At the Archdiocese of Denver's Mount Olivet Cemetery, no person is buried without prayers being said over them – even those whose identities are a mystery.
“Sometimes we don't even know the person’s name; they could come to us as a John Doe,” Lloyd Swint, assistant director of Cemeteries and Mortuaries for the Denver archdiocese, told CNA June 4.
“We’ll offer prayers for the repose of their souls, for the forgiveness of their sins, their deliverance into the arms of Christ.”
Because Mount Olivet and the Archdiocese mortuary are on the same property, they are able to take part in two ministries; burials of unidentified deceased and funerals and burials for the poor.
For years, the cemetery has provided a final resting place for a large number of Denver's non-veteran poor and homeless population, seeing it as a testament to the dignity of the human person.
One program the archdiocese takes part is known as “Coroner's Rotation,” in which the coroner’s office contacts cemeteries willing to bury unidentified people for a small stipend awarded by the county.
Even though the person is unknown, Swint says the policy of offering prayers for the deceased is still applied.
“What myself or my director or any one of our administrators does is take the same book that’s used for a full funeral and go out to that grave with a bottle of holy water, whether they’re Catholic or not, and we say the same prayers for that person that we would for anyone else.”
He recalled one day during a driving snowstorm in which he offered prayers for an unknown man.
“I was by myself; there was no one else around, just me and the deceased in the casket,” he said. “I didn’t know that person’s name; I just referred to him in the male gender pronouns.”
He was struck by how humbling it was to be present at that man’s burial even though he never knew him in life. “I believe fully that we’ll run into these people again someday in heaven.”
Swint said taking part in the one of the Corporal Works of Mercy of burying the dead is “very important work,” especially for those who are unidentified.
“The program exists to take care of these poor because in God’s eyes, we’re all the same,” he said.
Mount Olivet also offers funerals and burials for those whose families are without the resources to pay for such services.
In this case, the county social services will provide a small stipend – usually about $600 for the cemetery and $900 for the mortuary.
“Everyone is afforded the same level of service regardless of their ability to pay,” Swint said. “If they can pay, we expect them to do that because we have to cover our costs, of course, and keep our doors open, but we don’t discriminate or check people’s wallets.”
The Archdiocese of Denver Mortuary was established in 1981 and sits on the grounds of Mount Olivet Cemetery which has served as Denver’s Catholic cemetery since 1892.