Cook County, Chicago archdiocese bury indigent

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

Mother McAuley High School teacher Jan Brown places a flower on the casket of Cook County’s indigent, unknown and unborn June 5 in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Jan Brown placed a flower on the caskets holding the remains that others forgot at Mount Olivet Cemetery on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Brown, a teacher at Mother McAuley High School, accompanied funeral director Eric Hoffman to the 25th time the Archdiocese of Chicago and Cook County officials have buried the county’s indigent, unknown and unborn in Mount Olivet.

“It’s always an honor to be part of something like this,” Brown said of participating in the event for the first time.

“Both of us in our professions look to safeguard individuals,” Hoffman said. “Going through this is really powerful.”

The archdiocese and county held a committal service June 5 to bury the people for which the county handles final disposition.

The service was to lay 302 souls “to rest, to honor them, pray for them,” said the Rev. Lawrence Sullivan, director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

He noted that the committal service was the 25th time in the last seven years the unidentified, unborn and indigent have been buried in Mount Olivet. The committal service was for two unidentified individuals, 72 unborn fetuses and 228 cremated indigent persons.

Tyra Poindexter and Philip L. Gillette of Thompson Funeral & Cremation Services of Evanston stand by one of the caskets. Gillette said funeral directors’ participation is a way “to give back to the state of Illinois.” (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Nineteen funeral directors were part of the service, transporting the remains from the county morgue to the cemetery.

“We became the transporters because that’s what they needed. They needed somebody to do this, something that would be dignified, meaningful and organized,” Len Zelinski, president of the Illinois Funeral Directors, said of how funeral homes got involved in the process.

Since 2012, Catholic Cemeteries, the archdiocese and the county have worked together with help from the Cook County Funeral Directors Association, Worsham College of Mortuary Science and Malcolm X College to bury the indigent, unborn and unidentified.

Cook County Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar said she is happy that the county can continue to bury the indigent and fetuses “in a dignified fashion” with the committal service.

Marist and St. Laurence high school students stand as a group after delivering prayers on behalf of the indigent, unknown and unborn. (Photo by Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

“It’s a way of showing that we are there for them,” Arunkumar said, “It is a mission of this office, and will remain one of our important missions.”

“In the end, it gives us a lot of satisfaction to be able to bury the indigents and unknowns,” the medical examiner said.