The remains of over 300 individuals — some of whom had been deceased for over two decades — were finally laid to rest earlier this week and given a proper burial ceremony presided over by Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan.
The unusual ceremony came about after an official from Sparrow Hospital contacted the diocese of Lansing about the possibility of burying the cremated remains that had been left unclaimed at their facilities.
The remains of over 270 stillborn infants and 36 adults, primarily from Sparrow Hospital but also from local funeral homes, were placed in a crypt at St. Joseph’s Cemetery mausoleum.
“Every one of these people were loved into existence,” Boyea said at the ceremony. “In spite of whatever life we lived, we still remain a beloved son or daughter of Christ.”
In 2010, Boyea also celebrated a funeral mass for 17 aborted babies that had been discarded in a trash dumpster. Their remains were also interred at St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
“We mourn for how some seek to destroy Jesus in these his least brothers and sisters,” Boyea said at the time. “Yet, not only for the hurt to the Lord, we also mourn for these children themselves, whose very lives were desired by God, whose dignity was given by God, whose purpose and destiny are known only to God.”
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Sparrow Hospital Laboratory manager Elizabeth Reust said “I’m really proud of the staff in the morgue and the Catholic Church, too, to be able to take care of these people.
“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.”
Burying the dead is one of the seven corporal works of mercy, specific acts enumerated by the Church that reflect a commitment to Christian witness and a model of the life of Christ.
In a November 2016 Wednesday audience Pope Francis reminded those in attendance that this act of mercy should not be forgotten.
“Like Joseph of Arimathea, who offered his own tomb for the burial of Jesus, we Christians devoutly bury our dead in hope of the resurrection,” he said.