Story and Photos By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald
With a common belief in service to the community, a partnership between the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Service Corporation International (SCI) formed to create Grace Funeral Home and St. Lazarus of Bethany Memorial Garden in Covington.
On May 2, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, priests of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and St. Tammany officials joined together for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the new site.
“May this funeral home, the chapel and the cemetery be a place of healing and consolation for those who mourn,” Archbishop Aymond prayed. “May the chapel be a place of prayer and comfort, a reminder of the sure hope of the resurrection and Christ’s promise to transform our earthly bodies to be like his own in glory.”
Archbishop Aymond spoke about how the name – Grace Funeral Home and St. Lazarus of Bethany – was decided, reflecting the sacred ground on which the project sits. When Deacon Dennis Adams read the Gospel passage from St. John about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Archbishop Aymond explained how Jesus experienced mourning and wept at his friend Lazarus’ death.
“That is exactly what will happen here on this sacred ground,” he said. “Those who come mourning and in grief will be comforted. … We also believe that this is a sacred place where the body is buried. The person is called home to share in the resurrection of Christ.”
Archbishop Aymond used Jesus’ words in the rest of the Gospel passage to explain death as “a passing over from this life to the next. And he says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me, though he should die, he comes to life.’ So, for us, death is resurrection. So, this place will hold the bodies of many people, loved ones, as they await the resurrection to the Lord and a home in heaven. We truly want to give comfort to those who mourn.”
Archbishop Aymond blessed the indoor funeral home and the cemetery grounds outdoors – which also were blessed with holy water by Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri and Father Rodney Bourg, pastor of adjacent Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Father Bourg will coordinate Catholic burials from his parish with Grace Funeral Home.
Needed in the area
The growing population of west St. Tammany civil parish made it ripe for this project, said Eric Tanzberger, who is from New Orleans and currently the senior vice president and chief financial officer of SCI. He called it a tremendous team effort among SCI, Archbishop Aymond, St. Tammany Parish officials and the Eagan family.
“I think it has been 10 years since the initial meeting with the archdiocese,” Tanzberger said, adding how the archdiocese had the land but did not the expertise to run a funeral home.
“We had the expertise but not the land, so it was immediately a nice collaboration,” Tanzberger said.
“It was important for the archdiocese and the archbishop that there was a spirit of serving the community, which is what we (SCI) are all about in our mission … across all of our 2,000 locations in the United States and Canada.”
SCI has 32 locations in Louisiana, including Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home and Cemeteries, Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home in Metairie, Westside/Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home, St. Bernard Memorial Funeral Home and Gardens, H.C. Alexander Funeral Home in Norco and Mount Olivet Cemetery in New Orleans.
“We will maintain this for the community on the north shore of St. Tammany,” he said. “The archbishop hadn’t yet expanded his mission in cemeteries on the northshore, so this was a chance for the archdiocese to come across (the lake) and really serve the community.”
Archbishop Aymond said through the many negotiations with SCI representatives, he was assured the funeral home and cemetery staff would deliver two things extremely important to him.
“That the body will be reverenced, and that those who come here in grief and sorrow and need consolation will be cared for,” the archbishop said.
General manager and funeral director Joe Eagan, who comes from an Irish-Catholic family in the funeral business since 1854, said having a New Orleans Catholic heritage gives him full understanding of the Catholic sensibilities of the area.
“I am appreciative of the traditions that are so special to us,” Eagan said.
The project, sitting on archdiocesan-owned property, has a more religious bent than other SCI properties, Tanzberger said. The stained-glass window in the non-denominational chapel is one example.
“It was meant to make St. Tammany Parish ‘parishioners’ feel welcome without making it too religious, but, at the same time, it’s very important that parishioners who are Catholic and using Most Holy Trinity Church (and other Catholic church parishes) still are able to use it for a Christian ceremony. It’s finding that perfect balance in the chapel,” he said.
The funeral home’s exterior also complements the style of the recently developed church and senior residence nearby.
“It was a simple decision to say what the architecture should be – to try to replicate what the archdiocese had done at Most Holy Trinity and St. Anthony’s Garden,” Tanzberger said.
Grace Funeral Home and St. Lazarus of Bethany Memorial Gardens sits on more than 50 acres of land, of which 16 are protected wetlands.
The first phase of the project includes an 8,500-square-foot funeral home, a cemetery with more than 800 ground lots, 300 mausoleum crypts and 200 cremation niches. A tomb for Catholic priests has also been built and is available to the archdiocese for burials.
For details, visit dignitymemorial.com.