Unclaimed cremains to be buried at Kzoo church

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kalamazoo church is offering a final resting place for unclaimed cremains stored at the morgue that’s located inside Western Michigan University’s Medical School. 

St. Martins of Tours Episcopal Church will bury the cremains of 26 people in its memorial garden in a ceremony called “Claiming the Unclaimed: Cremains Interment 2019.”

“They deserve a peaceful, loving end,” said Mary Perrin, priest at St Martin of Tours. “Every person should be remembered and recognized and given back to God.”

St Martin of Tours, after hearing about another church already performing the service, began offering its garden as a burial site for cremains in 2016.

Perrin said the church first reached out to funeral homes, many of which had unclaimed cremains in need of a home.

So far, the church has buried the ashes of 66 people in its garden, and it recently reached out to the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner’s office.

“I was ecstatic,” said Dr. Joyce deJong, medical examiner for Kalamazoo and eleven other counties, including Allegan, Barry, Calhoun, Van Buren and Muskegon. “We try to find family members, and sometimes it’s that they just can’t afford to have a cremation and they have no resources. They can either feed their family next week or pay to have their uncle cremated.”  

In other cases, families are estranged and want nothing to do with the departed.

“There are plenty of times where we just end up with the cremains here, and we really didn’t have a good option for where to put them and what to do,” deJong said.

The cremains are currently stored in filing cabinets, which bothers deJong.

“There’s not a lot of dignity in being in a file cabinet, locked away in a storage room,” she said.

That’s why deJong was thrilled when St Martin of Tours reached out. She’s hoping other churches will offer to do the same. 

“It’s emotional because these are the people we take care of,” deJong said. “These are our patients.”

She said staff plans to be at the ceremony.

“We’re claiming them. The family of the medical examiner’s office is going to claim them,” deJong said.

The 26 people ranged in age from 53 to 80 and all died of natural causes.

The church expects the ceremony will become an annual event.

The names of each person buried in the memorial garden are engraved on gold plates and displayed on an external wall of the church.

After Sunday’s ceremony, there will be 92 plates.

“Many of them we don’t know their stories,” Perrin said. “Some are homeless people. One was a man who had AIDS and his family wanted nothing to do with him or his body. Some were the last people in their families and had no one to pay for a burial.”

The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which takes place from noon to 1 p.m. Sunday at St. Martin of Tours at 2010 Nichols Road, Kalamazoo.

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