Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

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

Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane partners with Catholic Management Services: ‘Church helping Church’

by Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the October 18, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

In a very real sense, ever since 1931, the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane have been about “Church Helping Church.”

That was the year the Holy Cross Cemetery Association was established. And through the years since, through the purchase and establishment of other cemeteries, the essential mission has continued: helping Catholics with the resources they need in time of death.

Jim Falkner, Executive Director of the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane, began his role in December 2008. In a recent interview in his office at Holy Cross Cemetery in Spokane, he talked about a new direction being taken by the cemetery’s ministry.

Essentially, the cemeteries’ staff had determined “a growing need in the diocese” for clear information regarding cemeteries, funeral services, and even cremation.

To that end, the Spokane cemeteries have contracted with Catholic Management Services (CMS), from the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., to “improve what our operations are. Help us get better.”

The move on the part of the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane was toward “a good Catholic partner,” an organization that could “take us to the next step,” said Falkner. In the months to come, the cemeteries will be repositioning themselves as a resource, not just for burial rites, but to “preserve and promote Catholic traditions, funeral rites. To establish ourselves as a resource for Catholic entities in the diocese, to educate the Catholic community.”

CMS has a proven track record with just those areas of concern, said Falkner, including successful reorganization of the cemetery organizations in Oakland and Sacramento, and working now with the Detroit Archdiocese.

Part of the reconfiguring of the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane will be a new name for the overall organization: the Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane.

Part of the effort will involve inventory and sales – but sales in the sense of helping Catholics understand and partake of the funeral rites of the Church.

Falkner admits that there seems to be a great deal of confusion in the Catholic community around those rites, particularly in terms of cremation, which itself has seen a marked uptick in the last few years.

Falkner estimates that cremation accounts for 75 percent now in Spokane County (nationally, it’s closer to 40 percent; in the Seattle area, 80 percent). Of those cremated remains, only 25 percent end up in a cemetery. “Where do the rest go?” he asked.

As a result, the cemeteries will be strengthening their outreach to parishes especially, with informational brochures and workshops. Father Darrin Connall, rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Deacon John Ruscheinsky, director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, spoke on those topics at a recent event at the Cathedral that brought together around 75 people. “People thanked us for helping them understand the Church’s position on end-of-life issues,” said Falkner. “We’ll do it again.”

Also on the practical side, the cemeteries will be development guides to give to families, an easy-to-understand explanation of the Church’s positions on end-of-life issues, funeral homes, burial options, cremation, funeral Masses, and so forth, and encouraging people to talk to their pastor for more information.

“How does it all fit together now?” he said. “How has the process changed? The intent of all of this is to better serve our community.”

The essential organization structure of the Catholic Cemeteries of Spokane will remain the same – no changes in employees are anticipated either, he said. The three cemeteries – Holy Cross on the north side of Spokane, St. Joseph in Spokane Valley, and Queen of Peace, adjacent to Immaculate Heart Retreat Center south of Spokane – will continue to be managed.

Future possibilities include what Falkner called the “Mother Teresa Fund,” donations given to provide financial assistance to those in need, providing burial space for “all who want it, regardless of ability to pay.” To that end as well, the cemeteries will have what is called the Crypt of the Holy Angels, with free niches for cremated remains of anyone, of any faith, free of charge. “It’s our way for the Church to encourage a respectful burial” for anyone, he said.

The name change takes effect Nov. 1. The cemeteries will still be non-profit. And they will offer guidance and consolation.

“This,” said Falkner simply, “is our ministry.”

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