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.
At 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.”
According 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.”
Branson 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 catholiccemeteriescfl.org. 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