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Nigerian seeks exhumation to prove suburban man was his father

This is color copy phoAlexander Joseph Vavrinek. Friday April 20 2012. | Copy phoby Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

This is a color copy photo of Alexander Joseph Vavrinek. Friday, April 20, 2012. | Copy photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 24, 2012 8:15AM

A Nigerian man filed a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago seeking to have a deceased suburban man exhumed — saying he can’t obtain U.S. citizenship until he proves the man in the grave is his father.

Alexander J. Vavrinek, 67, claims Joseph A. Vavrinek of Midlothian became his dad while stationed in Nigeria as a U.S. soldier during World War II.

Joseph Vavrinek died in 1981. Alexander Vavrinek’s mother, Edna Khanji, of Nigeria, died in 1996.

Now, Alexander Vavrinek is suing Joseph Vavrinek’s daughter, Rose Ann Vavrinek, of Midlothian, because she has allegedly refused to authorize the exhumation.

The suit also names Roman Catholic officials, because Joseph Vavrinek is buried in the Chicago archdiocese’s Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery in Alsip. The officials allegedly will not exhume the body without Rose Ann Vavrinek’s approval.

The lawsuit seeks a court order to exhume the body; a ruling that Alexander Vavrinek is a U.S. citizen and entitled to a passport; and $100,000 in damages for his “emotional distress.”

“He wants to know his roots,” said Alexander Vavrinek’s attorney, Eric Anunobi, of Minneapolis. “His own half-sister doesn’t want to take the extra step to give meaning to his life.”

Rose Ann Vavrinek could not be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Joseph Vavrinek briefly stayed in touch with Khanji after he left Nigeria. He sent Christmas cards and gifts to her and acknowledged he was Alexander’s father, the lawsuit said.

As a young man, Alexander received a medallion left behind by Joseph Vavrinek that said: “Member — the First Catholic Slovak Union USA, J. Vavrinek fighting for God and Country in the Armed Forces of the USA 1942,” according to the lawsuit.

That is when Alexander Vavrinek became determined to find his father, the lawsuit said.

He said he approached the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria in 1963 and received a U.S. Social Security card and alien registration card. In 1992, he contacted the Salvation Army’s Missing Persons Service in Des Plaines and was told Joseph Vavrinek had a surviving daughter, Rose Ann Vavrinek, the lawsuit said.

It claims Alexander Vavrinek received a 1994 letter from Rose Ann Vavrinek saying he bore a “striking resemblance” to her father.

The lawsuit also says she wrote letters to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria acknowledging Alexander was Joseph Vavrinek’s son and requesting travel documents for him, but the embassy didn’t respond.

The government recently told Alexander he could obtain U.S. citizenship only if he obtains proof he’s Joseph Vavrinek’s son, the lawsuit said. “He believes he is entitled to citizenship,” Anunobi said. “He wants to get to know his father’s heritage.”

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