For the second year in a row, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is offering families the opportunity to inter the cremated remains of their deceased loved ones free of cost.

Last year, the cremains of 170 people were laid to rest at the All Souls Crypt at Holy Cross Cemetery, and an additional 88 were interred at St. Adalbert Cemetery. Both cemeteries are again holding a Mass and Committal Service at 9 a.m. on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2, and inviting all families who may be in possession of remains — regardless of their religion — to consider taking advantage of this free service.

Though “successful” isn’t exactly the right term to use for a program like this, said Matt Chasco of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries, last year’s response to the initiative showed that “we were able to find the people who needed it.”
The majority of those who took advantage of the committal service were funeral directors in possession of unclaimed cremated remains, said Chasco.

“These urns were sitting in storage rooms of funeral homes for decades, and no one ever came to claim them,” said Chasco. “Sometimes it’s because of a miscommunication — one family member thinks it’s taken care of and no one actually takes care of it, and people get left behind. Sometimes it’s a financial issue. Sometimes these people just have no one left — they’re the last one in the family and there’s no one to inter this person.”

Chasco noted that funeral homes always make the best effort to contact any and all next of kin, but often get no reply. The free interment program on All Souls Day is “part of these directors seeking out some closure for these unclaimed cremains,” he said.
Abandoned cremains is an increasing problem in the funeral industry, as more people opt for cremation. The National Funeral Directors Association projected that cremation rate is more than 50 percent for 2017 and will be more than 70 percent by 2030.

The projected burial rate for 2030 has dwindled to just 23 percent.

“But not all of them are interred — not right away, and sometimes not at all,” said Chasco.

This can be due to any number of factors — from families being unwilling to part with the remains of their loved one to financial restrictions preventing burial or interment, to ignorance on the exact Catholic teaching regarding cremated remains.
Cremation is allowed by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, but there are strict rules for the treatment of the ashes of the deceased, which must be accorded the same dignity that an intact body would. Displaying them in the home or scattering them outdoors is not allowed.

The longer the remains remain unburied, the more likely it is they will simply become lost or forgotten, said Chasco. “One story we heard last year was about a guy who was cleaning out a house — his mother and father had died — and he found one of the sets of grandparents’ urns,” said Chasco. “Those kinds of scenarios are what’s coming up. It wasn’t a dirty secret, it was just something that unfortunately got set aside and never got resolved. Families have the best of intentions — think of any house project you’ve tried to start and just never got to it.”

There is one slight departure from last year’s approach — this year, any cremated remains with dates of death from Dec. 31, 2011, and earlier will be interred in a full-sized grave and will not be retrievable without paying the disinterment and reinterment charges of a full-size burial. Interments from last year’s All Souls services with death dates from before Dec. 31, 2011, will also be moved to this same vault.

“We want to work with these families and still give them the opportunity, if they have second thoughts, to go get that urn and purchase a space (grave, crypt or niche),” said Chasco. “We drew a line at five years, because we do want to encourage people that when you lay someone to rest, they do rest in peace. We are very, very eager and willing to work with families on finding the best possible solution both spiritually and financially for interring these cremains.”
Any cremated remains with death dates from Jan. 1, 2012, and later will be interred in a crypt and will be retrievable free of charge as they were last year.

The cemeteries intend, in the future, to build some kind of memorial with the names of the deceased, said Chasco, though logistical aspects of that project are still being discussed.

Interested parties are asked to deliver the cremains in the original cardboard or plastic container received from the crematory/funeral home if possible, labeled with first and last name and the birth and death years of the deceased. A Burial Authorization Form can be completed before the day of the service.

To register, visit or call the Holy Cross Cemetery office at 414-438- 4420 or St. Adalbert Cemetery office at 414-483- 3663 prior to Oct. 30.