Following a growing trend, St. Mark Church in Monticello completed construction of its columbarium to allow for cremated remains to be interred on the parish grounds.
Beginning in 1963, the Church allowed Catholics the option of cremation. Since the 1990s at least 18 parishes have built burial niches near their churches.
After the columbarium was completed in March, St. Mark Church had two inurnments. Made of black granite and natural stone, the structure has 92 niches and is accompanied by an altar to conduct services and two stone benches for family members to visit their deceased loved ones in the landscaped setting.
Father Mark Abban, pastor of St. Mark, said interest in the church’s columbarium has been keen, with 14 niches sold to date.
For nearly two decades, St. Mark parishioner Sara Hartness was a driving force for the church building a columbarium on its grounds. She said she brought the idea home after attending the funeral and inurnment of her best friend’s mother in Detroit. The parish doesn’t have a cemetery.
“It was a beautiful rose garden columbarium, and I thought, man, we need one of those,” she said. “I think it took some time for some people to come on board with the idea. But it's so nice to go to Mass and walk out, stop by and say good morning on your way to breakfast.”
Hartness said she thinks there are several reasons for the growth in popularity of cremation and inurnment, including financial and environmental impacts.
“Personally, I don’t want my remains to take up ground into eternity when that space could be used by future generations,” she said. “Plus, in 150 years who is going to recognize that name on the headstone?”
According to the National Funeral Directors Association Cremation and Burial Report, the current rate of cremation in Arkansas is 45.4 percent and is expected to rise to 75 percent by 2040.
Mike Matos, owner of Vilonia Funeral Home in Faulkner County, said the average cost of a cremation with a casket and traditional funeral ceremony before cremation ranges from $2,895 to $7,500, but the cost of services at a funeral home, cemetery property and associated burial costs in 2022 could range between $8,500 to $20,000.
A niche at St. Mark Church costs $600 and engraving on the columbarium plaque is $250, parish secretary Denise Adams said.
“The Order of Christian Funerals’ Appendix on Cremation” states cremation should take place after a funeral Mass. The practice of scattering cremated remains or keeping them in a loved one’s home is not allowed.
“Ideally,... there should be an opportunity for the vigil for the deceased in the presence of the body. This allows for the appropriate reverence for the sacredness of the body at the funeral Mass, sprinkling with holy water, the placing of the pall and honoring it with incense,” the order states.
Father John Marconi, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls in Little Rock, said columbaria have been a popular option for parishioners who want to be placed to rest on the holy grounds of a church.
“Our columbarium is a blessing here at Holy Souls. Many parishioners, after Mass, will come and visit their loved ones and say a prayer,” Father Marconi said. “As pastor, I like having churches that have a cemetery or columbariums close by on the grounds. There is something comforting to the families to have their loved ones near. These are reminders to us all that one day we will join them in the next life. Our faith speaks to us loud and clear with our loved ones near, that in Christ there is no death, only life.”
He said interest in cremation and inurnment has required several expansions of the church’s tree-shaded columbarium garden between the church and rectory. Holy Souls built a 96-niche columbarium in late 1999. It expanded four more times, with a total of 620 niches today.
“We currently have 66 niches available in Phase IV. Every time we have a funeral and then burial in the columbarium people come to buy niches,” Father Marconi said. “Since it is now a popular option for Catholics, the demand for more space for columbariums now presents itself to us of where we can add on in the near future.”
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