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.

Listen to ‘Detroit Stories’ on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Fireside. Podcasts also will be posted biweekly on DetroitCatholic.com.

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, gatherthemhome.com, 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.”

Funeral, Cemetery Workers are ‘Salve to Those Who are Suffering,’ Fr. Riccardo Says

Executive director of ACTS XXIX delivers a keynote during a national town hall event for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services

DETROIT – In a culture where people are deeply afraid of death and dying, Christ wants to use those tasked with burying the dead to be a salve to those who are suffering and to remind them of Christ’s paradoxical message — that by dying on the cross, he has defeated death for all.

That was the message delivered to hundreds of funeral and cemetery workers May 12 during Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ national town hall event hosted at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Local CFCS workers attended the afternoon event in person, while hundreds of virtual attendees from across the United States watched a livestream provided by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The retreat began with Mass celebrated by Fr. John Riccardo, executive director of ACTS XXIX, and welcoming remarks from Bob Hojnacki, director of cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Detroit, along with a brief statement from CFCS founder and CEO Robert Seelig.

Seelig, who recently celebrated his 20th anniversary with CFCS, reminded his colleagues that theirs is a ministry of faith to which Christ has called them.

“Christ has shown his hand on my shoulder, and he’s been sending me to do this work for 20 years,” Seelig said. “And so, I’d like you to imagine that when you’re meeting with a family, you’re serving one another (and) that Christ has his hand on your shoulder.”

Fr. Riccardo opened his keynote address by empathizing with his listeners. Priests, like those who work in cemeteries and funeral services, are around death all the time, and it takes an emotional toll, Fr. Riccardo said.

“It’s emotionally taxing to give and to give and to give and to give to people when they’re in their weakest spots, at their most vulnerable spots and when they’re hurting the most,” Fr. Riccardo said. “So I pray that if nothing else, what we’re going to do right now is is something that the Lord will just refresh you with.”

Even with faith, this task can take its toll, Fr. Riccardo added.

“It can still be grating and challenging when infants die, when teenagers throw themselves in front of semi-trucks on the freeway, when spouses don’t go together,” he said. “So it’s good just to be reminded of the fact that God is in control when He has us, and we don’t have to be afraid.”

God hates death, Fr. Riccardo said, but He has done something about it by choosing to go to the cross, freely giving His life.

“(Christ being on the cross) is going to look like something disastrous is happening, but it only looks that way. It’s going to look like life is chaotic, it’s out of control, that there is no point,” Fr. Riccardo said. “It only looks that way. Life is not chaotic. It has a point. There is an author of the drama that is called history, which is ‘His story,’ and He knows what he’s doing.”

From mankind’s viewpoint, it might not always make sense, Fr. Riccardo said. Some might wonder why Jesus chose to be up on the cross, but by doing so, Christ has accomplished three things, Fr. Riccardo explained.

The first thing Christ accomplishes on the cross is show how much he loves us, Fr. Riccardo said.

“The message of the Gospel is really this simple: you matter to God. You’re worth fighting for. In fact, you’re worth dying for,” Fr. Riccardo said. “God just wants you to hear Him address you by name and tell you that He loves you.”

Secondly, Jesus is paying the price for our sins, Fr. Riccardo said. On the cross, Christ is atoning for the sins of everyone who has ever lived.

“We live right now in a culture that’s fond of canceling people,” Fr. Riccardo explained. “God has his own version of cancel culture: He canceled sin, not people. He knows your sin; He calls you by name.”

Our culture defines us by our sin, but Christ makes all things new; he takes our sin and allows us to become the person we wish to be, Fr. Riccardo said.

Finally, Christ on the cross is going to war, Fr. Riccardo said. Jesus is engaging hell, Satan and death in a battle. He allows himself to die so that he can enter death and destroy it from within. Even though we will still die, death cannot hold us because Christ has done something about it.

​​”Over and over again in the Easter season, we say things like, ‘Death has no more dominion over him. He died once; he’s alive now forever.’ Who else do you know you can say that about? So much is this true that the Christian actually taunts death. That’s what St. Paul does in his first letter to the Corinthians. ‘Where’s your sting? Where’s your victory?’

“Until I make sense out of my death, I’ll never be able to make sense out of my life,” Fr. Riccardo said. “I can live my life in such a way that I know death is not the end. Why? Because God’s done something about it.”

This knowledge changes how Christians live and frees them from the fear of death, and allows them to grieve in hope, Fr. Riccardo said.

“Everybody grieves. It’s just a question of how am I going to grieve? With hope or without hope?” he said.

Knowing Christ has conquered death allows those working in Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services to walk with those who are grieving, Fr. Riccardo said, giving them a scriptural lens to make sense of suffering and death by letting Christ shine through them.

“For whatever reason, God has placed you, at least at this point in your life, in people’s most painful moments, and he wants to use you as something like a salve, like an ointment that he can pour into their wounds to somehow give them strength and peace and hope in the midst of all their pain,” Fr. Riccardo said.

“This is a brutally hard mission,” he added. “It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is also a beautiful mission. It’s a spectacular mission. And it’s one in which I think if nothing else, the Lord through me right now simply wants to say to each and every one of you very personally, thank you for saying yes to it.”

 

Catholic Cemeteries Commit Cremated Remains, Including Those Found at Cantrell

Detroit-area burial services ‘a grace and an act of hope’ in Christ’s resurrection, Archbishop Vigneron says at Holy Sepulchre

SOUTHFIELD — There is something both permanent and temporary about cemeteries.

Cemeteries provide a holy ground where people bury their loved ones; a final resting place on earth. But as God showed in Christ’s tomb, the rest is not a final rest.

Preaching before those gathered at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield on Nov. 2, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said even the hallowed grounds of a cemetery are not the final stop in the faithful’s journey toward God.

“While everyone requires the service of cemeteries and funeral directors, we know that this cemetery is only a temporary place,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We are not oppressed to come here to pray, because we know it is from this place at the end of time a great miracle will occur.”

The All Souls Day service at Holy Sepulchre joined services at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township and St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe, each of which concluded with a special committal service for the cremated remains brought by families to the three cemeteries as part of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services’ Gather Them Home campaign.

“As we have this final committal of these ashes, I acknowledge for some, that this is a long extension of a funeral for your beloved,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “While it is painful to mourn the loss of a loved one, it is a grace and an act of hope in the power of Jesus Christ and the resurrection to come and bury them here today. It is my hope that you find comfort and consolation in prayer through the power of Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Vigneron said All Souls Day is an opportunity to acknowledge that the departed are not gone, but rather wait for the Second Coming of Christ, with whom they will be reunited in heaven.

“The Gospel tells us what God the Father has done, how Jesus Christ is more powerful than death,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “That’s why we have hope, because God, in the Holy Spirit, came back upon the body of Jesus Christ in his holy sepulcher. Jesus had been there for three days: Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and into Sunday morning. Then, in an hour known only to the Father and the angels, he went with the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, upon that dead body, and now Christ is victorious over death.”In his opening remarks, Archbishop Vigneron called to mind the news of the unborn and cremated remains discovered at Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit on Oct. 12 and Perry Funeral Home, also in Detroit, a week later.“Today’s gesture is a gesture of love and respect for those who are departed,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The news regarding those whose remains were misplaced in funeral homes in the city affects us all deeply. We also remember our Jewish brothers and sisters, murdered in acts of terror and antisemitism. Today, we pray for all the departed souls, the discarded elderly, the unborn and those victims of opioid addiction.“It is a great work of mercy, entrusted to us, to bury the dead,” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “Because our God is the God of the living. So we undertake this great work of mercy of praying for the dead and to bury the dead.”Across town at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in northeast Detroit, a separate interfaith service was being observed to commit the cremated remains of those recently discovered at Cantrell.Brian Joseph, owner of Verheyden Funeral Homes, which helped organize the service and committal along with Mt. Olivet, said it is part of the Catholic faith to help others in need, especially in one’s local community.

“It was the right thing to do. It goes back to what Mr. Verheyden started in 1908,” said Joseph, a Catholic. “It’s the beginning of the healing from this crisis in our community.”

Joseph said nearly 300 cremated remains — save for remains of about 20 military veterans, who will be interred at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly on Veterans Day, Nov. 16 — will be laid to rest for free in a crypt at Mt. Olivet.

A Chance to Heal

For the faithful who brought ashes to Holy Sepulchre and other archdiocesan cemeteries Nov. 2, the Mass and committal service was an extension of mercy and an opportunity for closure.

Jim Vurpillat of St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms was at Holy Sepulchre with his wife and sister-in-law, who interred the remains of their mother who died 13 years ago.

“A few years ago, my wife and her sister found out their brother had their mother’s remains in a closet, and they felt it wasn’t a proper place for Mom,” Vurpillat said. “We read about what the archdiocese was doing on All Souls Day to inter ashes; it was a wonderful gesture on their part.”

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery has a Mass every third Friday of the month in which cremated remains are accepted, free of charge, as part of its All Souls Remembrance program.

“We were sitting around the living room when my wife brought it up to her sister, and it was one of those things we talked about, did research on, and it was so easy,” Vurpillat said. “They started to read about it, and we knew it would be a perfect thing for Mom. Their grandparents are also buried here, so this allows Mom to be with her parents.”

Bill Hoeft, location manager at Holy Sepulchre, said Archbishop Vigneron blessed the cremated remains of approximately 180 individuals during the committal ceremony.

Hoeft said the main focus for the Gather Them Home initiative is to educate families about the importance of a proper burial and committal service, as well as the order of a Christian funeral, which includes a visitation and celebration of life with a Mass and final committal.

“Even though we are a Catholic cemetery, we are open to all Christian faiths,” Hoeft said. “We invite families to come to visit our beautiful grounds, our mausoleum, and find out where we inter their loved ones and how we care for the loved ones who are placed here.”

For Ellen Gorksi of St. Alphonsus-St. Clement Parish in Dearborn, whose mother passed in 2011, the service was the perfect opportunity for closure.

“I’m here so my mom could have a Christian burial,” said Gorksi, fighting back tears. “Just knowing that the archdiocese did this is a great relief. And I was very taken in by it; it was my opportunity to do the right thing by her.”

Rest For the Weary: How Catholic Funeral, Cemetery Staff Embraced Grieving Families

Theodor Butkin, outreach manager, Jim Henley, Holy Sepulchre Associate Location Manager, Bob Hojinacki, director of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Detroit, and Nick Acosta, operations manager, pose for a photo in the mausoleum of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield. Throughout the pandemic, now in its 14th month, Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services has adapted its ministry to serve the ever-evolving needs of families burying loved ones at Catholic cemeteries. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Fourteen months into Pandemic, Catholic Cemetery Workers Reflect on Difficult Year, Pledge to Walk with Families Suffering Unexpected Loss

DETROIT — During the worst months of the pandemic, Detroit’s Catholic funeral and cemetery workers were among the most “essential” of essential workers.

It’s not how they wanted it, but it’s the reality everyone was dealt.

Long hours, difficult conversations — made more difficult by virus-mandated restrictions — and daily changing job roles made an already unfamiliar situation even more challenging for staff at Detroit-based Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, whose responsibilities include maintaining a pastoral presence for those grieving the untimely death of a loved one.

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron will celebrate a Mass on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in recognition of the dedication cemetery and funeral staffers have shown in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mass is just one way to show appreciation for those called to help families dealing with loss during a once-in-a-century pandemic.

“Early on in the pandemic, there were so many unknowns of how we were going to do things,” Bob Hojnacki, director of cemeteries for Detroit’s Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services (CFCS), told Detroit Catholic. “Things were changing on a weekly, daily to an almost hourly basis. We had to change a lot of our protocols and safety procedures for our staff, families and how we processed those changes.”

While parishes and schools ceased in-person operations, cemeteries had no such luxury.

Cemetery workers donned special equipment to keep them safe while burying COVID-related deaths. Other funeral staffers worked with families remotely, planning burial services at the cemetery when parishes were closed, establishing live streams so more than 10 people could witness funerals, and at times, being the sole witness of the departed’s burial.

“They were very much front-line workers, but not celebrated in the same way as health care workers,” said Robert Seelig, CEO for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, which operates in 15 dioceses across the country.

While Catholic funeral and cemetery workers are always called upon to minister to grieving families, the pandemic has been especially challenging for those whose ministry involves comforting those dealing with unexpected loss. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Seelig, who is based in the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., flew in to Detroit for today’s Mass, one of a series of Masses across the country celebrated for funeral and cemetery workers whose ministry is often conducted behind the scenes.

“On the one-year anniversary of the first COVID burial in California in the Diocese of San Jose, we did a Mass, but we couldn’t have one Mass that would say, ‘the pandemic is over,’” Seelig told Detroit Catholic. “We realized we needed to so a series of healing Masses for the workers, recognizing what they have gone through, but realizing that we’re all going through recovery at a certain level.”

The changing nature of government restrictions and knowledge about the spread and transmission of the virus was something cemetery staffers around the country had to adjust to, as Catholics were looking to cemeteries as one of the few places public worship was being done during the height of the lockdowns.

“We were one of the few, if not the only, ministry of the Catholic Church where employees had to continue to go to work,” Seelig said. “We went into crisis-management mode with daily national meetings with all of our directors and staff. We calmed everyone down and looked at what we could do.”

Turns out, what they “could do” was a lot.

A mother and daughter visit a gravesite at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Wyandotte. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

Across the country, Catholic funeral workers changed their daily routines on the fly, meeting with families remotely, having staffers drive in separate cars when showing potential plots and investing in livestream technology to cater to families unable to travel or attend funerals in person.

“Early on, we had the family environmental specialists and grounds crew wear special suits and spray down the caskets when they would come in, and we weren’t allowing families to be around for the burial,” Hojnacki said. “Since then, learning what we know about COVID, we no longer are in suits, but we’re still keeping distances and have special proper equipment to handle the body and caskets. Families can watch the committal from a safe distance — 50 feet — and do a service prior to burial.”

Hojnacki said CFCS Detroit had an estimated 2,700 burials last year, just a bit more than the 2,400 it averages, with 375 of those being COVID-related burials.

Some cemeteries experienced backlogs, both because of the increase in burials and also because of families opting to wait for crowd size and travel restrictions to ease before interring cremated remains in a grove or niche in a mausoleum, Hojnacki said.

Despite the spiritually and physically taxing work, funeral and cemetery workers offered a critical ministry to suffering families often dealing with unexpected loss.

“Our staff has really stepped up,” Hojnacki said. “Early on, there were a lot of unknowns and a lot of anxiety, and we turned our switch to focus more on families who were having what we call ‘at-need’ deaths.”

Family members pay their respects during a funeral Mass for Fr. Michael Cooney, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Mount Clemens, in December. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“At-need” deaths are sudden deaths in which no prior arrangements were made. Families work with CFCS staff on planning a funeral, which is a difficult thing for families not expecting to do so.

Patricia Kade, a family service adviser at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, works with families in pre-need and at-need planning. Normally, she would meet in person with families, walking them through the cemetery grounds or the mausoleum, explaining the options for burial and interment.

Despite meeting with families via Zoom now, Kade knows it’s her job to provide comfort and familiarity as families navigate a difficult and stressful time.

“If presented properly, families understand all the new restrictions and what needs to be done, and they accept it,” Kade said. “We provide compassion to people, answering their questions, guiding them through this process. We explain how we can have a committal ceremony that is socially distanced with people wearing masks, or with people staying in the car. We try to be flexible.”

Even weeks after the funeral, CFCS staffers have been calling families to check in on them, offering a listening ear and compassionate voice.

“We have received so many thank-you notes and feedback from families,” Kade said. “We pray every day for our families, for our staff and the people who just buried a loved one. We ask if there is anything they need, and often they say, ‘Thank you for making this easier.’ I think that keeps us going.”

Members of the Catholic and Funeral and Cemetery Services team pose for a photo inside the mausoleum at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield. Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services have been open throughout the pandemic, serving the community in whatever capacity they can, via face-to-face or Zoom interactions. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

That sense of gratitude extends to the grounds crew, who are charged with making sure cemeteries look their best as places of gathering and prayer.

“Families are looking for closure, and I believe my team’s job is to help provide that closure and ensure there’s care and love for the one who is being buried,” said Nicholas Acosta, operations manager for CFCS – Detroit, who oversees the grounds crews for all of the ministry’s Detroit locations. “We try to make sure families have the best — which is hard to say — but the best and most respectful manner in laying their loved ones to rest.”

Seeling said Catholic cemeteries throughout the country have embraced their role in providing a critical corporal work of mercy, especially when other Catholic ministries were limited by government restrictions, as an evangelization opportunity.

“Our cemeteries are actually places where Catholics, non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics are congregating,” Seelig said. “So we have this ministry opportunity, relating to Archbishop Vigneron’s Unleash the Gospel, of how do we invite people back to an experience within the Church? How do we reconnect them? We see the opportunity the Church has to minister to these families. You don’t have to go out and seek people in need; they come to our cemeteries every day.”

Archbishop blesses new Stations of the Cross at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery Photos

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron blesses an outdoor Stations of the Cross installation at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield on June 5. The stations and outdoor cremation garden will give families a place to reflect and pray as they visit the cemetery. The archbishop also blessed a walking path dedicated to the late Fr. Timothy Babcock, former chaplain for Catholic cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Photos by James Silvestri | Special to Detroit Catholic)

SOUTHFIELD — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrated an outdoor Mass on Saturday, June 5, at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield as he dedicated a new cremation garden and marble Stations of the Cross.

The new garden is meant to give families a serene place to walk in nature as they pray and memorialize their loved ones, said Deanne Cortese, outreach director for Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services in Detroit.

“This is what families are looking for,” Cortese said. “We looked at what a lot of cemeteries around the country are doing, and an outdoor Stations of the Cross where you can walk and reflect seemed like a good fit.”

The ceremony also included the blessing of a walking path and monument dedicated to the late Fr. Timothy Babcock, who served as chaplain for Catholic cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Detroit until his death in 2019.

To learn more about Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, visit https://www.cfcsdetroit.org.

Photos by James Silvestri, Special to Detroit Catholic

To learn more about Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, visit https://www.cfcsdetroit.org.

How Catholic Funeral, Cemetery Rites Can be Gateways to Evangelization

A statue of Christ is pictured in the cemetery of Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Dunkirk, Md., May 6, 2021. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Over the past year, our nation has lost hundreds of thousands of souls to the pandemic that plunged our society into a crisis from which we are only now beginning to emerge. In a culture that traditionally relegates the topic of death to whispered, private conversation, we have been forced to confront head-on the fragility of our lives this side of the Kingdom of God.

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services fill the void left by a society keeping death at arm’s length. This Church-owned nonprofit was established to walk with every Catholic through the experience of an end-of-life journey, fusing sound business and management principles with a concerted effort to unleash a renewed Catholic vitality, re-evangelizing Catholics about the hope and beauty found in the theology of Catholic end-of-life rites.

Death has been a source of both anxiety and fascination for humanity since the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, many find death to be a frightening prospect and spend their lives in search of distractions from its unrelenting finality. The Catholic response, however, has long been to emphasize death as a passage to eternal salvation. Catholic funeral rites, which are composed of the Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Committal, are designed to imitate and reflect the Christian hope that, in death, we find eternal life with our heavenly father.

“From beginning to end, a funeral evangelizes us, sharing the good news that God is near and that even in our sorrow, difficulties and distress, we can have joyful confidence in his providence,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron wrote in his 2018 pastoral note, An Act of Mercy and Faith. “On our end, through participating in the funeral liturgies, we proclaim to those who have little or no faith, or who do not practice it, the good news that God is mercy. We proclaim through our actions that we are certain that our loved ones are not memories, but that they are alive, they will arise and live for all eternity.”

Every detail of the rites is designed to remind those participating of their loved one’s eternal life. The coffin, for example, is clothed with the white pall, a reminder of our baptismal garment and the mark of eternal life. The sprinkling of holy water symbolizes our reverence for a body that will rise to meet its Savior on the last day. Far from a series of bleak gestures, the Catholic funeral rites are, to quote Pope Francis, “an act of great faith.”

They are also acts that fewer and fewer Catholics experience. With a culture ever more focused on clinging to youthful vitality, people today are less prepared to confront the reality of death, in particular the immediate need for a final resting place for the body. Further, the faithful increasingly view traditional end-of-life rites as exceedingly elaborate and overly costly. Shifting preferences and demographics, mounting costs, and an increase in secular competition have given rise to a dramatic shift toward cremation, with many opting to keep or scatter the cremated remains of their loved ones.

Whereas the 1950s saw a booming demand for cemetery plots, the cremation rate today in most parishes averages about 40 percent, with some dioceses seeing cremation rates as high as 75 percent. The 15 years between 2000 and 2015 saw a 30 percent drop in Catholic casketed services and a more than 200 percent rise in Catholic cremation services. And while the Church does not expressly prohibit cremation, its rise in popularity prompted the Vatican recently to reiterate its requirement that cremated remains be buried on sacred ground. Changing behaviors present new opportunities for the Church to reach people.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, it becomes immeasurably more important to accompany the faithful — devout or otherwise — through one of life’s most painful moments. Taking its cue from Pope Francis, CFCS works to evangelize the faithful using the beauty and meaning of Catholic end-of-life rites, which emphasize that the bodies of our dead are not keepsakes for the living, but rather remain temples for the Almighty in the next life. 

Those evangelization efforts are amplified by the application of financial acumen to run diocesan funeral and cemetery programs like a business primed for success. For instance, principles like the 80/20 rule help the typical cash poor but land rich diocese better leverage its assets. CFCS also employs a two-pronged approach of running diocesan cemetery programs like a start-up while using fine-tuned messaging and business savvy, which has taken funeral and cemetery operations from the red to the green in every single diocese where CFCS has been used, without reliance upon perpetual care funds that should be carefully guarded.

CFCS has established a 6 percent annual growth rate in the Oakland, Calif., diocese, for example, increasing available equity by $24 million and ensuring for the care of an aging cemetery system. This not only stabilized that diocese’s funeral and cemetery programs but led to a sizable surplus to subsidize other important ministries. End-of-life pro

Over the past year, our nation has lost hundreds of thousands of souls to the pandemic that plunged our society into a crisis from which we are only now beginning to emerge. In a culture that traditionally relegates the topic of death to whispered, private conversation, we have been forced to confront head-on the fragility of our lives this side of the Kingdom of God.

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services fills the void left by a society keeping death at arm’s length. This Church-owned nonprofit was established to walk with every Catholic through the experience of an end-of-life journey, fusing sound business and management principles with a concerted effort to unleash a renewed Catholic vitality, re-evangelizing Catholics about the hope and beauty found in the theology of Catholic end-of-life rites.

Death has been a source of both anxiety and fascination for humanity since the fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, many find death to be a frightening prospect and spend their lives in search of distractions from its unrelenting finality. The Catholic response, however, has long been to emphasize death as a passage to eternal salvation. Catholic funeral rites, which are composed of the Vigil, the Funeral Liturgy, and the Committal, are designed to imitate and reflect the Christian hope that, in death, we find eternal life with our heavenly father.

“From beginning to end, a funeral evangelizes us, sharing the good news that God is near and that even in our sorrow, difficulties and distress, we can have joyful confidence in his providence,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron wrote in his 2018 pastoral note, An Act of Mercy and Faith. “On our end, through participating in the funeral liturgies, we proclaim to those who have little or no faith, or who do not practice it, the good news that God is mercy. We proclaim through our actions that we are certain that our loved ones are not memories, but that they are alive, they will arise and live for all eternity.”

Every detail of the rites is designed to remind those participating of their loved one’s eternal life. The coffin, for example, is clothed with the white pall, a reminder of our baptismal garment and the mark of eternal life. The sprinkling of holy water symbolizes our reverence for a body that will rise to meet its Savior on the last day. Far from a series of bleak gestures, the Catholic funeral rites are, to quote Pope Francis, “an act of great faith.”

They are also acts that fewer and fewer Catholics experience. With a culture ever more focused on clinging to youthful vitality, people today are less prepared to confront the reality of death, in particular the immediate need for a final resting place for the body. Further, the faithful increasingly view traditional end-of-life rites as exceedingly elaborate and overly costly. Shifting preferences and demographics, mounting costs, and an increase in secular competition have given rise to a dramatic shift toward cremation, with many opting to keep or scatter the cremated remains of their loved ones.

Whereas the 1950s saw a booming demand for cemetery plots, the cremation rate today in most parishes averages about 40 percent, with some dioceses seeing cremation rates as high as 75 percent. The 15 years between 2000 and 2015 saw a 30 percent drop in Catholic casketed services and a more than 200 percent rise in Catholic cremation services. And while the Church does not expressly prohibit cremation, its rise in popularity prompted the Vatican recently to reiterate its requirement that cremated remains be buried on sacred ground. Changing behaviors present new opportunities for the Church to reach people.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, it becomes immeasurably more important to accompany the faithful — devout or otherwise — through one of life’s most painful moments. Taking its cue from Pope Francis, CFCS works to evangelize the faithful using the beauty and meaning of Catholic end-of-life rites, which emphasize that the bodies of our dead are not keepsakes for the living, but rather remain temples for the Almighty in the next life. 

Those evangelization efforts are amplified by the application of financial acumen to run diocesan funeral and cemetery programs like a business primed for success. For instance, principles like the 80/20 rule help the typical cash poor but land rich diocese better leverage its assets. CFCS also employs a two-pronged approach of running diocesan cemetery programs like a start-up while using fine-tuned messaging and business savvy, which has taken funeral and cemetery operations from the red to the green in every single diocese where CFCS has been used, without reliance upon perpetual care funds that should be carefully guarded.

CFCS has established a 6 percent annual growth rate in the Oakland, Calif., diocese, for example, increasing available equity by $24 million and ensuring for the care of an aging cemetery system. This not only stabilized that diocese’s funeral and cemetery programs but led to a sizable surplus to subsidize other important ministries. End-of-life programs are now becoming financial lifelines for ministries and programs supporting school children and families.

Perhaps more significantly, CFCS found a model that might serve the Church’s many noble nonprofit initiatives seeking to share and educate on foundational Catholic theology. In the Detroit archdiocese, CFCS programs are integrated in support of the region’s overarching mission to “Unleash the Gospel.” Departments and resources that were once siloed are now integrated and mutually supportive. 

Pope Francis once warned that “if the Church is not on the move, she decays, she becomes something else.” CFCS took the principle of “innovate or die” to the changing business of death, giving it a new life of its own and helping to shed the light of Christ on the specter of death so that the bereaved and all the faithful may see it clearly for what it is: the passage to eternal salvation with Christ. 

Robert Seelig is the CEO of Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services and Fr. Jeffrey Day is the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Archdiocese of Detroit.


grams are now becoming financial lifelines for ministries and programs supporting school children and families.

Perhaps more significantly, CFCS found a model that might serve the Church’s many noble nonprofit initiatives seeking to share and educate on foundational Catholic theology. In the Detroit archdiocese, CFCS programs are integrated in support of the region’s overarching mission to “Unleash the Gospel.” Departments and resources that were once siloed are now integrated and mutually supportive. 

Pope Francis once warned that “if the Church is not on the move, she decays, she becomes something else.” CFCS took the principle of “innovate or die” to the changing business of death, giving it a new life of its own and helping to shed the light of Christ on the specter of death so that the bereaved and all the faithful may see it clearly for what it is: the passage to eternal salvation with Christ. 

Robert Seelig is the CEO of Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services and Fr. Jeffrey Day is the Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, Archdiocese of Detroit.

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