Cemetery Provides Rest for 243 Unclaimed People
Calvary Cemetery, Winnebago County cooperate in corporal work of mercy
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
January 27, 2022
WINNEBAGO—What began as an idea of some folks at St. Peter Parish in South Beloit has resulted in a beautiful corporal work of mercy  for 243 persons.
The cremains of those people unclaimed, unburied, and some even unmourned, were finally put to rest with dignity and respect Jan. 24 thanks to the combined efforts of the Winnebago County Coroner’s Office and Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Winnebago.
After receiving an inquiry from South Beloit parishioners about what could be done to help bury the growing inventory of unclaimed cremains stored for years in boxes and bags, the Winnebago County Coroner and Calvary Catholic Cemetery worked together to provide a proper resting place.
“We have worked consistently for I would say at least six months to work on the details, paperwork and logistics of transferring the remains of these folks to Calvary,” said diocesan director of Catholic Cemeteries, Ken Giambalvo.
Some of the remains have been stored by the coroner’s office for as long as 20 years according to coroner’s spokesperson Mark Karner. What to do to provide these unclaimed people a final resting place has long been a concern of the coroner’s office. Over the past six months, finding a place of respect and dignity became the pet project of Rob Baumgartner, an investigator in the coroner’s office.
Baumgartner said Winnebago County has looked at multiple ways to inter the remains, but each time obstacles got in the way.  One of the biggest obstacles, he said, was finding a place where the remains could be interred and uninterred if someone should come forward to claim their loved ones. 
“There have been many ideas presented over the years of where to put these folks. But it all comes back to being able to present the remains to family when requested. The county cemetery has no mausoleum. That’s why working with Calvary has been an awesome solution,” Baumgartner said. 
Calvary Cemetery is equipped to receive, bury and inter cremains having a mausoleum and columbarium. For years, as part of its Catholic ministry, it has assisted with the burial of fetal remains and helped those who are financially destitute.  Calvary Cemetery offered to donate a crypt in which to inter all those stored by Winnebago County — all 243 cremains.
Internment of that many cremains involves many details and according to Giambalvo, the staff of Calvary Cemetery was up for the task. New containers were ordered for all the individual cremains and each was documented in a database with the county and the cemetery, then labeled and tagged. 
Giambalvo said these records are crucial in the event that a family member claims their loved one and wishes to bury or inter them elsewhere. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s what we do,” Giambalvo said.
The documentation will help the cremains to be easily located and disinterred if and when it may be requested, he explained.
Baumgartner explained that storage for so many was becoming a concern both because of space and for the proper climate control of the cremains. 
Why are so many people unclaimed? 
Baumgartner said there are many factors that can include the deceased being alone or indigent, lack of family resources, failure to locate next of kin, or the deceased was  unidentified. There are also incidents where cremains were abandoned in storage units and even a bus stop locker, and the coroner’s office took possession until next of kin could be located. 
But sadly, Baumgartner explained, the most prevalent and increasing reason the dead go unclaimed is because families have been estranged or are so disenfranchised that they are not interested in, or capable of, taking responsibility for making funeral arrangements. 
“That’s why we are so grateful to give these folks some dignity and respect at Calvary,” Baumgartner said.
And that’s exactly what the 20 or so officials and mourners from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s and Coroner’s Office including Sheriff Gary Caruana, Chief Deputy Rick Ciganek, and Winnebago County Board Chairman Joseph Chiarelli, provided on a cold and snowy Monday morning.
Bishop David Malloy and Sherman Nichols, Winnebago County Chaplain and pastor of Central Christian Church, Rockford, presided over a prayer and committal service for the cremains of adults and some infants who have never been claimed by family to be given a formal funeral or burial. 
Using a combination of prayers and a sermon from pastor Nichols and the Catholic prayers for the dead and committal, Bishop Malloy began with thanks for all those who came to witness and mourn along with the two clergymen. 
“I’m very grateful and proud of the efforts and generosity that have been undertaken to make this possible, for these, our brothers and sisters who have walked before us, to be appropriately recorded and put to rest,” Bishop Malloy said.
Pastor Nichols said normally at funeral services he would speak about the person after collecting testimonies from friends and loved ones of the deceased’s contributions, family connections and their faith. It is a conversation of memories that he said “helps us in our grief, to have hope. Those are the kinds of things we look at to try to ascribe value to a person.”
“So what can we say about 243 people — to speak about their value as human beings? Some of them died many years ago.  We are here in an effort to acknowledge something. I think that something is that their lives mattered,” he said. 
Pastor Nichols said that when God created all humans in His image, “God said that every person’s life is significant. He didn’t say that one life was more valuable than another. God did establish all human life when he sent Jesus to redeem every human who would accept Him. In that, he established the value of all people.
“There needs to be a good reason to value the lives of all people of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all abilities, of all cultures and of all times. That’s it. God created all peoples in His image. He gave His son for the salvation of every person who would accept it. When He did that, He pronounced our value. Every person. So that’s a good reason for us to gather to do this. In fact, it’s the best reason.” 
With that pastor Nichols concluded with a prayer to honor God for giving every human great value.
Bishop Malloy then said the prayers of committal and blessed the cremains and the crypt where they will rest.
Mourners took some time after the brief ceremony to read the labels on each person’s container. 
Marcy Giambalvo, who helped document and prepare the cremains, explained that the whole process for her ”was very emotional” especially, she said, when she was processing and documenting the unclaimed infants’ cremains.


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