Cemeteries given new life

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - Updated: 10:20 am

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

By establishing a nonprofit organization to ensure all parish cemeteries receive loving attention from professional caretakers, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has created the first model of its kind in the nation.

The impetus for the change came from the On Mission for The Church Alive! planning initiative. New parishes could eventually have inherited many cemeteries along with large responsibilities. To relieve them of administrative and financial burdens, Bishop David Zubik last year formed the Catholic Parish Cemeteries Association to operate and maintain 116 parish cemeteries that had been run by 78 parishes.

The transition to the CPCA is going smoothly, according to family members and clergy.

“They were so helpful to me at a difficult time,” said Jean Smolinski of New Castle, whose son died at age 48. “The association took care of everything.”

“The new process appears to be working well,” said Father Frank Almade, pastor of four parishes in New Castle. “I believe the CPCA will provide professional management of the cemeteries with good records and grounds maintenance.”

At Immaculate Conception Parish in Washington, which was founded in 1855, three cemeteries and a mausoleum are now run by the new organization.

“This is a concept whose time has come,” said Father William Feeney, pastor. “With every change in parish administration it takes time to get up to speed with the cemeteries, and we simply don’t have the staff. This is a relief.”

Burying the dead, one of the corporal works of mercy, shows respect for the deceased and offers care for families during their time of loss. Cemeteries are sacred resting places of memorial and prayer.

Parishes maintain ownership of the cemeteries, and the cemetery names will not change. They are licensed to the CPCA, which is responsible for recordkeeping, financial controls, burials and maintenance.

The North Regional Office in New Castle now handles operations at 33 cemeteries in Lawrence, Butler and Beaver counties. In Washington and Greene counties, 20 cemeteries are overseen by the South Regional Office in Cecil Township. The CPCA is moving records from 63 parish cemeteries in Allegheny County to the Allegheny Regional Office located in the former Guardian Angels school in Pittsburgh’s West End.

“We’re looking forward to working with all parishioners and continuing the work of dedicated parish staff and volunteers,” said Marianne Linn, executive director of the CPCA.

All cemetery deeds are being honored, and personnel involved in the on-site care and maintenance of the cemeteries now work for the CPCA.

Some parish cemeteries have burials several times a week, while others are active only a few times a year. A few cemeteries have no more burial plots to sell and are considered inactive.

Upgrades are being planned.

“Perpetual care funds will be enhanced through proceeds from a pre-need program being established for parishioners to plan their arrangements,” Linn said.

While other dioceses and archdioceses have undergone similar restructuring of parishes, none have established this innovative model of parish cemetery management, which is drawing attention nationwide, according to Linn.

Benefits include economies of scale resulting in administrative, operational and financial improvements for the cemeteries, and helping parishes avoid additional obligations as faith communities prepare to come together.

“Most importantly, our parish cemeteries will continue to be operated under the watchful eye of our diocesan bishop,” Linn said. “They also will continue to receive the daily care of cemeterians who are deeply aware of and committed to the sacred burial traditions of the Catholic Church.”

The CPCA may be reached at 412-256-9370 or cpca@cpca-pgh.org.

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