CHICAGO (CBS) — Rain softly began to fall on Wednesday as Francis Cardinal George completed prayers at Mt. Olivet Cemetery for dozens of people whose bodies had been stored at the county morgue since November or December.
“We did have a discussion shortly before whether to use holy water or not to bless the graves, and we decided that we wouldn’t do that,” he explained. “But it looks like God has other intentions.”
Funeral directors donated the transportation of the 13 adult bodies and 120 fetuses. They were buried across 18 gravesites, with the unborn or stillborn fetuses being buried in five group sites.
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The Archdiocese of Chicago donated the graves.
The county says the bodies had been stored at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s from November and December, part of a backlog at the morgue.
While the morgue currently has 274 bodies (the most recent figures), which is below its capacity of 300, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says work remains to ensure the backlog doesn’t happen again.
“We are incredibly indebted to Catholic Cemeteries for helping bail the county out of this,” he said. Dart says he’s proposed that jail inmates could help with building wooden caskets and burial.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle outlined to the press steps her office has already taken to revamp the Medical Examiner’s office.
Among them, a new director of intake operations has been hired.
“He’ll oversee the morgue inventory and autopsy preparation and he’ll ensure the remains are released to the appropriate funeral homes,” she said.
County officials and Leonard Zielinski of the Illinois Funeral Home Directors Association explained part of what led to the backlog was that state funds to the funeral home directors who handled burials in the past dried up.