A cemetery is a holy place Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

We Catholics believe that a cemetery is holy ground because it is where the body rests until it is reunited with the soul at resurrection.

Caring for a cemetery requires skill and grace. I learned this as a boy and even more as a pastor.

As a seventh and eighth grader, I mowed the school and church lawns of Kieler's Immaculate Conception Parish with a walking power mower.

I was glad when the July the Fourth picnic came because picnic patrons tromped down the grass and made the lawn easier to mow.

I also shoveled coal in the church furnace. Hopefully I won't have to shovel it in eternity.

I also mowed the Immaculate Conception Parish cemetery for two years with the often reluctant help of Herb, my brother.

Part of the reason for his reluctance was because two or three times each summer we clipped the grass around every tombstone.

Our hand clippers were powered by elbow grease.

This created blisters which I still feel. Today's new-fangled power trimmers were not available.

My brother remembers the bumblebees and gophers who thought they owned the cemetery.

The money we earned went to our parents to help make ends meet.

My brother and I had little or no spending money.

History in a cemetery

As Herb and I clipped around the gravestones, I discovered that much personal history is buried in a cemetery.

I studied the names especially of my grandparents, other relatives, and persons I knew.

My grandparents on both sides of the family were buried in the cemetery. I did not realize then that mowing the cemetery was sacred work.

I always enjoyed discussing cemeteries with the late Donald Brandt, who cared for the Kieler cemetery for years.

Today, this cemetery has a new section. Whenever I visit it, it seems like the old neighborhood. I could tell stories about many who are buried there.

Two fervent baseball fans are buried closest to the baseball diamond.

Maybe Dad and Uncle Will should also have been buried there because they were arguably Kieler's most zealous baseball fans.

When I became a pastor at age 56, the first thing I did was to start a cemetery committee at St. Patrick, Benton.

A parishioner made a map. Others laid out the graves for the cemetery's new section.

We also updated cemetery rules, which are necessary, but they can be touchy because survivors are concerned about their loved ones' graves and may occasionally stretch cemetery rules.

At Ridgeway-Barneveld, I also helped to start a cemetery committee.

Caring for a cemetery

Caring for a cemetery, especially a small cemetery, is interesting, challenging, and full of stories.

On my way to Darlington, I always stop at Belmont's St. Philomena Cemetery to pray at Fr. Monte Robinson's grave, which is integrated with an inspiring statue of the Pieta.

Whenever he passed a cemetery, the late Fr. Al Schubiger prayed.

Sr. Nona McGreal, OP, who prepared the Positio for Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli's possible canonization and wrote books about him, once asked if I would consider correcting the spelling error on the Benton cemetery sign. It was incorrectly spelled ''Cemetary".

I visualized scores of teaching Sisters who visited Father Mazzuchelli's grave and noticed the misspelling.

At the National Catholic Cemetery Conference workshop at Sinsinawa Mound, I mentioned this misspelling to the priest-president of the conference. He said that he thought this happens because of confusion with the word seminary.

Cemeteries try to build up the perpetual care fund and use the interest gained from the principal to help maintain the graves, pay for mowing, and for the unexpected and other expenses.

Dealing with changes

Tombstones like cars change in style.

In the 1800s' there were some iron cross markers, a few iron monuments, and some marble tombstones.

At Benton, I liked the older white marble tombstones and tried to clean the moss or fungus off them. But unfortunately with time, their resurrected white beauty would become covered with fungus again.

They also are more brittle than granite and vandals can do more damage to them.

Upright marble tombstones are less common today because the big ones can be dangerous and over time inscriptions become difficult to read or even become unreadable.

Since the funeral Mass is about our hope for heaven, a religious symbol such as a cross, a Rosary, or a Bible is appropriate for the tombstone.

A symbol of the deceased life's work which expresses how they used their time, talents, and treasure to help to bring about God's kingdom and make this world a bit better is also fitting.

Every time I visit Benton's St. Patrick, I park my car near the grave of the Venerable Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli and the graves of some of the first Dominican Sisters he founded.

I visit their graves and say a quick prayer. May we continue to pray for the dead when we pass or visit a cemetery.

A lot of history is buried there. Sharing stories of the deceased helps us connect the past with the present and future.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.