LANSING, MICH. - The cremated remains of more than 300 people — long unclaimed by family and friends — were finally laid to rest at a Lansing cemetery Monday.
Bishop Earl Boyea, head of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, officiated at the ceremony, flanked on either side by long tables bearing the white and black boxes containing the remains of each individual.
About 270 stillborn infants and nearly 40 adults were among those placed in a crypt at St. Joseph Cemetery mausoleum.
“Every one of these people were loved into existence,” Boyea said. “In spite of whatever life we lived, we still remain a beloved son or daughter of Christ.”
The cremated remains had been stored at Sparrow Hospital and local funeral homes for years after families failed to retrieve them.
Many of the adult remains required lengthy investigations by the Ingham County Medical Examiner’s Office to identify the individual, then locate and notify family members.
In some cases, the individual was the last of their line. In other cases, no family — estranged or otherwise — came forward to lay them to rest. The adult remains date to 2004.
Some of the stillborn remains interred Monday dated to 1995. The hospital had accumulated the remains following stillbirths where the family opted for cremation for the child, but never retrieved the ashes.
In 2016, Elizabeth Reust, manager for the Sparrow Hospital Laboratory and a former investigator for the medical examiner’s office, approached the diocese about arranging burial for the remains.
The staff at the Sparrow Hospital morgue spent day retrieving and logging each set of remains in preparation for the ceremony.
“I’m really proud of the staff in the morgue and the Catholic Church, too, to be able to take care of these people,” Reust said. “Everyone deserves to be buried at the end of their lives and honored in some way, regardless of their story and some of them we just don’t know their story.”
Initially, officials planned to bury the remains in a plot at the back of the cemetery. Their final resting place was changed to a mausoleum crypt to make it easier to access should family eventually come forward, said Tim Bazany, location manager for Diocese of Lansing cemeteries.
Bazany said the plot originally intended for the unclaimed people could be used in the future should additional remains from Sparrow or elsewhere require interment.
“The most important thing is to give the deceased the closure they’re entitled to, to give them rest,” Bazany said. “It was a long time coming.”
More than 30 people attended the committal ceremony Monday, a detail that wasn’t lost on Luke Vogelsberg, chief investigator and supervisor for the medical examiner’s office.
“To have this type of response … that was really special,” Vogelsberg said.
Dick and Jane Pohl were among those who attended the ceremony. The Portland couple spent time pouring over the labels on each box of stillborn remains, believing their granddaughter may have been among them.
They were unable to find her, but Jane Pohl felt the ceremony offered some closure regardless.
“Even if her remains aren’t here, she still was put to rest today,” she said.
Over 300 unclaimed bodies were laid to rest Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lansing. The cremated remains of about 270 stillborn infants and about 40 adults were placed in a crypt inside the mausoleum. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal)
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© 2017 Lansing State Journal