'We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.'

-The Nicene Creed



When Catholics die, it begins their journey into the Kingdom of God.

Here on earth, the Archdiocese of Portland is doing its best to make sure that the beginning of that journey - Catholic funeral rites and traditions - are upheld in the running of its three archdiocesan cemeteries; Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery, Portland; Gethsemani Catholic Cemetery in East Portland; and Mount Calvary in Eugene.

'The cemeteries are a statement of Catholic faith,' said Tim Corbett, superintendent of cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Portland. 'We are here for one purpose - serving the corporal works of mercy.'

Corbett sits in his renovated office on top of the west hills of Portland at Mount Calvary cemetery, founded in 1888.

He is looking over plot maps of the cemetery. He is in the process of updating the records of the cemeteries, putting the maps into electronic databases to make it easier to manage and keep an accurate account of burial plots.

Running efficiently is part of the concentration on service to the archdiocese's parishes, says Corbett.

'As churches moved into urban areas, places like Mount Calvary were established to serve urban parishes that could not have their own cemeteries,' said Corbett. 'We view ourselves as an extension of the parishes.'

As well as being an 'extension' of parishes, Corbett and the cemetery office at the archdiocese, headed by Father Dennis O'Donovan, vicar general and director of cemeteries, offer parishes with cemeteries advice, guidance and management knowledge.

This fall, he held a parish cemeteries meeting - 19 out of 25 parish cemeteries were represented throughout the archdiocese.

'We encouraged them to create care funds to maintain the property and set aside monies for maintenance,' said Corbett.

The archdiocesan cemeteries cost around $800,000-$900,000 a year to operate; any profits are usually put back into the cemeteries or placed into a trust fund for future development or improvements.

'A lot of people don't know that these three cemeteries are owned by the archdiocese,' said Corbett. 'It is unique in that the dollars we generate go right back into the improving of the cemetery. Most of our competing cemeteries have a different focus, that of concerned more with turning a profit.'

The only portion of Mount Calvary in Portland the archdiocese ever sold ended up with several radio towers that loom over the cemetery to the south. The cemetery still has 20 to 50 acres that are undeveloped.

Mount Calvary recently installed a new $750,000 irrigation system, renovated its offices and out buildings and repaved roads.

'There are only a couple of cemeteries around here that are on hills like this,' said Corbett. 'Our crew earns every penny they get.'

Maintenance crews have gotten smaller over the years as the technology used to care for the property has improved. Watering the grounds can now be done from a desktop computer and more efficient grounds keeping equipment has streamlined the operation.

'All of these improvements are being made to ensure good stewardship of the cemeteries,' said Corbett.

At 24, Corbett had finished graduate school with a master's in business to go with his bachelor's in horticulture. He was working for a tree company when a friend who worked in cemeteries asked him to come and at least talk to him about an opportunity at a corporate cemetery.

Working for the archdiocese was an easy transition for Corbett. He had worked at corporately-owned cemeteries for five years. He left the industry because of the difficulty reconciling helping families at a time of need with the focus on profit.

'Coming to work for the archdiocese and being able to share the same values as the organization you work for has truly been a blessing. Stewardship is the priority here,' said Corbett.

The cemetery donates to those who can't afford the services provided by the cemetery. They also provide financial assistance for burials of priests and women religious.

With the Catholic Church's change of view on the practice of cremation, many are choosing that as a final option, but, says Corbett, the cemeteries still have an obligation to provide traditional burial options.

'In earlier times, the church wouldn't even permit Christian burial for cremation,' said Father O'Donovan. 'The whole practice was for people who denied resurrection, the church actually had a ban on it.'

But with time and for various reasons, including financial and cultural, the church permitted Christian burial of cremations, including the allowance of cremated remains being brought into a Mass.

'The remains should still be treated with the same kind of respect as bodily remains,' said Father O'Donovan. 'They shouldn't be kept on the mantle piece or scattered around. Ultimately it is our faith in the resurrection and our faith and care about how we celebrate a funeral as Catholics.

'It is essential to our faith that we do not lose the connection with those who are deceased,' said Father O'Donovan.

'How we treat the bodies of the deceased has always been a matter of great concern for the church from the very beginning. We are all members of Christ's body. We retain that connection even after death.'

These days, says Father O'Donovan, even though a great number of people regard burial as a bother, it serves an important service for people left behind after death.

'Psychologically a cemetery provides people the ability to mourn, a place to come and visit, a place to say a prayer, to remember those gone in a faith context.'

The cemeteries also work with area funeral homes and try to encourage them to work with Catholic families and priests who understand the constraints and guidelines of a Catholic funeral Mass and liturgy, says Corbett.

Of course, not everyone feels the cemetery is a place worthy of respect. Even with security and work on maintaining the property's borders, Catholic cemeteries are on occasion vandalized, slept in, or used as a place to hold social gatherings other than burials.

Mount Calvary, Portland was once picked by local newspaper Willamette Week as one of the best cemeteries to visit at night.

'Needless to say that article didn't help any,' said Corbett, whose Mount Calvary cemetery has long been a popular spot for high school partiers and strangers roaming at night.

The cemetery used to allow people to walk their dogs, but many owners were letting them off-leash and harming the cemetery property.

'It's just so large, we're trying to enclose it as best we can,' said Corbett. 'We do allow people to visit and use the cemetery, but this is first and foremost a cemetery, not a bike or jogging path, or a place to walk your dogs.

'The bottom line is that we're looking to preserve the respect for Catholic liturgical burial rites and grounds. We really look to make sure people understand that's what we're about,' said Corbett.

'We've had some people who've gotten quite upset. This place can sometimes be viewed as a neighborhood park, but it's private property set aside for a holier purpose.'

Corbett works with Dennis Vernig at Gethsemani to make sure that the cemeteries operate on the same page.

Since 1961, families on the eastside of Portland have been entrusting their loved ones to Gethsemani Catholic Cemetery, located near Clackamas Town Center.

Gethsemani's facilities include a chapel, mausoleum crypts, ground burial sites, and cremation niches.

Traditionally, Mount Calvary Cemetery in Eugene was seen more as a parish cemetery for St. Mary Parish, but, says Corbett, they have worked hard to reach out to the Catholic population in Eugene to make sure that they are aware the cemetery is there to serve the entire Eugene area.

Musgrove Cemetery Management of Eugene cares for the cemetery, and has done so for the last five to six years.

There are five grounds employees who take care of the 80-90 acres at Mount Calvary, Portland, including four full-time employees who work in the office.

At Gethsemani, there are two full-time employees, one grounds and one administrative.

The cemeteries also employ people during the summer months including seminarians and other students.

'The biggest key is that everyone that works here feels a connection to the families and the ministry,' said Corbett. 'At times you go home feeling pretty knocked out, but this ministry is worth it.'

Kathie Cooper is the public relations/special projects coordinator at Mount Calvary, Portland.

Her job includes the planning, organizing, and execution of all public outreach programs, special events and office related special projects. She manages the Parish Outreach Program by meeting with pastors and parishioners to provide valuable direction to those facing end of life issues. Additionally she meets with individuals interested in pre-paying for goods and services for future needs through our trust program.

'The presentations are about the spiritual, emotional and practical needs surrounding death,' said Cooper. 'We give out a booklet that's Catholic oriented - how we look at death, prayers you say at death, issues involved in choosing funerals, order of Christian funerals - the idea with this booklet is that when a person passes away, the family can help choose to do what the deceased would want.'

Cooper also plans the Masses on All Souls and Memorial Day at the cemetery.

'We really work hard to be available to the Catholic community in Western Oregon,' said Cooper. 'I love the work. Seeing people in the midst of dealing with death, I've learned more about my faith. It is extraordinary to see the ways faith is manifested in the different way people deal with end of life issues.'

Memorial Day is the biggest day up at Mount Calvary.

'We begin to prepare for it in April,' says Corbett.

The archbishop comes up and offers a Mass every year at the altar on the hill at Mount Calvary - usually the St. Pius X choir sings.

'Archbishop Vlazny is very active and is the episcopal moderator for the National Catholic Cemetery Association,' said Corbett. 'He recently spoke at the archdiocesan parish cemetery conference.'

He also wrote extensively about Catholic cemeteries in his Sentinel column in October.

'The bodies of the deceased are to be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the resurrection,' wrote Archbishop Vlazny in his Oct. 29 column. 'In fact, burying the dead is one of our corporal works of mercy. In this way we honor the deceased children of God, all of whom are temples of the Holy Spirit. We choose to remember all of them lovingly and prayerfully.'

Holy Cross Father Richard Rutherford is a member of the advisory board for the Catholic cemeteries. He's also been a member of the University of Portland staff since 1976. Corbett and Father Rutherford have worked on a number of projects.

Father Rutherford is an expert on Catholic funeral liturgies and burial rites. He's studied and written extensively about them.

'It all started in graduate school as a subject to study that was in the process of being renewed and reformed. I just got interested in it,' said Father Rutherford. 'Ever since then I've stayed with it. It's really an area that not a lot of people have worked on.'

Father Rutherford says Vatican II helped redefine the spirituality and theology surrounding the Catholic funeral - to take the focus off the death and put it back on the resurrection of Jesus.

'Cemeteries are an extension of the church, the diocese, the cathedral,' said Father Rutherford. 'As the cathedral embraces the parishes, in a way so do the Catholic cemeteries - they stand as a symbol of our faith that death does not have the last word, faith in the resurrection does.'

According to Father Rutherford, Christian cemeteries came long before churches. Before Christians were allowed to build churches, they buried their dead and gathered to pray, offering Mass.

Many churches were also in fact, built right over cemeteries, over the graves of the martyrs, or saints as in the case of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

'Every Catholic grave becomes a mini Catholic cemetery as it stands as a sign of hope and future,' said Father Rutherford.

For more information on the archdiocesan cemeteries, visit their website.

History of Mount Calvary, Portland



On Sept. 30, 1888, Archbishop William Gross, consecrated Mount Calvary Cemetery as the second Catholic cemetery in Multnomah County.

It was the third cemetery in Portland's West Hills.

St. Mary's Cemetery, on the east side of the Willamette River, was the first Catholic cemetery.

St. Mary's was located at SE 24th and Stark Streets on part of the Timothy Sullivan Donation Land Claim which extended from Sullivan's Gulch near present day Lloyd Center to SE Stark Street.

In 1858, Sullivan donated four acres in the southeastern corner of his claim to the archdiocese.

St. Mary's Cemetery was closed in 1930. Over seven years, the remains were sent to other cemeteries. Mount Calvary received most of them.

The St. Mary's section of Mount Calvary holds the rest of the burials not reintered elsewhere. Central Catholic High School was then erected on the former cemetery.

In 1888, the archdiocese located and purchased 100 acres on the west side of the Willamette River, with room to expand.

According to an 1888 article in the Catholic Sentinel, the way to Mount Calvary was out 'B' Street (later renamed Burnside), up Barnes Road, past Johnson's place and Reid's place. The carriage ride took 45 minutes. The view back to the city was obscured by thick wood smoke from the homes and businesses.