John Krebel was laid to rest on May 3 with full military honors after a funeral Mass at St. John of the Cross Church in Euclid, thanks to caring members of his faith family and the community.
At first, it seemed that Krebel, a U.S. Army veteran who died on April 27, would be buried in a private ceremony, as he had no surviving family members or close friends.
According to Ross DeJohn III, owner of DeJohn-Flynn-Mylott Funeral Home and Crematory in Willoughby Hills, Krebel prearranged his funeral in 2017. He requested a Mass and purchased a burial plot at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon. DeJohn also handled the funerals for Krebel’s two sisters, Viola and Eleanor. None of the siblings married or had children. The family had been longtime Euclid residents and members of the parish, which formerly was St. Felicitas Parish before its merger with St. Paul Parish during the diocesan reconfiguration in 2009.
After Krebel’s death, his state-appointed guardian had no one to notify except the funeral home and questioned if he should be buried with a private graveside service. DeJohn said it didn’t seem right to deny Krebel the Mass he requested, so he contacted Father John Betters, St. John of the Cross pastor. “I didn’t know him” Father Betters said, “but I said of course we’d celebrate a Mass for him.”
“At first I thought it would just be about four of us at the Mass,” DeJohn said. However, when Father Betters told his pastoral associate about it, he said she was distraught that there would be no one there for Krebel, so she emailed about 10 parishioners. Those people then spread the word through social media and things mushroomed.
When it was time for the 10 a.m. funeral Mass on May 3, the church was filled with masked worshipers, in accordance with the prescribed safety guidelines. There was even a floral arrangement next to the casket that was provided by a woman in San Francisco who heard about Krebel’s funeral Mass on social media. Father Betters said she wanted to ensure he had some flowers. Members of military organizations volunteered to serve as pallbearers and there was a military honor guard.
“This is the largest crowd we’ve had in the church in some time,” Father Betters said, alluding to reduced attendance during the coronavirus pandemic. “You wonder if people really do care and then you see this,” he said, referring to those who turned out for the liturgy.
“What must John be thinking up in heaven?” he asked.
Among the attendees were parishioners, first responders including police officers from Euclid, Richmond Heights and elsewhere, active-duty military personnel, members of veterans groups and others.
“Christian values and what we believe are important,” Father Betters said. He credited the community for joining together and lifting each other up. He said Krebel’s funeral Mass was like all the liturgies he celebrated – including the music and parish greeters.
“John was willing to serve his country in the armed forces,” he said. “We come here today to celebrate John’s birth in eternal life.” Father Betters recalled his mother telling him that you can always pray for someone.
“Even though John died alone, he is feeling those prayers as he prepares for his entry to eternal life,” Father Better said. He told the congregation that every time we call a friend, we recognize that Jesus suffered and died for us and opened the gates of heaven for us.
“If John was here today, I’m sure he’d be grateful,” he said, asking those gathered to close their eyes and imagine Krebel’s last breath and then him seeing all those who went before him – family and friends. “And then he sees Jesus, his Lord and savior, who greets him and says, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”
After Mass, a military bugler played taps as veterans, active military and law enforcement members saluted. Others held their hand over their heart. The flag atop Krebel’s casket was folded and presented to staff members from Governor’s Village in Mayfield Heights, Krebel’s last residence.
“He was a kind, sweet man,” said Michelle Gorman, Governor’s Village executive director, who was with Krebel when he died. She said he moved into an assisted living suite in July 2020. “Even though he couldn’t communicate well, he would give us a thumbs-up when we did something he liked,” she said. Gorman also recalled how he enjoyed spending time with the activities director’s dog who visited the facility weekly. In fact, a photo of Krebel in his wheelchair petting the dog was used on the worship aid for the funeral Mass.
“He had a lot of struggles and hardships,” Gorman said, ”but he was a wonderful man and he had a pleasant attitude.”