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Burial of indigent brings ‘closure’

Volunteer funeral directors arrive carrying caskets for mass burial for bodies unclaimed unborn Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery Wednesday April 23rd

Volunteer funeral directors arrive carrying the caskets for a mass burial for bodies of the unclaimed and unborn at Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery, Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 in Chicago. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 25, 2014 3:54PM



Jesse Aguirre felt a sense of uneasy peace seeing his father receive a proper burial Wednesday afternoon.

His father, Jesse Jr., died of a heart attack in his sleep just days before Christmas. His body had remained at the Cook County morgue since his death. For financial reasons, the Aguirres were unable to give the elder Jesse a funeral.

“I’m able to get closure, but I haven’t been the same since he passed,” said Aguirre, who drove from Cicero with his mother, Edenia, and Jesse Jr.’s grandchildren to attend the ceremony Wednesday.

Catholic Cemeteries has volunteered to bury the indigent since Sheriff Tom Dart announced two years ago that bodies were piling up at the Cook County morgue.

Nearly all of the 27 caskets were buried without family present Wednesday morning at Mount Olivet Cemetery on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Twenty-four adults were buried. Hearses pulled up, one at a time, while workers hauled caskets to their graves. Little adorned the caskets other than name tags identifying the remains inside.

That high number of indigent won’t be buried at one time again, said Roman Szabelski, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In September, the Cook County Board approved a change that allows for the cremation of unclaimed and disclaimed bodies.

Catholic Cemeteries will continue to provide funeral services for the unborn, Szabelski said. Ninety-six fetuses were buried Wednesday.

“We find value in human life, so we find value in the burial of the remains created by God,” Szabelski said.

Seventeen hearses delivered the caskets to the cemetery. Funeral home directors and staff volunteered their time and equipment to transport the indigent from the morgue to their final resting place.

“As funeral directors, it’s stepping up to give back to the community,” said Mark Rizzo, advisory board member of the Cook County Funeral Directors Association.

During the past two years, more than 250 funeral directors have helped with the burials.

Funeral directors who heard about what Cook County was doing with indigent burials reached out to the association with offers to volunteer.

Aguirre said he appreciated what has been done to provide the proper burials. His father’s death has sparked a desire in him to give back more.

“You start to look at life differently,” Aguirre said.



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