Grosse Pointe church gives funeral to Detroiter in need

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Park — Frank Douglas Risse’s remains went unclaimed at the Wayne County morgue for almost six months, but he was finally laid to rest Friday.

And even though Risse had no family in the Metro area, more than 250 people attended his funeral to bid him farewell. Most were parishioners of St. Clare of Montefalco, but a few were friends and neighbors of his.

“I came because I just thought he was alone,” said parishioner Michaline Chimielewski, 63, of Harper Woods, who was joined by her son Christopher Chimielewski, 27. “My son and I felt it was important we come.”

Risse died this past September in a fire at his home on the 4100 block of Commonwealth near Trumbull and Alexandrine in the city’s historic Woodbridge neighborhood. He was 73.

The blaze happened after 1 a.m. on Sept. 26, 2015, according to media reports. There weren’t many details, except an unidentified 73-year-old man had been killed and another man, 61, was injured.

One of the church’s parishioners posted on Facebook a plea for help with identifying the man, said Sue Buckley, who heads the church’s bereavement care committee.

Tips came in and working with the county medical examiner’s office, parishioners were able to identify the victim as Risse.

They also learned he was indigent, attended mass at Holy Trinity Church in Detroit and didn’t have any family.

St. Clare’s pastor, Fr. Andrew Kowalczyk, said Risse’s funeral is a way to heed Pope Francis’ call to perform acts of mercy every day.

“We felt compelled to perform an act of charity for someone (like Risse,) someone who doesn’t have a family, who is out there all alone and couldn’t afford a funeral,” he said.

Buckley said people’s remains often go unclaimed at area morgues and she’s hoping her parish is starting a trend. “That’s the goal,” she said. “Any church can do this.”

The Verheyden Funeral Home next door to the church donated a casket and Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township donated a burial plot. .

A couple of Risse’s neighbors described him as true gentleman who was kind, honest and trustworthy. She added he was just was quick with a smile as he was with a joke.

“He always had a joke,” said Karen Dimanche Davis, who would often see Risse, usually dressed in a suit, walking down their street. “One of his favorites was: ‘Have you seen Mary?’ He’d wait for someone to reply ‘Mary who?’ before he gave the punchline: ‘Mary Christmas!’ ”

She also said he was proud of his Irish heritage and she then led the church in a chorus of “When Irish eyes are smiling” in his honor.

Scott Koskinen, who knew and lived next door to Risse for 30 years, said Risse was a great guy and the neighborhood isn’t the same without him.

“He was a Jim Price in a neighborhood of Dan Dickersons,” Koskinen said, likening Risse to the Detroit Tigers’ radio announcers.. “He was friendly with everyone he ever met.

Risse was also colorful, Koskinen said. “He literally walked like Charlie Chaplin,” he said. “Doug would say ‘Hell-ooooo Scotty’ and he’d stretch the word ‘Hello’ out for five seconds.”

Stan Knapik, 73, of Melvindale said Risse was instantly likeable.

“The first thing on his face would be this big smile,” said Knapik, who’s known Risse since they met at the St. Aloysius Community Center in downtown Detroit in 2002 and became fast friends. “He had a way of making people forget their problems for a little while.”

An organist and trumpet player accompanied the choir for the mass’ hymns. Six University of Detroit Jesuit High School students served as an honor guard. Some students from the parish’s Catholic school also attended.

The parish gave Risse a wooden cross with his picture on it. During the Mass, Kowalczyk explained the church has a tradition of giving parishioners called to Heaven these crosses and then hanging them on a wall as a memorial. One of Risse’s neighbors was asked to do the honors.

Koskinen was surprised to see so many people at his friend’s funeral.

“I expected this to be in a small church with 10 people there,” he said. “When I walked in I said ‘Wow!’ This was amazing.”

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