Skip to comments.Florida Priest Presides Over Burials for Those No One Else Will Claim
Posted on 05/17/2013 4:28:47 AM PDT by NYer
Here’s a story about a poignant and prayerful work of mercy most people never hear about.
No one Mary Helen Wells knew was at her funeral.
The physical sum of her 85 years filled a donated urn Monday afternoon, among 36 other donated urns full of unwanted remains. A kindly priest said prayers and stowed them in a crypt. A groundskeeper sealed it, and the mourners, gathered on principle, dispersed.
In South Florida, hundreds die every year without a survivor to claim them. The causes vary: liver failure,dementia. One homeless man died in 2011 when an industrial oven he was helping someone carry crushed him. Strangers funeral homes or government workers hold their bodies.
The Rev. Gabriel Ghanoum claims them. The local Catholic priest gives a ceremony for a new group of the lonely dead every few months. He says to their ashes, “I can tell all of you, each one, that I love you.” He blessed each little box with the tips of his fingers.
When Walter Hibson died in his bathroom in West Palm Beach, no one knew. His mail piled up, and a neighbor called the Sheriff’s Office. Deputies found his bones. A county social worker could identify no family or friends. Hibson was 69.<
Bobby Melton, 69, cut grass in exchange for room and board in a shed behind a Delray Beach home. Witnesses saw him collapse next to the lawn mower from a heart attack. The county contacted his ex-wife, divorced 15 years ago, who said he had no family. She declined his body.
Lawrence Grening, 65, of Lake Worth, had spoken to a neighbor about his two sons, but no one could locate them after his body was found decomposing in his apartment.
There were homeless people and people who apparently immigrated alone and solitary elderly people who outlived their social network.
“We pray that our brothers and sisters may sleep here in peace,” Ghanoum said.
Read it all.
UPDATE: A reader alerted me to a similar ministry at a Jesuit high school in Cleveland. Which reminded me of a post I put up back in the early days of this blog, in 2007:
Cory Kress, a 2007 graduate of St. Xavier High School, has attended dozens of burials for indigent men, women and children in Jefferson County. He serves as a pallbearer, leads prayers, reads Scripture passages and offers heartfelt condolences to the decedents family and friends.
He was recognized for this service by the Jefferson County Coroners Office at a ceremony July 10. County Coroner Dr. Ron Holmes and Deputy Coroner Buddy Dumeyer presented Kress a plaque and praised him for his compassion.
Kress and a growing number of students from Catholic schools in the area are members of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, which assists the Jefferson County Coroners Offices indigent burial program. Kress distinguished himself as one of the founding members and most dependable volunteers.
It seems so sad for someone to live a whole life and then die alone, said Dr. Ron Holmes, County Coroner. The indigent dead who have no family, no friends at least we can send them off with a prayer. If it werent for Cory and the other kids, they would have nothing.
Photo: by Scott Fisher
Part of the reason some bodies might not be claimed is the Obama Depression. There was a story a while back that bodies were piling up in Chicago.
It is a sad commentary regardless of the cause. In my community we have a few similar cases, but they are identified and people keep an eye out for them.
Blessings for the priest and others who do this...
The seventh corporal mercy: the burial of the dead.
Ping for later...
Why is Eleanor Rigby playing in my head?
Sadly though, I speak with many elderly people who have no kids, grand nieces and nephews have died or don’t care.
This is too far a common problem and sad.
It is both a calling and a special ministry.
And sadly, will grow as the baby boomer generation, those who did not have children start to die off.
Thanks for posting this.
Thank-you for posting also.
This is what happens in a society that, for a variety of reasons, destroys the family unit. Part of it is the Welfare State that, for better and worse, allows the elderly to live on their own rather than with their kids, part of it is we live in a much more mobile society where families are spread across the country, part of it is simply the societal pressure to live as an individual and not as part of a family, part of it is a lot more people (whether or not they are married) are chosing to not have children and part of it is just plain ignorance — the younger generations just don’t care as much about being part of a family and helping their parents. The end result is old
Plus also the decline of the power of faith communites.
Thank-you for the article. Bookmarked.
Look for faith communities to become family, even if it is just for memorials.
Part of the radical individualism that has been pushed for generations atomizing clans and families into individuals whose primary support is the state. Good for the economy, not so good for the person.
Mother Teresa realized this -- giving people a way to die with dignity and to die in contact with other human beings
We don't want to die alone and be unmourned. What this priest is doing is truly God's work
I’m surprised that there is no charity who makes it their purpose to document the lives of such people, so that they will have a biographical obituary.
The purpose of the obituary would be so that others could see the connections with them that could have been, to find the still living people who at least knew of them.
I had never considered this but, perhaps, this is a service to which you are being called.
Several years ago, I learned that a retired, former co-worker, had passed away. The news of her sudden death was learned through a quirky circumstance such as you posed. Aside from her employment, she devoted many years to volunteer work - with a local arts council, with Jack Russell Rescue and at a local, historic cemetery, where she added names to the burial register. It was another cemetery volunteer who, while filling in for her one day, began to enter the next name on the list, only to discover that it was our mutual friend! There had been no obituary in the local paper. It seems her family, who had moved out of state years ago, presumed no one would be interested in this woman's death.
Word spread quickly throughout the various volunteer organizations and a service was organized at the woman's Methodist Church. They sent an invitation to the woman's family who were stunned at the SRO turnout for the memorial service.
A similar event took place in my own family. While researching family ancestry, I came across the name of a distant cousin. Curious as to when he had died, I googled his obituary. To my amazement, I learned he had died only 2 months prior. Hopeful that he might have left some precious family photographs behind, I contacted the funeral home. They were equally surprised as my cousin believed he was the last living relative in the family. Several days later, two boxes arrived with all of his photographs. Sifting through them I came across the two photographs I had been seeking for 50 years - my great, great grandparents! A note inside the box indicated that the photographs were scheduled to be shredded that week.
I wonder if anybody does this in the LA area? I know someone who is becoming a deacon who might be interested in this.
Culture of death.