By Georgiana Francisco | Correspondent
“When you arrive at Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum, you are greeted by an angel,” says Deacon David O’Connor, director of the diocesan Department of Cemeteries.
In fact, the little angel he is referring to is a recently interred baby of only 22 weeks who died in her mother’s womb. The small flat stone bearing her name is surrounded by a few little floral bouquets and tiny stuffed animals.
“We have specific regulations on decorations of memorial stones,” Deacon O’Connor says. “But in this case, we made an exception, because the parents are so young and enduring a devastating grieving process.”
It is that peace, understanding and ministry that lies at the heart of Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum, Mount Laurel, Deacon O’Connor says.
Located on Fostertown Road off Marne Highway, Jesus, Bread of Life’s 13 acres of landscaped lawns, well-rooted trees and new saplings welcome visitors. It’s the home of more than 9,000 garden graves, a large columbarium and a 100-yard-long mausoleum that houses up to 1,800 crypts above and below ground and 2,600 standalone niches – allowing the cemetery to offer more options and meet personal or family preferences.
The pastoral setting is something Deacon O’Connor has embraced.
“I’m trying to bring the cemetery and the mausoleum to a different level – not just the physical environment as a place of repose for loved ones, but also as a consecrated place, a special place, a place of prayer, a chapel if you will,” he says. “While it’s not a church, I believe a Catholic cemetery is a big part of our Church.”
As one of seven diocesan cemeteries – the other larger one being St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hamilton – Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum was blessed June 11, 2015. Its origin, however, dates back to 2011, when the Diocese conducted a study that revealed the need for a new Catholic cemetery in Burlington County.
While some local parishes had their own cemeteries, others had reached their capacity or were on their way to doing so. Having a new diocesan cemetery also meant that if someone was a member of a parish whose cemetery was full, that person could still be laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery.
Through the diligence and dedication of Chancery staff and now-retired Msgr. James Dubell, former diocesan director of cemeteries, the Diocese purchased the sprawling site in April 2012, naming it Jesus, Bread of Life Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum.
Deacon O’Connor recalls that when he was a boy, his family visited his parish cemetery on many occasions during the year, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, All Souls Day or Veterans Day.
“We would always go after Mass to visit our loved ones who had recently or long ago departed,” he says. “We don’t see that as much today, and I feel it’s one of my missions to bring people back to the cemetery. I feel it is a calling.”
One of his visions was to hold the Stations of the Cross in a mausoleum at a cemetery – an idea that became a reality this Lent. Every Friday, Stations of the Cross for the Souls in Purgatory were prayed in the diocesan mausoleum. With the help of Maria Guzman-Paczkowski, office manager, 14 stations were created that simulated stained-glass windows draped in purple.
“Although temporary, they mirror my vision of transforming the windows alongside the interior of the mausoleum into real stained-glass windows for this very purpose,” Deacon O’Connor says.
Designed by internationally acclaimed artist Tim Carey, the windows are in the rendering stages with input from Deacon O’Connor to further his mission to bring hope and consolation to loved ones who are praying for those in the afterlife.
The site’s chapel, too, is coming together. A green marble altar and Holy Water font have been brought to the cemetery from the now-closed Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd Church, Trenton.
In the future, Deacon O’Connor plans to hold Masses and other events in Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum, especially around the different feast days, Holy Days of Obligation and federal holidays such as Memorial Day or Veterans Day, mainly to impress upon the community that “we are all connected.” A monthly Rosary will begin in May.
Ministry of Hope in Eternal Life
Deacon O’Connor admits that many in Burlington County and beyond are not yet aware of Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum saying, “But through a continued grassroots effort of evangelization, people are beginning to learn what we are doing, that we are a community of grievers.
“Through this year’s Lenten services and walking through the Stations of the Cross, we have sent a deeply emotional message that is helping families realize they are making a difference praying for their loved ones and for those who don’t have family here to pray for them.”
To further reveal Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum to the local community, Deacon O’Connor had the thickly wooded amalgam of overgrown brush that closeted the cemetery from Marne Highway thinned a bit so that the thousands of cars traveling by a day could see the grounds and building.
“Now,” he says, “everyone wants to know who we are.”
Further reaching out to those who are still grieving, Deacon O’Connor is also in the process of designing a memory garden with marble benches, some of which can be dedicated to deceased loved ones that will be surrounded by shrubbery and flowers, keeping the bucolic setting private for those wishing to remember, mourn or heal there.
Of the burial services, Deacon O’Connor feels that very often the prayers at the committal services are glossed over.
“We say, ‘Lord Jesus our Redeemer, you willingly gave yourself up to death. You willingly did that so all may be saved and pass from death to life. We humbly ask you to comfort your servants in their grief and to receive this loved one into the arms of your mercy. You alone are the holy one. You are mercy itself. By dying, you unlocked the gates of life for those who believe in you. Forgive them their sins’ – and we say that right then – ‘grant them a place (“maybe not now, but soon”) of happiness in your kingdom forever and ever. Amen.’
“It’s so powerful, so overwhelming, and when people start to digest that, they hopefully are thinking, ‘Wow, there’s something really special here,’” he says. “We need to bring that thought back to our parishioners. We need to bring people back to the cemetery.”
“It has not been easy going through some of the steps we’ve taken in creating Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum,” he says. “We need to help the Bishop evangelize his message, ‘not to be served but to serve.’ That’s imperative.”
For more information or a consultation at Jesus, Bread of Life Cemetery and Mausoleum, email [[In-content Ad]]
[email protected] or call 856-317-6400.