MICHIGAN CITY — On a day set aside to honor the dead, the Catholic Diocese of Gary provided a final resting place for some cremated remains.
Gary Diocesan Cemeteries officials placed nine unclaimed cremains from funeral homes and a police department in a crypt recently at St. Stanislaus Cemetery.
“At least we can take care of them,” said Michael Welsh, chief operations officer for Gary Diocesan Cemeteries.
St. Stanislaus Cemetery began this tradition in 2015, and since then an estimated 275 cremains have found a home in the All Souls crypt at the outdoor mausoleum, said Jeff Pickford, grounds supervisor. He said the service has averaged 55 unclaimed cremains annually.
The Roman Catholic Church has supported cremations since 1963. The church views the cremated body as sacred and requires burial of the remains in a proper receptacle, such as an urn.
"This is a nice thing,” said Lynn E. Haverstock, director of Ott-Haverstock Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services in Michigan City. “It serves a great function.”
Haverstock explained that in dealing with cremations, funeral homes occasionally encounter no family, or relatives have relocated, leaving no next-of-kin available.
This cemetery service, Haverstock said, ensures the cremains are “safe and protected.” All cremated remains are recorded, and, in the event a relative or loved one returns and wants to take possession of the cremains for interment elsewhere, the cemetery can assist the family and reopen the crypt.
All the remains are named, with the urn from police identified as “John Doe.”
“There’s a closure for family members. That makes them feel comfortable,” Haverstock said of the crypt service. “There’s also a religious importance. You see a kind of closure and recognition of the body.”
This burial took place on All Souls Day, or Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. This is a day when Catholics commemorate all those deceased baptized Christians who are believed to be in purgatory because they died with the guilt of lesser sins on their souls.
All Souls Day is also observed by Eastern Orthodox and Anglicans, even though it may occur on different or multiple days.
The Archdiocese of Chicago, which operates 45 cemeteries, held a commemorative Rosary service on Nov. 1 for All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
Gary Diocesan Cemeteries operates three cemeteries in Hammond, Merrillville, and Michigan City, but it cancelled any service due to COVID-19.
Some Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Gary, including Holy Name in Cedar Lake, observed All Souls Day with an evening Mass and procession to the nearby parish cemetery. Other churches, such as St. Bridget in Hobart, used the day to recall lives lost to the coronavirus.
Welsh, who led the outdoor prayer service, said that on All Souls Day, “We’re tying to put to rest all souls. These cremains have been left behind, and we need to treat them respectfully.”
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