As the Allentown Diocese continues to remove religious artifacts from the 47 churches it closed in July 2008, it must also move the bodies of priests buried at some of the former houses of worship.
Now, the diocese is searching for relatives of the priests in order to obtain permission to exhume and then re-inter their bodies. If next-of-kin are not found, the diocese will turn to the courts for permission.
Most recently, the diocese is searching for members of the family of the late Rev. Charles W. Vodges, who died on Christmas Day in 1940 and is buried on the grounds of St. Mary of the Assumption church in Coaldale. His remains will be re-interred at St. Michael's Cemetery in Summit Hill.
Family members are asked to contact the Rev. Kenneth Medve of St. Katharine Drexel, Lansford, at 570-645-2282.
Vodges, born Jan. 27, 1889, was ordained May 30, 1914. He was pastor of the church from 1926 until his death.
Interring priests on the grounds of their churches was a long-held tradition, one that ended in the 1960s. The exception was Bishop Joseph McShea, the founding bishop of the diocese, who was buried on the cathedral grounds in Allentown in 1991.
In June, the body of the Rev. Leo Fahey was exhumed from his resting place at St. Ann's Church in Lansford and re-interred at Immaculate Conception Cemetery, Jim Thorpe. Fahey was buried at St. Ann's in 1919, according to diocese records.
Earlier, the remains of the late Rev. Ernesto Amati, who died in 1935 or 1936, was moved to St. Michael's Cemetery in Tresckow from the grounds of St. Bartholomew Church, also in Tresckow.
The bodies of three priests buried on the grounds of All Saints Church in McAdoo- a Rev. Molloy, who died in 1903, a Rev. Marren who died in 1897 and a Rev. McCannon/McConnon, who died in 1935 – were re-interred in St. Patrick's cemetery, McAdoo.
The diocese in July 2008 closed 47 of its 151 churches, including seven in Carbon County, because of a projected shortage of priests. It plans to sell the now vacant buildings, but first must strip them of any religious artifacts, including stained glass windows. The windows are being sold through Beyer Studio, Inc., an online auction house in Philadelphia. The windows and religious artifacts can only be used for religious purposes.
In the closings, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary's and SS. Cyril and Methodius in Coaldale and St. Michael's, St. Ann's and SS. Peter and Paul in Lansford, merged to become the new St. Katharine Drexel, at the former St. Michael Church building in Lansford.
The Rev. Paul Lisicky, who died in 1955, remains buried at St. Katharine's in Lansford.
Parishioners of several of the closed churches have appealed the diocese' actions. As of Friday, the challenges remained under consideration by the Vatican, said diocese spokesman Matt Kerr.