Detroit-area burial services 'a grace and an act of hope' in Christ's resurrection, Archbishop Vigneron says at Holy Sepulchre

SOUTHFIELD — There is something both permanent and temporary about cemeteries.

Cemeteries provide a holy ground where people bury their loved ones; a final resting place on earth. But as God showed in Christ’s tomb, the rest is not a final rest.

Preaching before those gathered at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield on Nov. 2, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said even the hallowed grounds of a cemetery are not the final stop in the faithful’s journey toward God.

“While everyone requires the service of cemeteries and funeral directors, we know that this cemetery is only a temporary place,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We are not oppressed to come here to pray, because we know it is from this place at the end of time a great miracle will occur.”

The All Souls Day service at Holy Sepulchre joined services at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown Township and St. Joseph Cemetery in Monroe, each of which concluded with a special committal service for the cremated remains brought by families to the three cemeteries as part of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services' Gather Them Home campaign

“As we have this final committal of these ashes, I acknowledge for some, that this is a long extension of a funeral for your beloved,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “While it is painful to mourn the loss of a loved one, it is a grace and an act of hope in the power of Jesus Christ and the resurrection to come and bury them here today. It is my hope that you find comfort and consolation in prayer through the power of Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Vigneron said All Souls Day is an opportunity to acknowledge that the departed are not gone, but rather wait for the Second Coming of Christ, with whom they will be reunited in heaven.

Families pray at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery for the souls of departed loved ones during an All Souls Day Mass and committal service. 

“The Gospel tells us what God the Father has done, how Jesus Christ is more powerful than death,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “That’s why we have hope, because God, in the Holy Spirit, came back upon the body of Jesus Christ in his holy sepulcher. Jesus had been there for three days: Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and into Sunday morning. Then, in an hour known only to the Father and the angels, he went with the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, upon that dead body, and now Christ is victorious over death.”

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Vigneron called to mind the news of the unborn and cremated remains discovered at Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit on Oct. 12 and Perry Funeral Home, also in Detroit, a week later.

“Today’s gesture is a gesture of love and respect for those who are departed,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The news regarding those whose remains were misplaced in funeral homes in the city affects us all deeply. We also remember our Jewish brothers and sisters, murdered in acts of terror and antisemitism. Today, we pray for all the departed souls, the discarded elderly, the unborn and those victims of opioid addiction.

“It is a great work of mercy, entrusted to us, to bury the dead,” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “Because our God is the God of the living. So we undertake this great work of mercy of praying for the dead and to bury the dead.”

Across town at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in northeast Detroit, a separate interfaith service was being observed to commit the cremated remains of those recently discovered at Cantrell. 

Brian Joseph, owner of Verheyden Funeral Homes, which helped organize the service and committal along with Mt. Olivet, said it is part of the Catholic faith to help others in need, especially in one's local community.

"It was the right thing to do. It goes back to what Mr. Verheyden started in 1908," said Joseph, a Catholic. "It’s the beginning of the healing from this crisis in our community." 

Joseph said nearly 300 cremated remains — save for remains of about 20 military veterans, who will be interred at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly on Veterans Day, Nov. 16 — will be laid to rest for free in a crypt at Mt. Olivet. 

A chance to heal

For the faithful who brought ashes to Holy Sepulchre and other archdiocesan cemeteries Nov. 2, the Mass and committal service was an extension of mercy and an opportunity for closure.

Jim Vurpillat of St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms was at Holy Sepulchre with his wife and sister-in-law, who interred the remains of their mother who died 13 years ago.

“A few years ago, my wife and her sister found out their brother had their mother’s remains in a closet, and they felt it wasn’t a proper place for Mom,” Vurpillat said. “We read about what the archdiocese was doing on All Souls Day to inter ashes; it was a wonderful gesture on their part.”

People hug during the Sign of Peace during an All Souls Day Mass at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.
Flowers are hung from crypts at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield. As part of the Gather Them Home initiative, families brought cremated remains of loved ones to be interred, free of charge.

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery has a Mass every third Friday of the month in which cremated remains are accepted, free of charge, as part of its All Souls Remembrance program. 

“We were sitting around the living room when my wife brought it up to her sister, and it was one of those things we talked about, did research on, and it was so easy,” Vurpillat said. “They started to read about it, and we knew it would be a perfect thing for Mom. Their grandparents are also buried here, so this allows Mom to be with her parents.”

Bill Hoeft, location manager at Holy Sepulchre, said Archbishop Vigneron blessed the cremated remains of approximately 180 individuals during the committal ceremony.

Hoeft said the main focus for the Gather Them Home initiative is to educate families about the importance of a proper burial and committal service, as well as the order of a Christian funeral, which includes a visitation and celebration of life with a Mass and final committal. 

“Even though we are a Catholic cemetery, we are open to all Christian faiths," Hoeft said. “We invite families to come visit our beautiful grounds, our mausoleum, and find out where we inter their loved ones and how we care for the loved ones who are placed here.”

For Ellen Gorksi of St. Alphonsus-St. Clement Parish in Dearborn, whose mother passed in 2011, the service was the perfect opportunity for closure.

“I’m here so my mom could have a Christian burial,” said Gorksi, fighting back tears. “Just knowing that the archdiocese did this is a great relief. And I was very taken in by it; it was my opportunity to do the right thing by her.”