Beloit parishioners about what could be done to help bury the growing inventory of unclaimed cremated remains stored for years in boxes and bags, the Winnebago County Coroner and Cemetery worked together to provide a suitable resting place.
“We have been working tirelessly for, I would say, at least six months working through the details, the paperwork and the logistics of transferring these people’s remains to Calvary,” said Ken Giambalvo, diocesan director of the Catholic Cemeteries office.
Some of the remains had been stored by the coroner’s office for 20 years, according to coroner’s spokesman Mark Karner.
Over the past six months, finding a place of respect and dignity has become Coroner’s Investigator Rob Baumgartner’s pet project.
Baumgartner said Winnebago County considered multiple ways to bury the remains, but each time obstacles got in the way.
One of the biggest hurdles, he said, was finding a place where the remains could be buried and unburied if someone showed up to claim their loved ones.
“Many ideas have been presented over the years as to where to place these people. But it all comes down to being able to present the remains to the family upon request. The departmental cemetery has no mausoleum. That’s why working with Calvary was a brilliant solution,” Baumgartner told The Observer, newspaper of the Diocese of Rockford.
With a mausoleum and a columbarium, the Calvary Cemetery is equipped to receive, bury and cremate the remains. For years, as part of his Catholic ministry, he assisted in the burial of fetal remains and helped those in financial need.
Calvary Cemetery has offered to donate a crypt in which to inter all cremated remains stored by Winnebago County.
New containers have been ordered for each individual’s remains. They were documented in county and cemetery databases – a crucial step if a family member came to claim an individual’s cremated remains. Each container was then tagged and labeled.
Baumgartner said there are many factors as to why a person’s remains would go unclaimed, including whether the deceased was alone or destitute; lack of family resources; failure to locate next of kin; or the deceased was not identified.
In some cases, the cremated remains were left in storage units and even in a bus stop locker, and the coroner’s office took possession of them until the next of kin could be located.
But the most common, and growing, reason the dead go unclaimed, Baumgartner explained, is that families have been separated or are so disenfranchised that they are not interested or able to take responsibility for arranging the funeral.
“That’s why we’re so grateful to give these people some dignity and respect at Calvary,” Baumgartner said.
-And that’s exactly what the 20-odd officials and mourners from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office and its Coroner’s Office, including Sheriff Gary Caruana, Chief Deputy Rick Ciganek and Council Chairman of Winnebago County, Joseph Chiarelli, provided a cold and snowy Monday morning.
Rockford Bishop David J. Malloy and Sherman Nichols, Winnebago County Chaplain and pastor of Rockford Central Christian Church, presided over a prayer and burial service for the cremated remains.
Using a combination of prayers and a Nichols sermon and Catholic prayers for the dead and incarceration, Malloy began by thanking all who came to witness and mourn with the two clerics.
“I am very grateful and proud of the effort and generosity that has been undertaken to make this possible, to have these brothers and sisters who walked before us, properly recorded and put to rest,” Malloy said.
Nichols said normally at the funeral he would speak about the person after collecting testimonies from friends and loved ones about the deceased’s contributions, family ties and faith. It is a conversation of memories which, according to him, “helps us in our mourning, to have hope. These are the kinds of things that we look at to try to place value on a person.
“So what can we say about 243 people – to talk about their value as human beings? Some of them died many years ago. We are here in an effort to recognize something. I think something is that their lives mattered,” he said.
When God created all humans in his image, “God said every person’s life is important,” Nichols said. “He didn’t say that one life was more valuable than another. God established all human life when he sent Jesus to redeem every human who would accept him. In this he established the value of all peoples.
“There must be a good reason to value the lives of all people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, cultures and times. That’s it,” he continued. “God created all people in his image. He gave his son for the salvation of anyone who would accept him.
“When he did that, he spoke our value. Each person. So that’s a good reason for us to come together to do it. In fact, that’s the best reason.
Nichols concluded with a prayer to honor God for valuing every human being.
Malloy then says the interment prayers and blesses the cremated remains and the crypt where they will rest.
The mourners took some time after the brief ceremony to read the labels on each person’s container.
Marcy Giambalvo, who helped document and prepare the cremated remains, said the whole process for her “was very emotional”, especially, she said, when she was processing and documenting the remains of unborn infants. claimed.
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Wiegert is editor of The Observer, the newspaper of the Diocese of Rockford.