Hospital dedicates part of cemetery for the unborn

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hospital dedicates part of cemetery for the unborn

ishop Joseph Perry presided over a memorial service and blessed a marker erected to honor young lives lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy or newborn death on May 9. The new marker at Assumption Catholic Cemetery in Glenwood was erected by Franciscan St. James Health in collaboration with Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Participants placed white roses on the grave after the service including Sue Linn, executive director of the Franciscan Alliance Foundation (left) and Franciscan Sister M. Petra Nielsen, Vice President, Mission Integration (right). (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
A bench for reflection designed by the sister of Franciscan Sister M. Petra Nielsen was installed next to the grave (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Bishop Perry prepares to place a white rose on the grave of 85 children recently buried. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

The remains of 85 children who died before they were born were laid to rest May 9 at Assumption Cemetery in Glenwood.

The remains were buried in a special area of the cemetery, near a new memorial stone installed by Franciscan St. James Health. All of them came from the south suburban health system’s hospitals.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry led the prayer service for the burial and dedicated the memorial on a cool, cloudy Monday afternoon.

He spoke of the sadness that accompanies the death of child before it is born.

“On a day a child dies before it is born, we think the sun shouldn’t shine, water shouldn’t flow and the world shouldn’t work in the pleasant, indifferent way it usually does,” Bishop Perry said. “Nothing can console you after losses like this and there are no answers to the question, ‘Why is a child allowed to die before it is born? What can make this all right? What can square this with the belief that God is good?’”

While parents might not be willing or able to see to the interment of their children’s remains, the church must reassure and support them.

“Today the need for that reassurance has not changed, even in times of miscarriage or fetal death, especially in these moments,” Bishop Perry said.

Franciscan Sister M. Petra Nielsen, Franciscan Health’s vice president of mission integration, said the hospitals have always buried fetal remains at Assumption, in unmarked graves near the children’s section.

Having a marker, she said, will give family members a place to come to grieve and to remember.

“This is a place to give honor to those tiny lives,” Sister Petra said. “It also give witness that all lives are precious.”

After the service and blessing, those who attended — mostly hospital staff — placed 85 white roses on the memorial stone, which reads: “Precious in God’s sight. Safe in his hands. Forever in our hearts. The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration pray for these babies and those who love them.”

The stone was designed by Sister Petra’s sister, Jennifer Feeney, a mother of six children from La- Porte, Indiana.

Planning for the service and the stone took about a year, Sister Petra said, adding that the hospital plans to have two memorial services a year at the gravesite, one near Mother’s Day and one in October, and all are welcome.

While the reserved section at Assumption Cemetery is the newest, it’s not the only dedicated area for unborn babies or the only memorial to them in archdiocesan cemeteries, said Theodore Ratajczyk, director of cemetery services. St. Michael Cemetery in Palatine has a section for unborn babies from St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, there is a memorial stone at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines for remains from Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village. Northwestern Medical Center has fetal remains buried at Maryhill Cemetery in Niles.

“This is all babies, not just from Catholic families,” said Deacon Glenn Tylutki, outreach coordinator for Catholic Cemeteries.

People often think that babies who die before they are born will not be remembered, Tylutki said. He encourages parents who bring their own babies for burial to name them to help them remember.

“People need to remember,” he said. “It’s part of the healing process.”

Even those who are buried without names are remembered by cemetery staff.

“We start every day with a prayer for all the people who are buried in our cemeteries,” Tylutki said. “We will remember them every morning until Gabriel blows his horn.”


  • family life
  • bishop joseph perry
  • assumption catholic cemetery
  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • franciscan st. james health

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