Remembering the forgotten: 118 people whose bodies were never claimed receive Catholic burial

You may remember this item I posted last month, about a Catholic diocese in Louisiana planning a funeral for dozens of people whose bodies were never claimed at the local coroner’s office.

Saturday, that service took place, and the local paper was there:

A few hundred people gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Saturday morning to celebrate the lives of those forgotten with a rosary, wake, Mass and graveside military service. Some of the human remains had gone unclaimed for up to 20 years at the Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office.

“We’re lying 118 brothers and sisters to rest after some have passed for many years,” said Kimberly Boudreaux, executive director of Lafayette Catholic Centers.

The unclaimed ranged from fetal miscarriages to a 95-year-old woman named Adela Salezar. Some names were without ages, others without surnames. Three of the unclaimed were listed as John Doe.

A tiny casket topped with a pastel floral arrangement held infant remains, a large wooden casket draped in the American flag held remains representing unclaimed soldiers and a second large wooden casket topped with an ivory floral arrangement held the remaining cremated human remains.

“From the earliest time of Christianity, this is what we have done as a way to recognize the dignity of every human life,” said Brady LeBlanc, the cathedral’s cemetery director.

During the wake, each of the 118 names of the unclaimed was read aloud — including the given Christian names of many unknown infants — and each name echoed somberly through the cathedral center.

A smile broke on Boudreaux’s face as she spoke about the man who inspired the entire funeral — Brian Walker, who lived in the St. Joseph Shelter for Men for five years. Boudreaux had grown close to Walker through her work at the shelter.

Six months after Walker’s death, Boudreaux found out that no friends or family had claimed his body and that his remains were still housed at the Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office. Heartbroken, Boudreaux asked if she could claim his remains and bury them. Subsequent questions flooded her mind: How many other people had gone unclaimed? Could she claim every person whose remains were housed at the coroner’s office?

“(Walker) was always saying, ‘This isn’t right and that isn’t right’ in a quest for justice in the community,” Boudreaux said. “This service has become a way of finding justice for those who were treated without justice.”

Read more.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them…


  1. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    A true and beautiful example of the” communion of saints,” of the connection between those who have preceded us in appearing before the throne of Christ and the still earthbound as well as the charity of praying for those who are likely (like all of us) to need prayers to make the final journey from Purgatory to Heaven.
    Sometimes educators talk about “teachable moments.” This event strikes me as being an A-1 “teachable moment.”

  2. deacon john says:

    Praying for the dead is a corporal work of mercy. All involved with this memorial mass/funeral are truly good and blessed people.
    May God continue to bless and enrich their lives.
    We are all blessed by their goodness.

  3. To me this is one of the best expressions of what it means to be Catholic.

  4. Joe Cleary says:

    What a powerful statement that while they may appear to have been forgotten on earth, we believe all 118 belong to a God who has not forgotten them. And because by faith believe we belong to that same God, we afford this respect for their remains. Agree with the others- inspiring, charity in action, proud of our Church and the people who made this happen.

  5. vox borealis says:

    including the given Christian names of many unknown infants…

    I recently had a discussion-turned-animated (some might call it an argument) with my older sister, the proud product of 1970s-era Catholic schooling, during which she claimed not to know, nor to have been taught, what a “Christian name” is. Stunning.

    That personal anecdote aside, what a beautiful article. Thanks for posting!

  6. I was about to post something on my blog about this and wanted to alert you too something. There is nice photo gallery of this event that is not apparently easily linked to this page of 41 pictures that you might want to add

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