Epiphany cemetery offering free burial Nov. 16 for cremated remains

| October 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

Epiphany Cemetery Director Bob Mathewson stands near a marker that will be used in a ceremony Nov. 16 for those who bring cremated remains for burial in Epiphany Cemetery in Coon Rapids. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Father Thomas Dufner once counseled a young woman who wore a locket with her grandmother’s ashes in it to bury the remains, after the woman admitted she couldn’t sleep at night.

“The thing about death is that it is not the end,” said Father Dufner, pastor of Epiphany in Coon Rapids. “There’s still a presence associated with the remains of our beloved dead, which is why even primitive peoples have always buried their dead.”

As cremation has become widespread, so has the practice of keeping the deceased’s ashes in the home indefinitely — a practice generally prohibited in the Catholic Church. Father Dufner and Epiphany Cemetery Director Bob Mathewson have been discussing for years how to encourage people who have not buried cremated remains to do so. Their conversations led to offering a free day of burial Nov. 16 at the parish cemetery.

“It’s actually a good opportunity for us to be of some service to people and provide a need for our beloved dead,” Father Dufner said.

Mathewson said there are many reasons people hang on to cremated remains instead of burying them. Some had intended to, but “life has just caught up with them,” he said.

The Catholic Church has permitted cremation since 1963, but Catholic teaching requires that the dead be buried or interred in a sacred space, usually a cemetery. A person’s cremated remains should not be kept at home or scattered. Due to an increase in the practice of cremation, the Church clarified its teaching in a document released in 2016.

In making the burials at Epiphany free for a day, Mathewson aims to remove what he sees as one of the main hurdles to burial. “For a lot people, one of the reasons [not to bury the remains] was it costs too much money to bury them,” he said. “For some people, it was just the fact it slipped their mind. They were always going to get around to it but just never have.”

Mathewson estimated that in 45 percent of the burials at the parish’s cemetery, the deceased has been cremated. Father Dufner said that as he’s presided over funeral Masses, he has observed cremation become a more common choice.

Mathewson said that handling the dead with proper dignity is important for Catholics, and he takes it seriously in his work.

“We feel that even if we get one cremation buried, that’s one more than it would have been,” Mathewson said. “We’re hoping for a couple dozen at least.”

People can register for the free burial by contacting Epiphany by Nov. 12. The registration is open to any Catholic or non-Catholic with cremated remains. The staff will take any cremated remains that are more than 18 months past the deceased’s funeral, a recommendation of the Catholic Cemetery Association, Father Dufner said. Mathewson has consulted other Catholic cemeteries in the United States that have offered free cremation burials.

In Church tradition, November is the month especially devoted to praying for the dead. It begins with All Saints Day Nov. 1 and All Souls Day Nov. 2.

Mathewson said the day will include a 10:30 a.m. prayer service before the burial, and the remains will be buried together in a vault. The cemetery will absorb the costs of the burials.

Father Dufner and Mathewson said this first free burial day is experimental, but they hope to see it grow and other parishes adopt the practice.

“We’re hoping, by offering this, that we will get quite a few people that will bury their ambiguous remains, pay the proper respect for their loved ones,” Mathewson said.

For more information, contact Bob Mathewson, Epiphany Cemetery director, at 763-862-4308.

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