Archdiocese inters remains of hundreds of unknown crime victims

Ministry supports funeral services of dioceses around the country, allowing cremated remains to be buried without charge.

The FBI has turned to the Archdiocese of Detroit for help – not in solving a crime, but in giving a proper burial to hundreds of crime victims.

Some 480 sets of cremains, or cremated remains, that the Bureau was holding onto for some time were interred on All Souls Day by the archdiocese’s cemetery office.

“These are all remains they’ve not been able to find family members for,” said Robert Seelig, whose organization, Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, supports the funeral services of many dioceses and archdioceses around the country, including Detroit. “These are either John Doe or Jane Doe type cases, or cold cases of someone who was murdered and they had the remains, and the remains were cremated.”

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, or CFCS, offers several mission services as a way of promoting a Christian vision of respect for the dead. One of those services is known as the All Souls Remembrance Program.

“We offer families the ability to inter cremated remains of a loved one at no charge,” Seelig explained. “The thought behind that program was that as families choose cremation, what statistics show is that only 25% of cremated remains are placed in a cemetery; 75% either go home or get scattered, and we believe the majority of them go home.”

Gather Them Home

The program is meant to encourage people to “bring cremains that have been sitting at home, and they just don’t know what to do with, or they don’t have the financial means,” said Bob Hojnacki, director of Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Hojnacki told Aleteia that the FBI’s Detroit office “wanted to do something for a proper burial” and contacted the archdiocese after learning about its version of the All Souls Remembrance Program, known as Gather Them Home.

“It’s become a significant program,” Seelig said. “We’ve probably done over 20,000 free interments of cremated remains throughout the dioceses we work in.”

For All Souls Day, Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby offered Mass at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstone Charter Township, Michigan. Rites were also celebrated at the two other archdiocesan cemeteries, including Holy Sepulchre in Southfield, where Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron presided.

“Between what families have brought in and from funeral homes and from the FBI, we have close to 700 cremains we’re going to lay to rest after the various Masses,” Hojnacki said in an interview Monday.

Aleteia has requested comment from the FBI.

At Mass, for the victims whose names are known — and not all of them are — the names were read out. Then, at a committal service, the urns of the deceased were placed into either a vault or the ground.

“There will be a memorial cenotaph where the names we have will be inscribed,” Hojnacki said.

The Catholic Church allows cremation , but says that the ashes must be laid to rest in a sacred place — in a cemetery or, in certain cases, in a church or an area set aside for the purpose of proper interment.

Seelig said that people keep cremains at home for all kinds of reasons, such as waiting until the spouse of a deceased person passes away so the couple can be buried together.

“But the reason I started this program was that we knew that there were some people either for financial reasons or psychological reasons, spiritual reasons, were keeping remains at home, and then, that’s just a long term problem because those remains either get passed along to someone else or … we’ve had stories of literally, when someone dies, finding remains of someone else in people’s homes. Sometimes people don’t know what they are, and they get tossed out.”

Known to God alone

The other mission programs offered by CFCS are the Our Precious Lives program for the interment of children who died from miscarriage or who passed away as infants, and the Mother Teresa Program, which serves the homeless and others who don’t have the ability to pay for funeral services.

“The corporal work of mercy of burying the dead is the work we do in the cemeteries,” said Seelig. “One of the spiritual works of mercy is praying for the dead, for those who are in purgatory.”

He said that around All Souls Day, cemeteries get a lot of visitors. “People come to light candles; we have a lot of ceremonies; we have Masses in all the cemeteries. I just consider it one of the holy days of the year that speaks to everyone. All Souls Day is kind of our reflection point for all of us to stop and think about those who have passed before us. I think we revisit our own mortality when we go through that time of prayer.”

This year, as hundreds of cremains handed over by the FBI are buried in Detroit Catholic cemeteries, many will be reminded that whether we know the deceased or not, each soul is known to God.

Our Lady of Hope Cemetery works with FBI to inter 579 unclaimed remains

The cremated remains of 579 individuals are pictured during an All Souls Remembrance ceremony Nov. 2 at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township. The Federal Bureau of Investigations gave the unclaimed remains to be interred alongside 420 individuals who were brought to three Catholic cemeteries as part of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ All Souls Remembrance program. (Photos courtesy of Deanna Cortese)

Cremated remains stemming from an investigation that spanned over 10 years interred during All Souls Day ceremony

BROWNSTOWN TOWNSHIP —  On Nov. 2, Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigations to inter the unclaimed cremated remains of 579 individuals the bureau had in its possession.

The FBI contacted the ministry about interring the remains that originate from an investigation that spanned over a 10-year period, Deanna Cortese, director of outreach for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, told Detroit Catholic.

The bureau attempted to contact family and next of kin of the deceased, Cortese said, and turned to Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services to inter the remains of those for whom no family contacts were able to be established.

Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby blessed the remains at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township on Nov. 2, in connection with the cemetery’s All Souls Day celebration.

“This came about after an investigation the FBI was doing where they were trying to return all of the individuals that were involved in the case to their families,” Cortese said. “Unfortunately, approximately 579 deceased individuals were not able to be returned to anybody in their family or next of kin, so they were left with these remains in their possession.”

The cremains were buried alongside 420 remains brought to Our Lady of Hope Cemetery, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield and St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe by various families as part of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ All Souls Remembrance program.

“(The FBI) wanted to give them a proper, dignified burial, so one of their agents reached out to us through our All Souls Remembrance Program and inquired whether or not we’d be willing to take on these individuals and lay them to rest in the cemetery, which we did today,” Cortese said.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby blesses the cremated remains of individuals during the All Souls Remembrance ceremony Nov. 2 at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township.

This is not the first time Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services has worked with government authorities in burying unclaimed remains, Cortese added.

“Back in the early 2000s, we worked with the Wayne County morgue where they laid to rest 170 or so full bodies that were unclaimed,” Cortese said. “We have an area where Wayne County laid these individuals to rest at Our Lady of Hope, so we’ll be creating an area adjacent to the Wayne County burial for this group.”

The cemetery will erect a cenotaph on the burial location of the cremains that will feature the names of the deceased. For those who are unidentified by the FBI, a line on the cenotaph will read “Unknown” for every unidentified person.

“The FBI has exhausted all of their resources to try to find family members for these individuals,” Cortese said. “Other individuals who were part of this case were returned to their loved ones; so these are the remains of those whose families were not able to be found.”

FBI agents contacted Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services about interring unclaimed cremated remains the organization had in its possession from a previous investigation.

Cortese said an integral part of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ mission is praying for and remembering the deceased, regardless of their circumstances, adding that all of God’s children deserved to be buried on consecrated ground.

“The people buried at our cemeteries are prayed for every day by our staff, by families visiting the cemetery,” Cortese said. “And for many this might be the first time that they were ever in a church, but they are being prayed for no matter what their station was prior to death.”

The morning before All Souls Day, Cortese recalled, cemetery staff were moving the cremains to a table to be blessed by the auxiliary bishop before they were interred in their final resting place.

“When we were done, I sat down and just looked, and the only way I could describe it was God’s hand was in that place at that moment,” Cortese said. “No matter what their circumstances were, whether they were born poor, rich, or didn’t have any family, it didn’t matter; they were a child of God. I sat there and looked throughout the chapel and room, seeing all of those people, and it just was evident that God was present and God was the one who made this happen.”

Deanna Cortese of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services said it is part of the cemetery’s mission to see that all children of God are buried on consecrated ground.

‘The Meaning of a Holy Death’ (PODCAST)Meaning



A chaplain, a funeral home director and a cemeteries leader explore Catholic beliefs and experiences about death and dying

(0:02) Fr. Rich Bartoszek, chaplain and director of spiritual care for Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, talks about his experience ministering to the dying. Often, he says, those at the end of life report mystical experiences, such as a visit from a long-deceased loved one. These experiences can be signs that the end is near.

(2:44) Timothy Schram, CEO of Howe-Peterson Funeral Homes, discusses how he became involved in funeral ministry from a young age. It’s not for everyone, he admits, but it’s a passion he feels to help those experiencing one of the most difficult times in life.

(6:23) Over 35 years, Schram continues to be emotionally invested in his work because he realizes the importance of honoring a loved one’s memory. He and his wife have their own experience with tragedy, having lost an infant themselves.

(8:59) The work can be spiritually taxing, but Schram has a solid support system. He leans heavily on his faith, as well as on his wife and kids, who ground him and remind him of the value of his ministry.

(13:27) Schram describes the beauty of the Catholic funeral rites, as well as the impact caring for the dead can have on the living. He describes interactions with families of those he’s buried, who thank him time and time again.

(18:25) Bob Hojnacki, director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services for the Archdiocese of Detroit, discusses what makes his ministry unique, from spiritual care to financial assistance for families who’ve suffered a loved one’s loss. Hojnacki talks about the archdiocese’s six Catholic cemeteries, as well as what goes into a funeral vigil, Mass and rite of committal.

(20:43) Fr. Bartoszek tells the story of a 10-year-old boy, Michael, who was dying of HIV. A spirited youngster, Michael was an inspiration to his classmates and friends. One day, Michael asked Fr. Bartoszek what it would be like when he died. Fr. Bartoszek replied that “the angels will come and take you home.” At the end of Michael’s life, he reported a vision of the angels, just as Fr. Bartoszek had said.

(25:52) Fr. Bartoszek talks about his ministry to both Catholics and non-Catholics. The most fulfilling part, he says, is when he can share God’s love and mercy with a dying person who didn’t think they deserved it. He helps people let go of grudges, learn to forgive, and learn to accept God’s mercy for them.

(28:07) It’s this profound love and mercy that’s at the heart of Fr. Bartoszek’s ministry, every anointing, every funeral Mass, every burial and every tear. It’s the hope of the resurrection that animates the Church’s ministry to the dying, and the ineffable message that Jesus’ love is always stronger than death.

Reporting by Gabriella Patti; narration by Fr. Craig Giera; script by Casey McCorry; production by Ron Pangborn

This episode is sponsored by Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services. As Catholics, we pray, worship and live in holy spaces, from grandiose cathedrals to tiny adoration chapels where we meet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. But what about our final resting place? A Catholic burial in consecrated ground among fellow believers is the sacred right of every Catholic. A tradition since the catacombs, it is the final expression of our Catholic faith, a silent witness to our hope in the resurrection. Archdiocese of Detroit Catholic cemeteries provide an environment of comfort and solace for loved ones, a powerful reminder of our eternal life with Jesus Christ. Offer your family this gift by planning for your eternal rest in a Catholic cemetery. To learn more about the work of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, our history and our Catholic burial traditions, call or visit one of our locations today. We are ready to ensure that your wishes are met and provide peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.

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Before All Souls Day, Catholic cemeteries accept remains of deceased at no cost as part of their All Souls Remembrance Program.

Fr. Dennet Jung, OFM, blesses the cremated remains brought by family members to be interred Oct. 21 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield. On the third Friday of every month, the cemetery hosts its All Souls Remembrance burial service, during which families are invited to bring the cremated remains of their loved ones, which might be at home on a mantle or a shelf, to be given a dignified burial in a holy Catholic resting place. The program is offered free of charge. (Photos by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Memorial program invites families to bring cremated remains to a Catholic cemetery to be ‘laid to rest on sacred ground’

SOUTHFIELD — “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The invocation said during the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday prompts the faithful to have a penitent heart to begin Lent, but it’s also an appropriate reminder of the destination for one’s earthly body.

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services is reminding families of the faithful that the remains of their loved ones — whether in the form or a fully-body burial or through cremation — are meant to be returned the ground, awaiting the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body.

For that reason, CFCS Detroit — which operates six cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Detroit — is in the midst of its “Gather Them Home,” campaign, which invites families to bring the remains of loved ones to be buried at a Catholic cemetery at no cost.

“The Gather Them Home initiative is something that runs in conjunction with our All Souls Remembrance Program every third Friday of the month,” Deanna Cortese, director of outreach for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, told Detroit Catholic. “We are asking families to bring their loved ones off the shelves, out of the closets and off the mantles and bring them back to the cemetery to be laid to rest on sacred and consecrated ground. We have a website,, where they can learn more information.”

Cremains to be interred after the Oct. 21 All Souls Remembrance service at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield are pictured during a committal service. Families with cremated remains at home are encouraged to contact Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services to arrange a time for them to be interred on cemetery grounds.

CFCS Detroit hosts its All Souls Remembrance Program every third Friday of the month at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield and Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township, where families can bring cremated remains to be interred at no cost.

About 30 to 50 cremains are interred each month by families who do not have the financial resources for a full burial. The remains of unclaimed individuals are also interred during the monthly services.

“We believe in the sacredness of the body. Just as Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb, our bodies should be laid in sacred and consecrated ground,” Cortese said. “When Jesus comes back some day, we will be reunited with our bodies and our loved ones in heaven. It dates back to the time when Jesus was laid in the tomb.”

The third Friday services at Holy Sepulchre begin at 9 a.m. with Mass, during which cremains are brought before the altar and blessed while the burial rites are celebrated. Families are then invited to the lower level of the mausoleum, where the cremains are placed in the All Souls Remembrance crypt.

Once the crypt is full, the remains are then moved to be buried on the grounds of the cemetery. Cemetery staff keep records of where the remains of individuals are located, so families can know exactly where their relatives are.

Families gather for a Mass and committal service Oct. 21 inside the mausoleum at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield as part of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ All Souls Remembrance program.

Emily Manschot was at the Oct. 21 All Souls Remembrance service at Holy Sepulchre, laying her brother, Charles, to rest.

“It took us a long time to get him home,” Manschot said. “He passed away in the Philippines, and this chapter of our life is now closed. Our parents are buried in this cemetery, and I think our parents would be very happy Charles is with them.”

Manschot was with her two brothers, Mark and Steve, and two sisters, Cheryl and Sharron, along with their spouses, and her son, Eric, in what was a family affair for Charles, seeing him placed in his final resting place.

“It leaves your mind at peace that your loved one is in a safe place,” Manschot said. “My husband’s sister is in the same place, and it was very gracious of the cemetery to accept these people who could not afford to be buried in a regular grave.

“We are together here as a family, and God is taking care of us now,” Manschot added. “Soon, all of us will be in God’s care, when He chooses the time for us to come back home.”

CFCS Detroit’s Gather Them Home campaign coincides with the month of November and All Souls Day, Nov. 2, when Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron will celebrate Mass at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery at 9 a.m. After that Mass, more than 100 cremains will be placed in the All Souls Remembrance crypt.

Matt Hatfield of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services places the cremated remains of the deceased that were brought to the Oct. 21 All Souls Remembrance service at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield inside a crypt in the cemetery’s mausoleum. Holy Sepulchre hosts such services every third Friday of the month and will be accepting more than 100 remains during an All Souls Day celebration with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit on Nov. 2.

“We recognize the month of November is All Souls Month,” Cortese said. “Throughout the month, we place vigil candles on graves of our loved ones and we have special prayers that happen. There is more of an awareness of a deepness of prayer during that month to remember that from dust we came, and from dust we shall return. But we have hope in the resurrection.”

The Nov. 2 Mass at Holy Sepulchre is one of three celebrations for All Souls Day, along with Masses at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township at 11 a.m. and St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe at 2 p.m., where families can still bring cremains to be interred by calling Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services Detroit’s main office at (248) 350-1900.

In addition to the cemetery Masses, Archbishop Vigneron will celebrate a sung Mass for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

If cremains cannot be accepted in time for All Souls Day, families are encouraged to make use of the All Souls Remembrance services every third Friday of the month at Holy Sepulchre, as well as other programs organized by CFCS Detroit to remember the dead.

“We have several mission programs through CFCS beyond the All Souls Remembrance,” Cortese said. “We also have our Mother Teresa Program, a traditional full-body burial for those who can’t afford it, and the Precious Lives Program, for infants who pass away. All someone needs to do is call the office, and one of our family service advisers will meet with the family and walk them through every step of the process. We also invite them back and continue to provide care long after the burial.”

Fr. Dennet Jung, OFM, consecrates the Holy Eucharist during a Mass on Oct. 21 inside the mausoleum chapel at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery for families interring their loved ones’ remains in the cemetery’s All Souls Remembrance crypt.

Families are also invited to take part in events such as the Day of the Dead celebration at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery on Oct. 29, or the monthlong All Souls Month Vigil Lights program, in which families are invited to decorate a luminary bag to honor a deceased loved one, which are then placed along the main driveway of the cemetery.

“We want families to come back to the cemetery and be with their loved ones,” Cortese said. “We know where they are (spiritually), but we say the cemetery is a place for the living. We invite them back and continue to pray for them. Every day, our staff prays for the people buried at our locations, and we pray for the families we work with when it comes to remembering their loved ones. That is what it means to offer care for a family long after the funeral.”

Jesus Wept event, Catholic bioethicist advises clergy and Pastoral ministers on end-of-life care

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center, gave the keynote address at the Jesus Wept professional development day for clergy, evangelical charity and bereavement minsters at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit on Oct. 4. Fr. Pacholczyk said patients and families of patients have to make prudential decisions when it comes to end-of-life care. (Photos by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Weighing the benefits and burdens of care is critical in making prudential judgments, Fr. Pacholczyk says at ‘Jesus Wept’ event

DETROIT — Clergy, evangelical charity and bereavement ministers gathered Oct. 4 at Sacred Heart Major Seminary for a conference on death and what it means to die well.

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services hosted “Jesus Wept: Bringing God’s People to Christ through the Funeral Rites,” focused on helping ministers better care for families as loved ones enter the final stages of life and after a person dies.

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center, gave the keynote address, “The Gift of Dying Well,” delving into the nuances, situations and “grey areas” a family might experience during the end of someone’s life.

Fr. Pacholczyk discussed end-of-life care, employing ordinary and extraordinary means in preserving life and the advantages of having a medial surrogate or proxy who can make conscious, well-informed decisions, as opposed to only testimonies such as “living wills” that might not cover every case in a prudent or sound manner.

A patient is pictured in a file photo chatting with a nun at Rosary Hill Home, a Dominican-run facility in Hawthorne, N.Y., that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and have financial need. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“When you use due diligence, the grey indeed shrinks to a line. It’s no longer a grey area, but a line of understanding and a knowledge that, ‘Yes, I need to be on the right side of this line. I need to choose what is morally appropriate here,’” Fr. Pacholczyk said.

Fr. Pacholczyk introduced the audience to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” a document developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that summarizes Catholic bioethics and how best to carry out the will of patients and a patient’s family.

“The document also discusses the use of proportionate means, weighing the benefits and the burdens of a treatment,” Fr. Pacholczyk said. “You also have to notice expense as well. What is the expense this will bring to the family? Will it be a burden? These are all factors to consider.”

Keeping family members in the loop about conversations between the patient, doctors and spiritual caregivers is key during end-of-life care, not only for the patient, but the patient’s family, Fr. Pacholczyk said.

“Complex factors will always be around when we are making a judgment, but judgment is what we are attempting to do here,” Fr. Pacholczyk said. “It’s our moral duty to make good, prudential judgements. Prudence, as you recall, is the highest of the cardinal virtues and is super important for us to seek, to live out that virtue. Making prudential decisions means you see all the variables in front of you and proceed with the best option going forward.”

Fr. Pacholczyk gave his keynote, “The Gift of Dying Well,” stressing how patients and proxies for patients have to weigh the benefits and cost of medical decisions when it comes to end-of-life care and approaching death with a Catholic mindset.

The conference also featured Sr. Esther Mary Nickel, RSM, director of sacred worship for the Archdiocese of Detroit, who spoke about educating families on the importance of Christian burial rites and how those rites care both for the souls of the deceased and the deceased’s family. Debbie Vallandingham, director of social work and grief care services at Angela Hospice, and Theodore Butkin, parish relationship manager with Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, also spoke.

Caring for a family after a funeral is often overlooked in funeral and cemetery care, said Marlon De La Torre, Ph.D., executive director of evangelization and missionary discipleship for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Once, he recalled, a woman who had just lost her son asked De La Torre “where her son was.”

“She wanted to know, specifically, what does the Church say about his state?” De La Torre said. “She wanted to know about his journey, where is he going. That for her was very important, and it’s something that is often overlooked when we are planning the funeral, the liturgy, the food. We don’t ask, ‘Where is this person going?’”

Dr. De La Torre consoled the woman, reminding her it was right and proper to pray for him as she entrusted his soul to God.

“I told this woman that her son is God’s son, but he is still her son,” De La Torre said. “He is passed on, but you still recall his image and likeness. Do we not have pictures of remembrance in the home of those who passed away, elements of things used to remind us of them? Of course, we do. This is part of the imagery of being a son or daughter of God.”

The professional development day was sponsored by Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services to better equip ministers to walk with those making end-of-life medical decisions and with families dealing with death, as well as accompaniment from hospice to mourning.

All decisions when it comes to end-of-life care should be made with a focus on God’s love, De La Torre said, which should be the ultimate focal point for pastors, hospice workers and chaplains.

“Looking through the progressive stages of life, we see what it means to have a proper, holy, Christian death,” De Le Torre said. “Looking to the Roman Missal: ‘Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended. When the body of an earthly dwelling lays in death, we can gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.’

“When I literally recited that to the woman who lost her son,” De La Torre recalled, “she broke down in tears. She had never heard death explained like that before.”



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