Story and Photos By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
A lush, half-acre garden developed within the confines of St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3 is significantly expanding local options for those who are considering cremation as their desired method of burial.
The Queen of All Saints Cremation Garden, located in the rear of St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3, 143 City Park Ave., was blessed by Archbishop Gregory Aymond at a March 21 prayer service. It offers 630 single and double niches designed exclusively for the interment of cremated human remains.
“Cremation is becoming more and more desired in our society and in our church, and it’s important that we, as a Catholic Church, are able to provide sacred space (in which) loved ones will be buried,” said Archbishop Aymond, reflecting on the Gospel reading that described how Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.
Archbishop Aymond said burial is one of the ways Catholic faithful confirm two main beliefs: every human being is a precious creation of God; and God dwells within the human body. Showing reverence for human remains – a guiding principle of New Orleans’ Catholic cemeteries – is “a sign of our gratitude to God,” the archbishop added.
“May this garden be a place of healing and consolation to those who mourn and have lost loved ones,” he said.
A ‘colonnade’ of saints
Queen of All Saints is the first garden in a local Catholic cemetery to be dedicated exclusively to cremation.
Its centerpiece, known as “All Saints Walk,” features a roofed gazebo for committal services encircled by 14 free-standing columbaria linked together by a trellis-style “roof” of gray granite. Each columbaria sports a sculpted relief of a different saint, creating a colonnade of holy men and women. The saintly honorees are Saints 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.
Other sections of the garden include:
• “Grotto Walk,” leading to a granite pergola sheltering a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. The freestanding columbaria to the rear of the statue include a central one inscribed with the complete text of the Hail Mary. Nearby, another columbarium, designed to suggest a miniature mausoleum, honors St. Bernadette.
• The garden’s “Holy Family” section is marked by a statue of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus atop its hexagonal columbarium. It also has a small waterfall feature.
• “Bishops’ Alley” is the name for the garden’s row of free-standing columbaria, each featuring a pointed peak resembling a bishop’s miter
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 the Cemeteries staff to rethink the space as an architecturally stunning garden for the burial of cremated remains.
Cremation gaining popularity
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. Peppo said some local families continue to be confused about canon law guidelines regarding cremation.
“Either there’s a misconception about cremation not being allowed in our Catholic Church – it actually has been allowed since the 1960s – or that they do not fully understand that the cremated remains need to be buried and that they can’t be separated or scattered or kept at home,” Peppo said.
The blessing of the garden concluded with the release of thousands of butterflies signaling new life. Plantings include native grasses, drift roses, sunshine ligustrum, iris butterfly, boxwood, Italian cypress and crape myrtles.
Other cremation niches
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 and St. Louis No. 3 in New Orleans; and at St. Charles Cemetery in Luling.
Queen of All Saints 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, visit the Cemeteries Office Facebook page or visit nolacatholiccemeteries.org.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.