- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The cremated remains of nearly 60 people, some of which have sat abandoned on New Hampshire funeral home shelves for decades, are finding a more dignified resting place in a Manchester mausoleum.

The Rev. Peter Libasci, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, presided over a Mass on Saturday at the city’s Mount Calvary Cemetery to honor and accept the remains.

Most of the remains are those of stillborn babies, nursing home patients, deceased unclaimed from the medical examiner’s office or by their families, and prisoners. They include a boy who died a day after he was born in 1975. The most recent remains are those of an 80-year-old man who died in January.

Buddy Phaneuf, of Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium, said Saturday’s unusual service stemmed from a conversation he had with pastor Maurice Larochelle, a priest at St. Marie Church in Manchester who knew of spare mausoleum space at Mount Calvary.

“Mount Calvary has taken the initiative to take that simple conversation and commit that place, and to get the bishop,” Phaneuf said. Larochelle and cemetery custodian Keven Cody reached out to all the funeral homes they deal with and found three interested in contributing abandoned remains. In addition to Phaneuf, Lambert Funeral Home and Crematory and Connor Healy Funeral Home and Cremation Center are contributing remains.

Phaneuf said he has no information on the religious affiliations of those who are being interred at Mount Calvary after a ceremony performed by a Catholic bishop.

“We’re just trying to do a good deed,” Phaneuf said. “They’re in a respectable, dignified location, which is certainly better than a closet.”

Mike Nicodemus, vice president of cremation services for the National Funeral Directors Association, said he knows of no national database that tallies the number of unclaimed cremated remains.

“I’m not sure anyone would have any idea just how many unclaimed cremated remains there are throughout the country,” he said.

Phaneuf, whose facility held most of the remains, said New Hampshire law requires funeral directors to hold onto remains for 30 days.

“We can do what we choose after the 30 days,” Phaneuf said. “We’ve just held onto them because we’ve never know what to do with them. We couldn’t come up with a dignified option.”

The remains - in simple cardboard transport boxes bearing the names and relevant dates of the deceased - have all been logged into the register at Mount Calvary Cemetery, in the event a family member in the future wishes to claim them.

Phaneuf said Saturday’s effort mirrors one undertaken in 2008 to inter in the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery the abandoned remains of veterans who were honorably discharged, but whose cremated remains were not claimed.

Phaneuf said multiple attempts have been made over the years, and sometimes decades, to contact family members of the deceased.

“There’s only so much we can do,” he said. “We can’t force people to pick someone up.”

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