First diocesan cemetery opens

WINTER PARK | Resting on almost 50 acres of open landscape, Queen of Angels Cemetery sits alongside the peaceful grounds of San Pedro Spiritual Development Center, in Winter Park. Guests can expect to feel comforted by the serene splashes of the entrance fountain before arriving at the main building where they are welcomed by a 10-foot high mosaic of Mary. The cemetery will be blessed by Bishop John Noonan later this year, but guests need not wait to visit as Queen of angels is officially open.

“It is a long standing tradition in the Catholic Church to have a cemetery adjacent to a parish to serve as one part of that community,” explained David Branson, director of cemeteries for the diocese. “That has not been practical in our Central Florida area in the Diocese of Orlando. So we are pleased to launch this first diocesan cemetery, which fulfills that tradition for many parishes all at the same time.”

This first diocesan cemetery offers a variety of burial and memorial options in areas bearing names which were inspired by Bishop Noonan: Garden of Eternal Light, Holy Presence Columbarium, and Peace in Christ Crypts, to name a few. Bishop Noonan also selected the name, Queen of Angels, abiding Bishop Thomas Wenski’s vision for the burial ground. Branson noted, “Queen of Angels is being named to recognize the dedication of our diocese to Mary, Mother of God and to invoke her intercession and sponsorship, her patronage over the ministry of burying the dead here at this wonderful place. It carries on a tradition that we have, not only throughout our diocese – being dedicated to Mary, but also many cemeteries being dedicated in her honor.”

Queen of Angels is managed by Tim Tully, who has vast experience in caring for cemetery properties. “We want the opportunity for families to come, to be invited to the cemetery; to be able to provide space for their loved ones,” said Tully. “We provide the services of all the Catholic rites and traditions… All the things that we do here help people back to Christ; help us back to the Church and our faith.”

A Catholic cemetery is unique in that it is committed to enduring Catholic practices. At Queen of Angels, there is a deacon on staff, “So every burial we do here, every committal we do here, we have the presence of an ordained priest or minister or deacon to be able to provide the final blessing for us,” Tully noted.

From the beautiful glass niches in the indoor columbarium, to full burial plots and family estates, the lovely outdoor garden – flanked by pergolas at each end, and a meandering sidewalk path that intersects with a fountain, amidst the sounds of peaceful music, Queen of Angels’ focus is to welcome families and encourage them to visit their loved ones. It is sacred ground, a sanctuary upon which visitors may find peace and rest in a natural setting.

“Our cemetery is designed to be inviting, to bring people out to the cemetery. It should be a place of meditation, to come and spend some time with family members,” Tully noted. “There are only two places in our faith that we have consecrated grounds. One is our churches, the other one is our cemetery. So when you come to our cemetery, in a sense you are coming to a church and we believe, in our Church, that we live in a community of saints. We have a job here with the community of saints. That’s why this is our ministry.” Tully noted the experienced staff is available to give tours and assist with any questions. He added, “It’s a ministry here, so we don’t see this as a job.”

For this reason, those buried are remembered in a monthly Mass in the Mary, Mother of God Chapel at San Pedro, just a few steps away from the cemetery’s entrance.

“The additional blessing of being buried in a Catholic cemetery is that this most wonderful place is a continuation of our centuries old tradition of keeping unified our community –the Church on Earth, the Church that is in Heaven,” Branson said. “It also offers the opportunity to recognize and memorialize our families, members of our faith community, in such a wonderful and spiritual way that is not typically possible in other civic or commercial cemeteries.”

Branson said he hopes to “have the opportunity to support and nurture those families who come to us through the Catholic tradition of consolation, prayer and express our unified hope of the Resurrection.”

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By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, July 8, 2020