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

Spokane Catholic Cemeteries names St. Mary parishioner as new Executive Director

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 5, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Jim Falkner (IR photo)

The new executive director of the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane is Jim Falkner, a native of the Spokane area. He and his wife, Joleen, live in Spokane Valley, where they belong to St. Mary Parish. They have four young adult offspring, three sons and a daughter.

Falkner grew up in Spokane Valley, where he attended St. Paschal Catholic School through grade 4 and St .Mary School through eighth grade. Following graduation from Central Valley High School, he attended the University of Washington, in Seattle, graduating in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in Business, subsequently qualifying as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). After college, Falkner returned to Spokane, where he worked for five years for the accounting firm of Master and Daniels, primarily as a hospital auditor.

“One of my accounts,” Falkner said, “was the Dominican Sisters of Spokane, and when their Sister treasurer left I applied for that position, and they hired me as their treasurer, in 1980. I did that job through 1995.”

The Spokane Dominicans merged with the Sinsinawa Dominicans, which eliminated his role as treasurer, “but the Dominican Sisters had set up a foundation, primarily to sponsor their ministries in Spokane. This would have been, primarily, Miriam’s House of Transition and the Transitional Living Center, which used to be called the Women’s Drop-In Center and is now called the Women’s Hearth. The whole organization is now called Transitions. They also had several small endowments for their hospitals in Colville, Chewelah, and Spokane, and there was a small endowment for the adult day center at Holy Family Hospital. My job turned into being president of the Sisters’ foundation. So I managed the funds, and made the grants, and did the ministry network for them in Spokane.”

Along the way, Falkner served on the Bishop’s Finance Council and various nonprofit boards. He currently serves on the board of Providence Health Care. “Part of my focus, over the years,” he said, “has been to stay connected with the church.”

In 2008, Falkner’s responsibilities with the Dominican Sisters were moved to the Sinsinawa Dominicans’ center in Wisconsin, which eliminated his position in Spokane. “I sent an email with my resumé to friends and contacts,” Falkner said, “and about this time they were looking for someone to take the position of executive director of the Diocese of Spokane’s Catholic Cemeteries. The bishop and the board of the Catholic Cemeteries asked me to apply, so I thought about it and said yes.”

Falkner’s first day in his new position was Dec. 3, 2008. “My office is at Holy Cross Cemetery,” he said, which he described as “both a ministry and a business. So far the biggest surprise is the language: ‘cemeteries,’ ‘burials,’ ‘entombments,’ ‘inurnments,’ it’s all different from what I’m used to. From the business aspect of it, however, it’s still a business, but it’s a ministry-business. We have special considerations for Catholics because it’s a Catholic cemetery system. We want to provide sacred grounds for Catholics who want to continue to that point with their remains. It’s a ministry, so I’m familiar with that part of it. It’s just understanding the language and the implications of it that’s new.”

Contacts and communication with other Catholic cemeteries people in the region will develop with time, Falkner expects, but not much of this has happened yet. Notice of his new position was sent to other members of an organization called the Catholic Cemeteries of the West (CCW). “I got several emails welcoming me, saying ‘Please call if you have questions,’ so that was very nice,” Falkner said. “I’m so new to it that I haven’t had to call anyone yet, but I will make those connections. They have an annual meeting, and there is a national organization called CCC, Catholic Cemeteries Conference. There is also a State of Washington organization, which includes funeral homes. I will take advantage of these, at least at the start, to get up to speed. Right now, I don’t know what I don’t know.”

Falkner said that he is too new in his position to have any clear goals formulated yet. “But,” he said, “I’m certainly starting to have some ideas just based on the history I’ve been able to pick up and where I think I’m going. But I need to be in conversation with the board.”

Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane has a staff of about 15 people, which during the spring and summer months increases to about 20. Part of Jim Falkner’s job is to supervise this staff. “This includes everything from an office staff, to a front desk receptionist,” to contracts and accounting, family service representatives, and of course the groundskeepers – “mostly young guys who work on the lawns, and the flowers, and actually do the burials, and the placements, and all those things.”

Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane includes three cemeteries, Holy Cross in Spokane, St. Joseph in Trentwood, and Queen of Peace, adjacent to Immaculate Heart Retreat Center. “We have already had some burials at the new Queen of Peace Cemetery,” said Falkner, “and there has been quite a process with people wanting to move their burial plots from Holy Cross to Queen of Peace.”

When changes of this kind are made, Falkner said, the staff does a triple check to make sure no mistakes are made. “This is very important to the people and the families involved, so we take it very seriously. This is an important ministry of the Diocese of Spokane, that we make the sacred ground available for all those who want that. That’s our mission, that’s our focus, and we try to treat the family as responsibly and as compassionately as we can.”

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