Care for our beloved deceased

Since 2003, I have had the privilege of serving as executive director of The Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Catholic Cemetery Association has close to 150 years experience serving the needs of our beloved Catholics who have been laid to rest within one of our 23 cemeteries. To date, we are responsible for the care of more than 1 million of our faithful who have been buried in archdiocesan cemeteries. We hold these consecrated grounds close to our hearts.

Our commitment to provide a final resting place for the souls buried in one of our cemeteries is a service we engage in with absolute respect and dignity both for the deceased as well as the families affected by the passing of a loved from one within our Catholic Community.

In an attempt to better understand burial policies and guidelines for the Catholic Cemetery Association, I intend to to contribute occasional articles to The Pilot as an extension of the service we offer to our faith community.

In this first column, I would like to explain one type of burial and specifically “re-deepening” or “re-using” of graves.

When a family suffers the loss of a loved one, in most instances a funeral director is the first person they will contact. Most families will choose a funeral director they know, the result of an established and trusting relationship developed over the years. A funeral director offers comfort and reassurance at this difficult time. In choosing a burial site for a deceased, most families are aware that they have, or may have, immediate or extended family members buried in one of our cemeteries. In some instances, funeral directors will inquire on behalf of a family whether there is space available within a family lot for an additional burial to take place.

If a family lot has an “older” burial where no outside container was used (a grave box or vault), more than likely only a casket from that burial exists. In this case, where a significant amount of time has passed, the family will request, through the funeral director, that the grave be “re-used” for an immediate burial. It then becomes the cemetery’s responsibility to locate that particular grave and attempt to accommodate the needs of the family.

Time is often short. Most funerals will take place within 48 hours of the funeral director placing a call to the cemetery. Add to that a request by a family to re-open a grave and time becomes a critical factor, particularly in difficult seasonal conditions such as winter when the ground is possibly frozen. Still, many families choose to “re-use” a grave for different reasons. If it is the case that finances are a concern for the family, the Catholic Cemetery Association is committed to working with the family to be helpful and accommodating. Very often, purchasing a new grave is more cost effective in terms of burial space, future arrangements, monument inscriptions and rights of burials.

However, if re-use of a plot is still requested, the superintendent within the cemetery provides a work order for the operating crew directing them to open the specific grave based on the family’s request relayed through the funeral director. The operating crew will then map and locate the family lot and specifically the grave within the lot that the family is requesting for “re-use.”

For the most part, prior to 1940, remains of our loved ones were not buried within a permanent container, as is the norm nowadays. If that is the case, due to natural decomposition, we generally discover that remains no longer exist within that grave. In cases where remains still exist in the grave, the Catholic Cemetery Association proceeds carefully.

Procedurally, this is what can occur with the re-use of a grave:

1. First and foremost, any disturbed remains we discover during the process of preparing to re-use a grave are handled with the greatest respect. Those remains, if any, are delicately removed from the grave in a solemn and dignified way. The grave would then be re- deepened and those existing remains are placed carefully back into the grave to accommodate the immediate needs of the next burial.

2. In some instances if remains are exposed within a grave while preparing for a re- use and have not been disturbed, re-use of this grave will take place if the height of the grave can accommodate a permanent container and not disturb the existing remains. The superintendents within our cemeteries have the discretion to make a well thought out decision that this re-use can be accommodated at that time.

3. If cemetery operations open a grave and immediately come upon a permanent container (a vault or liner of some kind) within the grave, the re-use will not take place.

4. Some Catholic cemeteries within our association are designed to allow burials both side by side (single depth) and one burial on top of the other (double depth).

It is possible, however, to allow both re-use and re-deepening of a particular grave that can accommodate a double depth burial. A family may request re-use of a grave and we find there is already an existing container on top of remains that were buried pre-1940, only within a casket.

This process is more complicated as we are dealing with two sets of remains; those in a container and possibly some remains (pre-1940) that may be present below that. In this case, the grave is opened and the first container with the casket is removed from the grave as delicately as possible. The superintendent and operations crew then attempt to locate any remains of the original burial in that grave. If some remains are located, they will be removed with respect and dignity. They would then re-deepen the grave, place the (pre-1940) remains back into the now deeper grave, place the permanent container back on top of the original burial, and this will now allow enough depth for the immediate need of the next burial to take place.

The composition of the soil and land which make up our cemeteries, the materials we use to bury our dead, nature and time all contribute to the condition of any individual remains at any given moment. In the circumstance when a grave is re-opened for re-use, our employees make all necessary arrangements to conduct this delicate work with respect and care for the deceased and the family. We bury our dead with great pastoral care expecting never to have to reopen their gravesite as they rest in the eternal presence of God. However, we fully understand the desires of some families to have their loved ones buried near or with one another. Our prayer and hope is that in meeting such requests, we assist families who have lost a loved one in their time of mourning and in reaffirming their faith that their beloved deceased is truly at peace.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding any graves within our association or if we can offer some assistance to any Catholic families regarding any burials past present or future, always feel free to contact the Catholic Cemetery Association toll free at (888) 919-7926, local at (781) 322-6300 or via e-mail

Robert Visconti is Executive Director of The Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...