CHICAGO – A northwest suburban family has been waiting for about a year and a half for a memorial headstone, which records show they paid for, but never received.
WGN has learned, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries, the problem is even bigger than just this family. Approximately 45 to 50 families are believed to be impacted.
“We’re just trying to get this to an end, but it’s not going away,” said Joseph Weissmann.
Joseph’s mother, Anna Weissmann, is buried next to her husband at St. Joseph Cemetery. She asked her children they wait until she passed to install a headstone, so she didn’t have to see her name on it when she visited the cemetery to mourn her husband.
That wish has turned into an 18-month battle for the siblings, just trying to find some peace and closure.
“She left it up to do that after she passed, and that’s all we’re trying to do, is see to her wishes,” said Mary Ann Shesek.
Financial records provided to WGN show a payment of $1,711 was made, in full, to Gast Monuments in Feb. 2022. Weissmann and Shesek — his sister — were told the memorial headstone was expected to be ready by Aug. 2022.
“It wasn’t ready, so I started going in and asking the sales rep. every month, what was going on,” Weissman said, also sharing they had been given several different reasons, including supply chain issues, delivery issues and other delays.
In May 2023, they found a sign on the door of Gast Monument’s Des Plaines location reading, “temporarily closed to restaff this location.” The sign was still there when WGN went to the location on Monday.
It was around that same time the siblings said they were told the memorial headstone was ready for installation. But to this day, they said they have not received a clear answer from Gast Monuments on why it hasn’t been delivered to the cemetery.
“I emailed them, and I said, we’re willing to go pick it up ourselves to deliver it to the cemetery, but we were told the cemetery has to give Gast permission to set it,” Shesek said. “Just be upfront. Tell us what’s going on; not giving us all the excuses they’ve been giving us.”
WGN reached out to general manager Katie Gast for answers.
“We did send a letter to our families who were impacted by this delivery delay in the spring, and I can say, we absolutely could do better as a business to respond quicker,” said Gast. “The emphasis that we are a small family business exists and we don’t have the same ability that the Catholic Archdiocese does to have a network of people and all of these employees.”
Gast said they have many orders fulfilled and completed headstones at their location.
For Shesek and Weissmann, their question remains: why hasn’t their mother’s headstone been delivered, if it’s complete and ready to be set?
According to a letter provided to WGN by the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries, which was sent home to lot owners and families, Gast Monuments reportedly has not been paying for the setting fees it collects from its customers and is supposed to pay to Catholic Cemeteries.
“As a result of Gast’s repeated failure to remit these payments, despite numerous opportunities to do so, Catholic Cemeteries is not currently permitting Gast to deliver and install new monuments at its cemetery locations throughout the Chicagoland area,” the letter read.
Gast disputes the Catholic Cemeteries’ claim, saying their business was unable to submit applications for the markers due to lack of access for the portal.
“They make families believe we’re doing something nefarious by not submitting these applications the day this family orders a memorial,” Gast said. “Well, the paperwork doesn’t state that’s what we need to do. It says they recommend we have the design approved by them, but not that we are required to.”
A spokesperson for Catholic Cemeteries told WGN submitting an application with five working days before delivery should be a rare exception, not the norm. It also confirmed to WGN Gast Monuments lost access to submitting applications through the portal in 2022 due to outstanding payments on four applications.
Even after the portal was closed to applications on Gast Monuments’ end, a spokesperson with Catholic Cemeteries said the company failed to pay the outstanding balances. They told WGN they’ve spoken with those four families, some who were upset and said they paid Gast Monuments in full.
The Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries said at least 45 to 50 families have now shared paperwork, including a contract they signed with Gast Monuments, proof of payment, and more, but have also not received their loved one’s headstones. Those applications were not submitted due to lack of access based on outstanding payments, it said.
Catholic Cemeteries also told WGN they offered to those impacted families, they would pay a delivery driver to go to Gast Monuments and pick up the markers for delivery, but that Gast Monuments has not given permission to release them.
Gast maintains the problem lies in the application process.
“Our family is impacted by this issue as well. We have a memorial that is supposed to go to one of the Catholic cemeteries as well,” Gast said. “So we’re with these families 110% in working with them on a resolution because we’re experiencing the same grief right now.”
On Monday, Catholic Cemeteries said the four outstanding applications in the portal were removed on Gast’s end. As of Monday afternoon around 3:45 p.m., they said Gast Monuments had not uploaded any new applications.
“Families have been put through the ringer in the last few months and it’s disheartening to me that this had to happen, but the empowering part is that we’re shedding light on these restrictive and anti-competitive practices,” Gast said.
Gast told WGN they asked for access back and are getting applications in order of when they were received, to get the ball rolling on next steps for impacted families.
“Today we’ve put together a list of which applications, from oldest to newest, who needs to go first because we don’t believe in prioritizing families based on who calls the most often, we do it based on the time that their order came in,” said Gast.
Gast said their company has set up a dedicated line to help employees impacted by this, as well as an email for people to reach out to.
Some said the damage was done, and now, all they want is what they paid for, so they can find some peace.
“It’ll give us some peace. It’ll give us some closure,” Shesek said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries also shared the following statement with WGN:
“In our century and half of operation, the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Cemeteries ministry has placed the needs of grieving families first. We continue to be guided by this principle.
“Cemeteries has not changed its policies or procedures for receiving and placing monuments. We worked with many monument companies last year without complaint or incident, completing nearly 8,000 marker and memorial placements.
“Other than a new pricing structure that applied to all monument companies, nothing has changed. In the case of a company with a history of not meeting its financial or delivery obligations to the families involved or to Cemeteries, we may require more assurances that these obligations will be met.
“We are working with families affected by late deliveries or other issues to help find and place the monuments for which they have paid.“