Skip to comments.Ashes found in Tampa trash laid to rest in Chesapeake
Posted on 02/07/2010 6:16:49 PM PST by csvset
"We couldn't be there when she died. But we can be there for her now."
The priest's robes flutter in the frigid breeze as he moves quickly toward the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with the square-shaped urn. He holds the gold-colored box like a treasure he must protect, because for so long, no one did.
Monsignor Michael McCarron calls her "Barbara." He knows only the sparest details of her life, mostly dates and addresses: She was born in Germany in 1897. She moved to the United States in 1955. She died in Tampa a decade ago at 103.
They had never met, but faith tells McCarron they will someday, and for this reason, she feels close and familiar.
Today he will lay her to rest.
"Nothing that is loved can ever be unloved. Im always touched by that realization." - Msgr. Michael McCarron
Six days before, on a chilly Friday in late January, McCarron took a seat in his office at Chesapeake's St. Stephen, Martyr Roman Catholic Church, a warm, cozy place with books and music and overstuffed armchairs.
McCarron introduced the miniature schnauzer at his heels, a friendly fellow named Josiah. He prayed for a blessing, then he began telling the story of Barbara, starting in the middle with a newspaper article, because that is how he first came to know of her.
On Jan. 5, The Virginian-Pilot published a story from a Florida newspaper of two teens who happened upon a heap of garbage in Tampa a few months before. Among boxes and old furniture, Mike Colt and girlfriend Carol Sturgell discovered a folder containing the military records of a decorated World War II soldier. They dug farther and came upon three urns.
One belonged to the veteran, one to his wife. The third had no name.
The teenagers delivered the urns to the Tampa Police Department, where they fell into the hands of a patriotic corporal whose own relatives had fought in World War II. He took the casual disposal of a veteran's remains as a personal affront.
He and other officers learned that the soldier had died in 1982, his wife in 2003. That the wife had willed the home to her caregivers, who couldn't make the payments. That the bank had foreclosed and, in November, a maintenance crew had tossed everything out - including the trio of urns.
The third container of ashes belonged to the soldier's mother-in-law, a German immigrant named Barbara Stahlhofen.
McCarron was intrigued. "One of my real caution lights," he said, "are people who bring ashes home."
Urns not properly interred can get lost or destroyed or forgotten, the priest said. They can end up in trash piles.
The soldier and his wife received a military funeral at Florida National Cemetery with the teens who found them in attendance. But Barbara remained in an evidence room at a Tampa police station because she was neither a veteran nor married to one.
McCarron shuddered to think about it. "No one is trash," he said. "In life or death."
He pointed to the small tombstone under a chair in his office. It will go on his dog's grave at his home in North Carolina. "Nothing that is loved can ever be unloved. I'm always touched by that realization."
Surely, the priest figured, someone who had read the story in Florida had inquired after Barbara. That someone, perhaps a relative, had claimed her.
But there were no relatives, and no one had asked.
Barbara stayed in the priest's thoughts. McCarron thought about the thousands of bodies heaped into mass graves in Haiti after the recent earthquake.
He thought of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Mausoleum Garden, finished just last summer on the parish grounds. He will be buried there someday.
"It's our obligation to bury the dead and minister to the mourners," McCarron said. "I can't do anything about burying those people in Haiti, but I sure as heck can do something about Barbara."
He began announcing his idea at masses, and, at each one, the congregation applauded.
McCarron called Elizabeth Redman, the Tampa investigator in charge of found property with the city's economic crime squad. He was the first such call she had.
The priest and policewoman spoke almost daily for more than a week. He learned that Barbara had come to the United States to live with her daughter and son-in-law when she was nearly 60. He learned that she was Catholic.
He wanted her to have a proper resting place.
Redman agreed. Because there were no relatives, McCarron's request to take care of the ashes was granted. In mid-January Redman called the priest.
Barbara's on the way, she said. She should arrive by mail in three days. Four at the latest.
McCarron told Redman the inter ment was set for Thursday, Jan. 28, just after the 9 a.m. mass. The investigator said she'd mark that time with a prayer.
The priest speeds through the commons of the church where a handful of parish-ioners unfold about three dozen chairs and arrange them in three neat rows.
It is time for Thursday morning mass. Hours before, McCarron had nearly called off the inter ment. The woman who had been lost among trash and found by a pair of dump-digging teenagers was lost again.
After a stop in Maryland over the weekend, Barbara had seemed to disappear. She had not turned up on Monday as expected in Hampton Roads.
Late Wednesday afternoon a postal worker discovered a box on a pallet in the Norfolk post office. Barbara had come by registered mail. The Chesapeake mail carrier, on the lookout for the package for days, delivered Barbara to the church after dark, her urn broken.
At the church, parishioners fill all the chairs, then crowd in a few extra. That has never happened at Thursday morning mass.
"I only came because of this lady," a woman whispers. "She should have someone to represent her."
The priest speaks of Barbara Stahlhofen.
"We couldn't be there when she died," he says, "but we can be there for her now.... Where you are, do what you can do."
After Communion, McCarron slips away to don his funeral garb. Then he is back, marching slowly behind a processional cross and the new urn that contains Barbara. The congregation falls in behind him.
They follow the sidewalk to the columbarium garden, where the woman's name has been engraved in granite.
McCarron blesses the urn with a sprinkling of holy water. He leads parishioners in the Lord's Prayer, then a Hail Mary.
"Rest in peace," he says at last, and slips her into a niche in the columbarium.
McCarron imagines a time, decades from now, when he will pass through a door and see a woman he is drawn to. He imagines her in heaven, praying for him on a regular basis.
It's nice to meet you, she'll say.
I think we've already met, the priest will respond.
She'll thank him for taking care of her.
No, he'll answer. Thank you for all you've done for me.
But that's yet to come. For now, Barbara is at rest.
Kristin Davis, (757) 222-5208, firstname.lastname@example.org
Plus: A video slideshow at the source link.
Very touching. Thanks for posting.
Interesting story, and a great deed.
Thank you Msgr. McCarron and thanks for posting.
i’d say bury her with her daughter and sil.
I’d say put her in the military cemetery with her daughter and son-in-law, out of common humanity - it’s not like she’d take up any space at all...
Two decent teenagers who deserve some respect for what they helped bring about.