February 16, 2024

Be Our Guest / Stephen O’Neil

A heinous doctor, his 2,411 victims, and what it means about our human race

It was February 2020 in South Bend—cold and gray with scattered remains of a recent snow. I navigated my way off the beaten path, using phone directions to find the cemetery tucked away and known only to locals. It was my first trip there despite having spent most of my life traveling to the University of Notre Dame. A dread welled up from deep inside.

Meandering along the small Southlawn Cemetery road, I eventually saw the group of a few dozen fellow mourners leaving their cars and walking toward our common destination.

I had been to dozens of funerals and gravesite services through the years to celebrate the lives of family members and friends—most of them older people who had lived long lives, some who had succumbed to illness and others tragically ripped away too early.

But this was different. This was not the celebration of a life well lived or the tearful mourning of a friend gone in his prime.

This was a memorial service for 2,411 nameless individuals buried in a mass grave, the victims of Dr. Ulrich “George” Klopfer, the infamous South Bend abortionist who kept thousands of the bodies of his victims in his Illinois home and car in boxes and jars. They were discovered following his death and subsequently brought back to Indiana for burial.

The strangers assembled had no specific connection to any of the buried, but all shared the common bond of being human and questioning the enormity of what had brought us there.

In front of us and below the ground were the remains of more than 2,000 people, none of whom ever had the chance to be born.

The epitaph we stood before read, “In memory of the 2,411 precious unborn buried here on February 12, 2020.”

None of these souls had the chance to strike out and find their way, love, succeed and fail. Each represented an unrepeatable individual whose life, whose potential would never be realized, and who would never be afforded the opportunity to partake of joy, sadness, warmth, happiness and love. They would never see the light of day—even one like that day, gloomy and overcast.

A local priest led the group in prayer for the protection of life and the repose of the little souls. Everyone who wished placed a red rose on the grave and drifted back to their cars and lives. There was no lunch prepared back at a parish hall, nor any get-together at the family home where those left behind would regale themselves of stories of their loved one. For there were no stories, only the abrupt and violent end to life before birth. Those buried there were alone and unknown with no family to grieve them.

The emptiness was palpable and the scene surreal. How does one return to normalcy after attending a memorial at a mass grave of anonymous innocents never given the chance to live? This wasn’t a war zone or a Holocaust death camp halfway around the world. It wasn’t Rwanda or Serbia—it was Indiana.

The two-hour car ride home was strange as I re-entered my life. Those in Southlawn Cemetery would remain confined in their shared entombment. Their potential destinies would never be realized, and their identities known only to God—outcasts either unwanted, inconvenient or imperfect.

What has happened to the human race? Have our individual needs become so paramount that we turn away from the needs of others to merely exist?

Heading back down U.S. Highway 31 toward Indianapolis, I thought to myself, “Life goes on”—if you are wanted.

(Stephen O’Neil is a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis.)

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