The cemetery at St. Francis of Assisi Church might be brand new, but it already has three occupants and two more burials are expected soon.
“Everybody’s dying to get in,” quipped one parishioner before the dedication of the cemetery March 23.
Presiding at the dedication service was Bishop Peter Jugis, who led the group of parishioners in prayer and used holy water to bless the cemetery grounds that overlook the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The bishop commended the Jefferson parish for setting aside part of its 15-acre property for use as a cemetery, demonstrating its importance in the life of the parish.
He pointed out that the San Damiano crucifix in the center of the cemetery is a symbol of Christ’s victory over death and a sign of hope in eternal life for our loved ones. Death, he said, “is not the final word” for those who follow Christ.
The dedication service was the culmination of 18 months of effort to plan and build the cemetery, and it is the first major construction project since the church itself was built in 2014.
The quarter-acre cemetery has space for 100 full body plots and 50 cremains plots. It sits just downhill from the church – facing east – so that people can come from Mass and visit and pray for loved ones buried there, the pastor Father James Stuhrenberg said.
It is the only Catholic cemetery in Ashe County and the second such project for Father Stuhrenberg, who also led the effort to build a cemetery at St. Frances of Rome Mission in adjacent Alleghany County in 2015.
“One of the corporal works of mercy is burying the dead,” he noted. “It is part of our mission of the Catholic Church and therefore our parish. It demonstrates our belief in the resurrection when we give care and honor to the bodies of our loved ones.”
The cemetery is purposefully located next to the parish’s prayer garden, he added, “so people can meditate and pray in the garden before and after visiting their loved ones in the cemetery.”
“The cemetery represents an enduring symbol both of our parish membership and a reminder of those we’ve shared time with on the journey of life,” added David Thomas, chairman of the parish’s building committee.
The $20,000 project was paid for by donations and many hours of volunteer labor, especially to clear the rocky ground. Parishioners gathered on Sundays after Mass to clear stones by hand, using them to line the drainage ditches that were necessary on the steeply-sloped property.
Gary Prange, cemetery committee chairman, thanked the cemetery committee members who designed the layout and developed the cemetery use policies; land surveyor Thomas Herman Co. PLLC, that surveyed the property, supervised the grading and marked the graves; and Bill Hart Construction, which graded and put in the gravel road.
“It’s great how the community has come together,” Prange said.
Prange said there’s more work to be done in the cemetery – additional landscaping, an improved entrance and walkway to connect to the prayer garden, and perhaps some more statues. It will take time and more donations, he said, but “it’s going to be beautiful.”