The Catholic New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago has published an article detailing certain aspects of the recent exhumation of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton which I did not share when I wrote about standing at the feet of Father Tolton:
Canon law also requires [this is not technically correct, but I suppose it is close enough] that dioceses employ a forensic anthropologist, a medical examiner and archeologist [sic] in the process. Those three men worked on removing the remainder of the soil and uncovered Tolton’s body. It didn’t take long to find the skeletal remains.Over time the earth crushed the wooden coffin in which Tolton was buried. They discovered the casket had a glass top because they found a significant amount of broken glass mixed in with the remains. At the time Tolton died, glass-topped coffins were used for people of position or who were well known. In addition to the skeletal remains, the crews found other items such as metal handles and wood from the coffin, the corpus from a crucifix buried with him, the corpus from his rosary and a portion of his Roman priest’s collar. “The intent of all of this is preserving the remains we have of a possible saint. We want to make sure that anything that we find is preserved so it will go into a sealed casket and from the sealed casket into a sealed vault,” said [Roman] Szabelski.
After a brief discussion about how exhumations can differ one from another, the author of the article, Joyce Duriga, provides a few additional details:
As the remains were unearthed, the forensic pathologist laid them out on a table in a mortuary bag under which was a new priest’s alb. He pieced the bones together anatomically.
Bishop Paprocki led everyone in the rosary while that was happening. In addition to the skull, they found Tolton’s femurs, rib bones, vertebrae, collarbones, pelvis, portions of the arm bones and other smaller bones.
The forensic pathologist verified by the skull that the remains were of a black person. By the shape and thickness of bones in the pelvic area he was able to determine that the remains were from a male in his early 40s.
Once all of the remains and artifacts were collected, the process to reinter Tolton began. Priests from Springfield vested the remains with a white Roman chasuble and maniple, amice and cincture. Tolton’s remains were then placed in a new casket bearing a plate that identified him as “Servant of God Augustus Tolton,” along with his dates of birth, ordination and death. A document was placed on top of the remains attesting to the work done that day.
Then they wrapped a red ribbon around the casket and sealed it with a wax seal of the Diocese of Springfield. The coffin was in turn placed in a burial vault with another inscription. A second vault held the broken glass and coffin parts and both containers were reinterred in the grave. A closing prayer service wrapped up the solemn process.
The grave will only be opened again if Tolton is beatified, said Bishop Perry. No relics — pieces of bone or any of the other objects found in the grave — were removed that day. Relics can only be shared if Tolton moves on to the next stage in the canonization process — beatification.
Nearly two weeks later, I am still deeply grateful for the privilege of being present at the exhumation and am edified by the reverend work carried out that day.