Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Queen of Peace Cemetery blessed on Memorial Day

Story and photos by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the June 12, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Concelebrating the Memorial Day Mass blessing the new Queen of Peace Cemetery were Msgr. John Steiner (left) and Father Steve Dublinski (right), co-Vicars General of the diocese, and Bishop William Skylstad, assisted by Deacon John Ruscheinsky (second from left), Director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, and Deacon Steve Prawdzik (not pictured). (IR photo)

“Our very brief mission statement, developed by our staff in our annual meeting, is: to bring people to God.”

As Dennis Fairbank sees it, that, in a nutshell, is the driving force behind the ministry provided by the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane.

That ministry expanded officially during Mass on May 26, Memorial Day, when Bishop William Skylstad blessed the site of the newest Catholic cemetery in the diocese, Queen of Peace, located on acreage purchased from Immaculate Heart Retreat Center.

It’s often said that funerals are for the living, not for the deceased. Certainly burial services for the deceased are important, but that part of the Church’s ritual also provides a ministry to the surviving family members, Fairbank said.

Even though sometimes people are raised within a church, but in time leave that relationship, for any number of reasons, people regularly return to church for at least three occasions, said Fairbank: baptisms, weddings, and funerals. He called funerals “such a potentially teachable moment, an evangelizing moment.” During these times of intense emotion – grief, loss, transition – “we want to do whatever we can to remind people that we care about them.” The sacred rituals are important, “faith is important, and the final resurrection awaits all of us. Cemeteries are a symbol of that belief, of that faith.”

Queen of Peace Cemetery joins Holy Cross, on Spokane’s North Side, and St. Joseph, in Spokane Valley.

The three cemeteries are incorporated separately from the diocese. The cemetery system does not include the smaller parish cemeteries that still exist in some parts of the diocese.

Planning for Queen of Peace began about 10 years ago, said Fairbank, as the cemeteries board recognized the growing population of Spokane’s South Side.

Shortly after the turn of the last century, the cemeteries bought 20 acres from Immaculate Heart, which had a double effect: besides helping bolster retreat ministry financially, it gave the cemeteries the opportunity to expand their own outreach to the Catholic community.

The missions of the two organizations are really “very complimentary,” said Fairbank. The acreage provides “the idea of a sanctuary of peace that we have” for the cemeteries. Immaculate Heart uses the descriptive phrase “A peaceful place to pray and ponder.”

As Spokane continues to grow, the metro area hasn’t experienced the sorts of traffic congestion that afflict other cities this size, and some smaller. “Spokane isn’t so busy that it’s that hard to get to the North Side, but what we see in other metro areas is that, as the community becomes more congested, it becomes harder to travel across. People don’t want to spend a half-day to visit the cemetery. If we can meet them closer to their neighborhoods, we can better provide for those needs. The more we can do now, the more it will save us, 20 years into the future.”

If Queen of Peace seems somewhat remote now, Fairbank pointed out that when the site of Holy Cross was purchased in 1931, it was basically “in the middle of nowhere. Bishop White (then bishop of Spokane) asked, ‘Why?’” The cemetery now is very much “in the middle of things on the North Side.” It was prudent to “secure the property in the south, and get started down the road into the future, so that we’re positioned to meet the needs of the community as it grows.”

At the time of this interview, a few details remained to be worked out. Precise mapping of the cemetery area will be required. Once the final building permit is approved, burials can begin, perhaps as soon as the end of this month. Several families have already expressed interest in moving deceased relatives to the new site.

The first phase of Queen of Peace will entail developing 1.75 of the 20 acres, which will accommodate about 3,000 deceased individuals – half for traditional burial, half cremated. There will be space for flat markers and a special section for upright monuments. A columbarium, to house cremated remains, is being planned as well.

The planning and mapping are important for families now, and in the future, said Fairbank. Cemeteries provide a place where people can visit their own history. They can become places of resolution, and of processing grief.

In terms of size, Holy Cross has developed about 40 of its 80 acres; St. Joseph, about seven of its 50 acres are developed.

Also on Memorial Day, a new mausoleum, dedicated to St. Benedict, was blessed at St. Joseph Cemetery.

The mausoleum is the first of three phases, and will include both crypts and niches for cremated remains.

Although there are no rules against cremation as an option for Catholics, problems arise in that people do not necessarily deal with the cremated remains in a timely fashion. Some people take the remains home and display the container, or somehow simply postpone that part of the grieving process.

He advises people who choose cremation to also make arrangements for burial at the same time, “even if that’s a little farther down the road.” Procrastination can set in, and the grieving process can be extended for years. “It can become much harder to make the final determinations. Cremation does not remove the need to complete the burial,” he said, and in fact, can actually enhance the difficulty.

There was a time when Catholics had to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, whenever possible. That changed about 40 years ago. Although the requirement is no longer, there is a spiritual need for this ministry.

“We make sure that the burial service takes place reverently, and in good order,” said Fairbank. “We aren’t here to insist people pay up front. If they can’t afford it, we still want to make sure the burial takes place, without concern for the dollars. Other things are more important.”

Things like, bringing people to God.

“That’s an excellent, brief statement that really points out what we do here,” said Fairbank.

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘How can you work in a cemetery? You’re around death all the time.’ That’s one way of looking at it,” said Fairbank. “I always look at it as providing help and assistance to families in a stressful time.”

Many experts mark the loss of a loved one as the most stressful time in anyone’s life, whether the deceased is elderly, and the death is not unexpected, or the tragic death of a young person whose life has been taken by a sudden accident.

Easing that burden through reverential services, through care of the grounds – it all comes together to create an environment for the surviving friends and family. “We can help them through their immediate stress, and when they come back, there’s an environment where they can visit, and have good memories float to the surface.

“That’s why we work so hard at keeping the grounds in excellent condition – mowed, manicured. It’s not so we can look out on something beautiful. We want families to come and see something nice, to feel comfortable knowing that we’re taking care of their loved ones who are in our safekeeping.”

(For information about Queen of Peace Cemetery, call Dennis Fairbank at Holy Cross Cemetery: (509) 467-5496.)

Laity, Religious and clergy gathered to participate in the blessing of the newest Catholic cemetery in the Spokane Diocese. (IR photo)

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