By Beth Donze, Eternal Life, Clarion Herald
A new half-acre garden inside St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3 will significantly expand local options for those who are considering cremation as their preferred method of burial.
The Queen of All Saints Cremation Garden, located in the rear of St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3 at 143 City Park Ave., will offer 631 single and double niches designed exclusively for the interment of cremated remains.
The garden will be blessed by Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. The blessing, which is open to the public, will conclude with the release of more than 300 Painted Lady butterflies symbolizing new life.
Sherri Peppo, executive director of the New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries Office, said the space now occupied by Queen of All Saints originally was being considered for development as a mausoleum site. But recent upticks in both local and national interest in cremation had led Cemeteries staff to rethink the space as a lush and architecturally stunning garden for the burial of cremated remains.
Currently, about 40 percent of burials at New Orleans’ Catholic cemeteries – and about half of burials citywide – involve cremation, Peppo said. Statewide, the cremation burial rate is 33 percent.
“We realized that we needed to designate an area just for cremated remains. All Saints Cremation Garden is the first garden in a Catholic cemetery dedicated exclusively to cremation,” said Peppo said, noting that the new garden has space for a second phase of development, should interest warrant an expansion.
A ‘colonnade’ of saints
The garden’s centerpiece will be known as “All Saints Walk.” A central gazebo, to be used as a sheltered space for committal services, is encircled by 14 free-standing, granite columbaria linked together by a trellis-style “roof” of gray granite. Each of these columbaria features a sculpted relief of a different saint, creating a colonnade of holy men and women. The 14 saintly honorees are Sts. Monica, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Calcutta, Anthony of Padua, Cecilia, Benedict, Lucy, Paul, Rita, Jude Thaddeus, Anne, Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Siena and Christopher the Martyr.
Water features and statuary mark two other sections of the garden:
• At the end of “Grotto Walk,” a granite pergola shelters a white granite statue of Our Lady of Lourdes rising from a semi-circular pond. The freestanding columbaria to the rear of the statue, which sport angled peaks, include a central one inscribed with the complete text of the Hail Mary. Nearby, another columbarium, designed to look like a miniature mausoleum, honors St. Bernadette.
• The garden’s other statue is a haloed grouping of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in the eponymous “Holy Family” section. The white granite sculpture, perched atop a hexagonal columbarium, overlooks a small pond. Seven faux sandstone boulders surround the pond, each offering two cremation niches, Peppo said.
Designed with care
Other sections at the Queen of All Saints site include “Bishops’ Alley” – a row of free-standing columbaria with pointed peaks resembling a bishop’s miter. Nearby, a special garden bed and memorial headstones will mark an underground concrete vault reserved for those who have cremated remains in their possession, but who could not afford to have them buried.
“There are families who maybe have an urn sitting inside their house but aren’t sure what to do with it,” Peppo said. “We’ll be able to offer a low-cost option for those families, just so they can bury those cremated remains.”
Once fully planted, the garden will include native grasses, drift roses, sunshine ligustrum, iris butterfly, boxwood, Italian cypress and crape myrtles.
All walkways were designed with the needs of the physically challenged in mind, composed of either smooth or stamped concrete. Inlaid red brick, sourced from a local salvage yard, punctuate some of the walkways, giving the garden “a New Orleans feel,” Peppo said.
Proper burial a necessity
Peppo said cremation was a major topic of discussion at the recent Cincinnati gathering of the Catholic Cemetery Conference, an organization that supports professionals in 139 dioceses in North America and Australia in their vocation of treating burial of the dead as a corporal work of mercy. Educating families on the necessity of interring cremated remains in accord with church guidelines is a daily task at the New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries Office, Peppo said.
“Cremation (as a post-mortem procedure) is recognized under canon law, but the families need to realize that they are still dealing with human remains. The remains need to be properly interred after the cremation takes place, Peppo notes.
“Most of the questions I get from Catholics are either that they still don’t understand that cremation is allowed in the Catholic church – that you can even have the urn in the church for Mass; or, the families know that creation is allowed, but they don’t realize that they cannot divide the cremated remains, or keep some of them, or scatter them,” Peppo said. “The cremated remains need to stay together.”
As families become more aware of guidelines, some are approaching the Cemeteries Office with requests to bury two or three urns they have been holding on to for as long as 20 years, Peppo said.
“It’s encouraging that families are realizing that they need to have the cremated remains out of their house and into a sacred place where they can be memorialized,” she said. “Cremated remains are to be treated with the same dignity and respect as the (intact) human body. That’s why they should not be scattered or separated.”
Peppo said she and her conference colleagues also examined the many reasons families are choosing cremation.
“It’s not always because of (the lower) cost,” Peppo said. “Sometimes it’s because of a protracted burial – with family members trying to come into town. Or it might be because somebody died in one state but the family wants to have them buried in their hometown. Or it could be for environmental reasons – they want to be more conservative (in their use of space).”
More niches elsewhere
In addition to the new garden at St. Patrick No. 3, cremation niches are available at three other Catholic cemeteries: St. Roch Cemetery No. 2 in New Orleans; St. Charles Cemetery in Luling; and St. Louis No. 3, which erected the first free-standing columbarium in an archdiocese-operated cemetery in 2015: the 112-niche Serenity Garden Columbarium, located just inside the cemetery’s Esplanade Avenue gates.
Queen of All Saints Cremation Garden was designed by California-based Blackstone Cemetery Development, which also provided the granite, stone and statues. The contractor was Cemetery Services Group, Inc., of New Orleans. Mullin Landscape Associates, based in St. Rose, designed and installed the landscaping.
The Queen of All Saints Cremation Garden can be accessed by driving through St. Patrick No. 3’s main entrance gates at 143 City Park Ave., or through the rear gates on Rosedale Drive. The garden abuts the Rosedale Drive side of the cemetery.
For more information, call 596-3050.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.