A lot of funerals pass through St. Edmund Church, but none quite like the one celebrated last Saturday morning at 8:30 Mass. Roughly 30 parishioners came to mark the passing of Steve Kiraly, 91, a longtime usher at this very Mass.
Kiraly had quite a history. Born in Hungary in 1922, his mother died when he was 7 and his father died at the hands of the Nazis. He managed to escape to Belgium, then made his way to Canada, then to this country. For many years he was a butcher at The Villager grocery store on Chicago Avenue.
He ushered the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Edmund for years, said longtime parish assistant and historian Don Giannetti, and as he grew older, he ushered the 8:30 a.m. weekday Masses as well, always sporting his usher's pin. Often he could be waiting outside the front door of the church when Giannetti opened it.
Kiraly lived in the apartment building adjoining Mills Park along Pleasant Street. After he retired from The Villager, Giannetti said, he did odd jobs in the neighborhood, shoveling, cutting grass, and lived a very frugal life. St. Edmund Pastoral Associate Peggy Leddy would visit him. Nancy Nemetz, a neighbor, took care of him and had medical power of attorney for a while.
He moved to an assisted living facility in Lyons, and eventually, the parish lost track of him.
A parishioner did an online search a few months back and discovered that he died on July 4, 2013, and was in the county morgue, classified as an unclaimed body. When the parish contacted the Medical Examiner's Office, they learned he was scheduled to be buried in a mass grave the following day. Thanks to the intervention of St. Edmund's pastor, Rev. John McGivern, and with the assistance of Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home and Catholic Charities, they managed to arrange for a funeral at St. Edmund. Charlie Williams at Drechsler, Brown provided a coffin at cost, and the parish paid for the funeral. A parishioner donated a gravesite at Queen of Heaven Cemetery.
"It was one of the most beautiful funerals I've been to," said Giannetti. "It was a real do-it-yourself ceremony. Everybody participated." His fellow parishioners gathered at the gravesite to say goodbye.
But before they left Oak Park, the church bells were set a-pealing. That's what St. Edmund does at the end of funerals, Giannetti said, "because we believe in the Resurrection."
If you happened to be passing by last Saturday morning, what you heard was St. Edmund's sendoff for Steve Kiraly.