Brownstown Township — Like-minded people of faith were to gather to lay their unclaimed neighbors to rest after learning of the many deceased who remained unburied for years at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.
An ecumenical memorial service was to be held July 9 at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township, to honor the unclaimed individuals and begin the process of giving them proper burials. The service was to take place after this issue of The Michigan Catholic went to press.
Maureen Chappell, associate director of cemeteries with Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services — a ministry of the Archdiocese of Detroit — told The Michigan Catholic that having the opportunity to put faith in action by helping out “is a joyous thing.”
“At the AOD cemeteries, it is clear that our mission statement encompasses the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead,” said Chappell, who helped arrange the memorial service. “We are being called upon to embrace our community’s need and are doing so with open hearts.”
Our Lady of Hope Cemetery, through the archdiocese, provided 164 graves for the deceased individuals, including related burial services and maintenance, at a total cost of more than $400,000. Other community groups participating in the project include Great Lakes National Cemetery, providing graves for unclaimed veterans to be buried with full military honors; the Missing in America Project, verifying the remains with the Veterans Administration and coordinating the veterans’ burials; and Northville-based Inch Memorials, which will donate memorial stones valued at $3,600.
Chappell called it a “tragedy” that the individuals had been left unclaimed for so long, but that it is “an honor to be a part of providing a dignified burial to them.”
David Techner, head of the Southfield-based Ira Kaufman Chapel and former director of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, said it was amazing to see so many people willing to volunteer in the initiative.
Ira Kaufman Chapel is handling all records management for the deceased individuals, including death certificates and burial records, and making an effort to do so with “efficiency, dignity and respect,” Techner said.
Working with the families of some of the unclaimed, such as those who had not been able to afford a funeral or burial for their loved one, “They’ll call and we actually call them back. They’re blown away from that,” Techner said.
He said families of those to be buried were invited to attend the memorial service, and to feel comfortable with offering personal recommendations to the burial plans.
“It’s really sad when you investigate the whole thing,” Techner added, pointing out that another important part is to determine “how this will never happen again.”
Techner first became involved in the project when he received a call from The Jewish Fund, based in Bloomfield Hills. He said The Jewish Fund approved a grant of up to $60,000 to provide caskets from Matthews Casket Division.
Andy Langlands, minister of music at St. Regis Parish in Bloomfield Hills, provided music for the service.
Langlands said there is a “sense of sorrow” among those who have lost loved ones, especially those whose loved ones are unclaimed or unburied, but a sense of “mercy” in “making sure they are properly buried.”
He said the project should help give the families, and the deceased, the closure they need.
“St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas have taught that all the corporal works of mercy are akin to almsgiving, to a very close and personal prayer that gets directly to the heart of the Father,” he said.