Ministry honors babies lost too soon

WINTER PARK | After delivering four healthy girls, Elizabeth and Russ Wilson had no reason to expect the outcome of this pregnancy would be any different. In August 2020, Elizabeth went in for a routine 12-week ultrasound without Russ because of COVID-19 restrictions. As the tech began the procedure, she asked Elizabeth if she was sure of her due date because the baby was quite small. She informed her there was no heartbeat. “I felt in a daze, but thought to ask for a copy of an ultrasound photo before I was ushered to the room to wait for the doctor,” Elizabeth recalled.

Her doctor sent her home to see if she would miscarry the child naturally. Otherwise, she would require medical intervention. “I asked (the doctor) if we were able to (recognize the baby), then what should we do.” The doctor replied as sympathetically as she could to “flush everything.” In most states, including Florida, a child miscarried earlier than 20 weeks of age in utero is considered medical waste.

“Russ and I were heartbroken and the thought of disposing of our child that way was so painful,” Elizabeth said. Then, she remembered an email from Queen of Angels Cemetery in Winter Park. She quickly went to the website and discovered a section for unborn babies. “Our baby stopped growing at 7 weeks old or the size of a blueberry,” Elizabeth noted. “We knew it was extremely unlikely we would even be able to recover the body, but especially knowing that there could be a burial place available to her, we prayed that it might happen.” The night before her appointment, the miscarriage began naturally. “We saw our baby. She was small enough to fit on the tip of my pinkie finger. We decided on the name Philomena, whose feast day had been a few days before and who is the patron saint of infants, babies, and youth,” Elizabeth explained.

When she called Queen of Angels, Diocese of Orlando Director of Cemeteries, David Branson connected her with Cemetery Manager Tim Tully, whose brainchild was the Kingdom of Heaven Ministry. The ministry accompanies families who have miscarried children, assisting them with proper Catholic burial.

“Right away he (Tully) asked me what we named our child and the rest of the conversation and every time we spoke afterwards, he always called her by name. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that,” Elizabeth said. Tully noted, “Each child has a purpose and a name,” recalling Jeremiah 1:1 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…”

Within minutes of speaking with Branson, Deacon Joe Gassman called “to see if there was anything we needed and to assure us of his prayers.” Deacon Gassman was instrumental in making the ministry a reality. “I am passionate about it,” he said emotionally. “There’s a piece of me that says there’s a wound. Too often with this tragedy (of miscarriage), you can’t explain it; nobody wants to talk about it; but it’s real. The reality is that every day there is a young mother who miscarries,” he said pausing to collect himself. “And we have an answer, but nobody knows it.”

He added, “Miscarriage does not make them any less of a child. We have the compassionate ministry of consolation here to be able to walk with them.” He said giving the children a proper burial gives them a “touchstone to the divine, knowing that you’ll meet again.”

“Husbands and wives in their love for each other receive the gift of being co-creators with God,” Bishop John Noonan noted. The bishop named the ministry. He added, “All God’s gifts are precious, but most precious and sacred is the gift of life.”

The Wilsons took Philomena’s body to a local funeral home where a small casket was provided. Elizabeth explained to Tully she was very small. He quickly replied, “It doesn’t matter at all. We will give Philomena a burial as fitting for a child of God.” A procession to the gravesite included family, the Wilsons’ parish priest, Father Stephen Baumann and Russ’ brother. “It was a short ceremony, but so beautiful and so healing,” Elizabeth said.

Looking back, Russ reflected, “The loss of an unborn baby is so different in that you don’t have memories of them or physical reminders of their life. We just have the one early ultrasound picture… so to be able to have a place to go to visit her, a place where she is remembered in the Mass, means so much.”

He has participated in the monthly Mass for the deceased a few times and Elizabeth took her other daughters (ages 5, 4, 2, and 18 months) to visit their sister and say a prayer on All Souls Day. The girls laughed and played and Tully came out to greet them. Seeing Elizabeth’s concern, Tully assured her “joyful noise” was welcome there. Tully said, “Their younger girls got to see burial and death in a whole different light.”

Elizabeth agrees. “In our home we have an image of St. Philomena on the wall, and we remember her in our prayers and ask her to intercede for us,” she said. “Even though the girls will never know their sister in this life, I feel like she is teaching them so much about life, death, faith, and love.”

The Kingdom of Heaven ministry at Queen of Angels cemetery seeks to serve, at no cost, the families of deceased children from conception up to one year of age. For more information, call Queen of Angels Cemetery, 407-246-4919.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, January 21, 2021

Remembering loved ones in a new way

When you arrive at Queen of Angels Cemetery, seeing joyful families making plans or simply visiting a loved one are commonplace. Deacon Tommy Cuff, a memorial advisor spoke of “a touching example” earlier the morning of his interview. A family secured space in the columbarium three weeks prior. Diagnosed with cancer, a husband toured the cemetery with his family. “They were actually having a great time. He was in pretty good shape and was optimistic. Today, the wife came back with her adult son to make arrangements in a hurry because dad had taken a turn for the worse.” He recalled how they loved the Holy Presence Columbarium when they were there previously. “We were able to pray together – one of the nice things of Queen of Angels.”

The beautiful glass front niches lend a richness and peace to the Holy Presence Columbarium. Comfortable chairs face two large windows at the back, with views of the entrance fountain and natural surroundings. The spot is a favorite for many.

Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Orlando, David Branson, recalled one gentleman who “sat and pondered.” He came to spend time with his wife. He had selected “a lovely container with a nice cross emblazoned on it, and a beloved picture of her in her youth.” Branson said, “This is what is beautiful about these glass front niches. It’s an opportunity to honor the memory of a loved one in a unique way.”

Queen of Angels Cemetery is in close proximity to San Pedro Spiritual Development Center. “So many people have stories of meeting their spouse while serving as camp counselors or having experienced marriage encounter there,” Mr. Branson noted. “People have worked and made retreats there. Their children have attended summer camp there.” He said the attraction is, “the prospect of being able to be buried here, in a place that means so much to people, and that has been such a significant piece of their spiritual journey.” Deacon Cuff affirmed, “It’s a beautiful arrangement and synergy to have these two ministries side by side on this beautiful land,” he said.

“In my 15 years as a Catholic, San Pedro has been interwoven through my whole journey. When you find out you can be buried here, it’s almost too good to be true,” he noted. “That excitement level has certainly been present. People feel privileged to be here.”

For him and his wife, it was a natural progression in their walk of faith. He said he and Amy chose the Holy Presence Columbarium “because it spoke to our life.” “If it’s comfortable and air-conditioned maybe our daughter will come and visit us,” he chuckled.

Since the Vatican gave permission in 1997, for cremated remains of a body in church to receive the liturgical rites of burial, cemeteries have seen a steady growth in cremations. Deacon Cuff says his favorite part of a tour is when people get to the Holy Presence Columbarium and think it is out of their budget. “It is just as accessible as any other spot we have in this beautiful cemetery. I love that the leaders of the Diocese had the heart to make it possible for just about everybody to make a decision to care for the dead, not based on money, but on where they would find suitable sacred ground. For some people that’s outside. For some it’s in the columbarium. “As a corporal work of mercy, the staff assures the Queen of Angels Cemetery serves them.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, September 30, 2020

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.”

For more information, go to

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

First Quarter 2020

God bless you this holy season of Lent.  Thank you for your interest in Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery. 

It is with humility and praise to our Lord that we inform you that Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery is now a fully state licensed company through the State of Florida.

This next accomplishment on our journey to be able to serve you is to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy from Seminole County upon our completion of the development and construction of the cemetery; currently scheduled for May 18th. Our plan is to have a “soft” opening on Tuesday, May 19th; at which time we will be able to greet you at our new Queen of Angels Cemetery Office.

The Blessing of the Cemetery by Bishop John Noonan is scheduled for Monday, June 15th from 10 a.m. until noon and will take place on cemetery grounds.

We welcome Mr. Timothy Tully to serve as the first cemetery manager of Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery. Mr. Tully comes to us from Lafayette, Indiana where he served as Director of St. Boniface and St. Joseph Catholic Cemeteries and as President of the Parish Cemetery Alliance for the Diocese of Lafayette.

Mr. Tully can be reached by email at and by phone at 407-450-0878. He has a temporary office near the new entrance into the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center.

Beginning in April, you will receive monthly updates of our progress and other announcements.

Please visit our website for new videos and photos of the development of Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery.

May we follow the will of the Lord that we may also be raised up on the last day.

Regards and blessings,

David Branson

“This is the will of the one who sent me, says the Lord,

that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

John 6:39

Bishop Noonan breaks ground on new Queen of Angels Cemetery

WINTER PARK | “I am so thrilled. I can’t wait for this Catholic cemetery to be here,” exclaimed Judi Jakiel, parishioner at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park. She was at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center for the groundbreaking of Queen of Angels Cemetery, located next door. “I can’t imagine more wonderful, peaceful grounds for the rest of eternity.”

Bishop John Noonan broke ground on Queen of Angels, Aug. 4. The 48-acre site is home to the first diocesan cemetery for lay persons in the Diocese of Orlando. Jakiel and her husband were already pre-planning when they heard about the new cemetery and were eager to get the details.

Bishop Noonan breaks ground on new Queen of Angels CemeteryAt the groundbreaking, bishop noted every person receives a special gift of Baptism into the life of Christ. “Our faith is a reminder that, even though our passing away causes affliction, we go forth with God. I pray that Queen of Angels becomes that place, not of sorrow, but of peace and hope… We share in Christ’s death, but we also share in His resurrection.”

Many of those gathered came for different reasons. Tony and Maria Bonilla are coordinators for the Bereavement Ministry at Good Shepherd Parish in Orlando. “People always ask us about what Catholic cemeteries are nearby. We came to learn and help those at our parish,” said Tony.

For Margaret Moran, an elderly parishioner from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, having a cemetery close to home has special meaning. “I think it’s wonderful to have a Catholic cemetery here. I hope someday I can rest there. It’s important to me because my mother and twin sister are buried in Pennsylvania and I just lost my oldest son (buried in the veterans’ cemetery in Bushnell).” The thought of being buried closer to her remaining family gives her comfort.

Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari agreed, “It was a little emotional to be honest with you. It’s important to have a Catholic cemetery, especially with the population growing as it is. At some point, we’re all going to be going home… I’ve lost some people and it is not easy saying goodbye. When you say goodbye, you want them close by.”

Bishop Noonan breaks ground on new Queen of Angels CemeteryAccording to diocesan director of cemeteries, David Branson, the first phase of construction of two acres at Queen of Angels will contain more than 1,300 pre-installed burial vaults, a cremation garden of more than 800 cremation burial lots, including an assortment of columbaria niches, and areas set aside for family memorials. In addition to the outdoor burial options, the cemetery will include a columbarium building of more than 600 indoor, glass front niches in an air-conditioned, comfortable setting.

The new cemetery is part of the bishop’s vision for ecclesiastical properties. Following the priests’ cemetery, also located at San Pedro, this was the logical next step. Branson explained, beginning with Queen of Angels made sense as it is on land the diocese already held. “Our mission includes going to the Northern Deanery for a second cemetery, which is in the early stages of progress,” he said. Site possibilities are still under exploration.

Father Richard Trout, secretary for Catholic Cemeteries Florida Holdings, Inc. board noted, “This project has been in the making for 15 years. San Pedro is the perfect local place to pray for souls who have died as it is nestled in an historic Catholic area,” he said. The majority of this land was purchased in 1955 by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, then Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, for the purpose of establishing a youth camp and spiritual oasis for the faithful.

So why a Catholic cemetery? Father Derk Schudde, Pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Winter Park and board vice-chair of Queen of Angels, Inc., said, “The Catholic cemetery reminds us of our basic theological tenet that we are people of the resurrection – that our bodies and souls will be reunited. We have great respect for the body. It isn’t just this husk we throw away and discard. It is part of who we are and just as the Lord rose, we rise. So taking care of our dead is a beautiful thing.

“Further, for a Catholic cemetery in particular – unlike the movies that depict cemeteries as dark, scary places – our theology is that it is a place of rest, of peace and a place of remembrance. It reminds us that we are family in life and death and those family bonds will never be broken. As it says in one of the funeral prayers, ‘The bonds of love which we forge in this life do not unravel in death.’ It is a beautiful way to say we are all still connected. Going to the cemetery; taking care of the cemetery is a reminder that we’re all still connected and will be together in that great kingdom.”

Bishop Noonan breaks ground on new Queen of Angels CemeteryBranson added, “It has a character of our faith. It is a space where we will always be offering prayer over those buried there. There is an environment that is contemplative and has symbolism of our Catholic beliefs and traditions, such as Mary and other saints.” As an example, the first Sunday of the month there will be a Mass of Remembrance for the souls reposing there.

Before turning the soil to officially commemorate the groundbreaking, Bishop Noonan shared that, each year, when he returns to Ireland, the first thing he does is visit the graves of his parents, noting his parish dates back to the 7th century. Although the church is in ruins, the graveyard remains and still provides comfort to the living as they continue to care for their loved ones.

”I pray that Queen of Angels Cemetery is a place we can be proud of, where we take care of those we love,” said the bishop. “As we come to this day to recognize our duty to provide for the needs of the people we have loved in our lives … we give witness to the sacredness of the Catholic cemetery, where the dead are laid to rest with prayerful dignity on the grounds that foster devotion, reverence, and respect for all of our brothers and sisters.”

To learn more go to The website includes robust resources on subjects regarding end-of-life issues to final burial including the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, guidelines for a Catholic Living Will, comment on euthanasia from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, commentary on organ donation from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops (FCCB), frequently asked questions and more.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic August 05, 2019

Other Catholic cemeteries in the Diocese of Orlando

There are three active parish cemeteries in the diocese. The diocesan director of cemeteries provides guidance and support for each of these parish managed cemetery operations.

All Souls in Sanford, founded in 1890
St. Joseph’s in Palm Bay, which began in 1914
St. Matthew Cemetery and Columbarium, established in 2006

Second Quarter 2019

Thank you for your interest in Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery. We look forward to sending you updates and news regarding the Diocese of Orlando’s newest cemetery.

In the spirit of protecting consumers from misrepresentations and fraudulent activity, the cemetery business is well regulated by the State of Florida. We honor you in abiding by this regulation and will offer updates as we are able. Queen of Angels Cemetery has completed the first phase of the two phase licensing process which enables it to commence development and formation of the business. The Phase I application was approved by the State of Florida Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services meeting in December 2018 and the cemetery continues to be on schedule toward the consideration of Phase II application of the first half of 2020. Seminole County granted the Cemetery’s site development permit in early June 2019. This will allow us to commence site work during summer 2019.

Save the date for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Queen of Angels Cemetery on Sunday, August 4, 2:00 PM EDT at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center, 2400 Dike Road, Winter Park.

Regards and blessings,

David Branson
Director of Cemeteries

“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
Romans 8:11

First Quarter 2019

Thank you for your interest in Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery. We look forward to sending you updates and news regarding the Diocese of Orlando’s newest cemetery.

In the spirit of protecting consumers from misrepresentations and fraudulent activity, the cemetery business is well regulated by the State of Florida. We honor you in abiding by this regulation and will offer updates as we are able. Queen of Angels Cemetery was granted a Phase 1 license to commence development and formation of the business at the State of Florida Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services hearing in December 2018. This is the first of two steps, which may take a year or more to complete, to obtain a license to operate. We have also filed for development permits from Seminole County.

Regards and blessings,
David Branson
Director of Cemeteries

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”
John 6:40

Our Vision
“To accompany, guide and support God’s people within the Catholic Diocese of Orlando from this earthly life to everlasting life.”

New logo, mission and vision for Catholic Cemeteries of Central Florida

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” John 11:25.

Bishop John Noonan and the Diocese of Orlando are blessed to present the brand-new logo, mission and vision for Catholic Cemeteries of Central Florida.

The vision of Catholic Cemeteries of Central Florida is to accompany, guide and support God’s people within the Catholic Diocese of Orlando from this earthly life to everlasting life.

The mission:

The Church who, as Mother, has borne the Christian sacramentally in her womb during his earthly pilgrimage, accompanies him at his journey’s end, in order to surrender him “into the Father’s hands” (CCC 1683).

  • We offer to the Father, in Christ, the child of His grace, and we commit to the earth, in hope, the seed of the body that will rise in glory.
  • We praise God with our respect for life through our purposeful actions of dignity and respect of the living and at the time of death.
  • We remember the sacredness of this body in death through his or her burial.
  • Within the womb of God’s love, we comfort those who mourn.
  • Our ministry of prayer continues through eternal life.

The website, Catholic Cemeteries of Central Florida, is currently under construction. Please follow Catholic Cemeteries of Central Florida on social media for updates on Queen of Angels Cemetery that will be built adjacent to San Pedro Spiritual Development Center.

May we honor the sacredness of life bestowed upon each one that in our living we may merit eternal life. Amen.

New episode of Mercy in Action: Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery

Fr. Anthony and Gary Tester, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Central Florida chat with David Branson, Director of Cemeteries, about the first diocesan cemetery, “Queen of Angels Catholic Cemetery.”

Coming soon, Winter 2020!

Listen via our  FREE Faith Fit App available on the App Store and Google Play or via SoundCloud: