Some have gone unclaimed by family members for more than 20 years. There’s at least one John Doe.
In all, the remains of 93 dead people have gone unclaimed in Lafayette Parish in the past 20 years.
At 10 a.m. on April 28, those people will receive a funeral at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
“We’re doing this because we recognize that every life inherently has value and dignity,” said Kim Boudreaux, executive director of Lafayette Catholic Service Centers. “It’s important to claim those who have passed. We have so many who are still living who are forgotten.”
Boudreaux organized the service in partnership with the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
The effort has also been supported by the Parish Coroner’s Office and Martin & Castille Funeral Home.
Bishop Michael Jarrell will conduct the service, and a wake and rosary led by the Missionaries of Charity will begin at 9 a.m.
Boudreaux said that while a Catholic church and agency organized the service, she said other ministers of faith are invited to be a part of the ecumenical service to respect the other religious beliefs of the dead. A graveside military service will honor those veterans who will be interred.
The service is also open to the public.
The community has already responded with donations to help cover the cost of engraving the names of people on the granite doors of a columbarium constructed for the service, said Brady LeBlanc, the cathedral’s cemetery director.
“We’ve really gotten a great outpouring of support for this,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a great act of charity.”
The service is personal for Boudreaux.
She claimed all of the remains from the Coroner’s Office after an inquiry about Brian Walker, a former resident of the St. Joseph Shelter for Men whom she and other staff members had befriended.
“Every afternoon, he’d come to my office and get a cup of coffee and gossip with me,” she recalled. “He’d always tell me the scoop about what’s going on on the streets.”
Walker moved into his own home and lived independently for more than a year before he died on Oct. 25, 2009, Boudreaux said. He was 52.
The shelter was never contacted about his funeral arrangements, so Boudreaux assumed it was a private ceremony.
Six months later, she received news that Walker’s body was never claimed by his family.
“I was heartbroken,” she said.
She called the Coroner’s Office and started asking questions she never thought to ask before, such as: How many more are still unclaimed?
Her final question: “Can I claim them all?”
That question was a first, said Keith Talamo, Lafayette Parish Coroner Office chief medical legal investigator.
Talamo said the Coroner’s Office has stored the remains in case “family ever comes by and reclaims them.”
The remains are stored in plastic urns and individually sealed inside cardboard boxes labeled with the deceased’s name or in cases of the unidentified, date of death, he said.
The community’s response in claiming the remains is appreciated, Talamo said.
“I thought it was great,” Talamo said of the community involvement.
“It helps out a lot and puts these people to rest.”
What the Coroner’s Office faces isn’t unusual, said Boudreaux, who has researched how other cities handle the burial of their unclaimed or unidentified.
She said some larger cities hold pauper services annually.
The paperwork involved in releasing the large number of remains took awhile to process, longer than Boudreaux had anticipated when she made that initial phone call to the Coroner’s Office in 2010.
“I’ve always thought it was fitting that I came across this because of Brian,” Boudreaux said.
“He was the one that always told me what’s going on. He loved to surprise me and catch me off-guard on things.”
Boudreaux said she would like to make the service an annual one.
“Obviously, this will be the largest one because a number of people have accumulated for so long,” she said. “In the future, I think it will be smaller scale.
“It is something that I hope we can continue to do in the future so we can continue to claim those who have been forgotten,” Boudreaux said.