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Among Friends by Rosalie MacEachern
Members of the Stella Maris Parish Cemetery Committee are generating support for the construction of an interdenominational columbarium adjacent to the cemetery. Committee members include, from left, Blair Postlethwaite, Paul Landry, Donnie Cyr, Bill Skrynsky, Eric Leblanc and Sheila and Gary Moses. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)
There is a spirit that speaks to the cemetery committee of Stella Maris Catholic Church in Pictou, but chair Eric Leblanc points out it is an entrepreneurial spirit.
It is that spirit that has the committee proposing that a columbarium – a structure with individual and secure spaces for cremated remains – be built adjacent to the cemetery.
“There’s nothing like it in Pictou County. We know the trend is strongly in favour of cremation so why not?” said Leblanc.
The committee came together about 10 years ago to ensure the large, treed cemetery was maintained in a condition that would honour the many laid to rest there since it opened in 1857.
“Our priest was leaving us and we didn’t have a replacement. We no longer had a caretaker for the cemetery, so the priest approached me and asked if I’d take it on with some others,” said Leblanc.
The group had no equipment and no budget, but they bought a lawnmower and paid for it over 12 months, Leblanc recalled.
“From the start, the cemetery work and fundraising went hand in hand. Once we got started we could see thing we needed to do,” he said.
One of the additions is an attractive gate built by students at Nova Scotia Community College in Stellarton.
“The sandstone and wrought iron make a beautiful entrance,” pointed out Sheila Moses, who with her husband, Gary, is part of the committee.
Another improvement was to the small building used to house caskets that cannot be interred in winter.
“One of our priests used to refer to it as “the shed” because it wasn’t much, but we’ve fixed it up quite a bit,” said Leblanc.
Fixing it up included brick work, a new ceiling and bright white paint.
“It is a much better spot for families to come to for committals,” said Bill Skrynsky.
Every year, the group sells lobster and ham dinners to finance their work. Other members are quick to point out Leblanc is their top salesperson.
“I can go into TRA (wholesalers) for supplies and come out having sold a couple of dinners,” Leblanc acknowledged.
Committee members also note the community at large is good to support their fundraising dinners.
“We get financial donations and people who are willing to help at the time. We ask folks to donate cakes for the dessert and this year we had 34 cakes delivered to us,” said Leblanc.
The columbarium, though, is a bigger project than can be financed by a small group selling suppers.
“We think this is a project that goes well beyond our church, so we’re opening it up to the community. We’ve got the land and the plan and we are looking for people who are interested.”
Gary Moses, project engineer, envisions an attractive round structure with a four-foot stone walkway leading to it and beautiful landscaping.
“With a wide, flat walkway, it will be accessible to a wheelchair and we’ll have a bench or benches for people who want to sit for a while.”
Leblanc acknowledges the county has an older than average population and many younger family members have left the area to work and settle in other places.
“Very often, there is no family left to tend a grave so that becomes another reason to consider cremation. If that is the decision that is made – and it can be made well ahead of time – we can accommodate. We will have 60 individual stainless steel, water and airtight niches. There will also be marble plates, the same idea as a gravestone but a much smaller scale,” said Leblanc, adding each niche will have room for two urns.
Looking out over the expansive cemetery with a newer section that opened in the 1930s, Leblanc makes another argument in favour of cremation and a columbarium.
“It is a far better use of land and far less upkeep.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the parish’s cemetery mass and Leblanc believes that will be a good opportunity to circulate information on the possibility of pre-purchasing a niche in the columbarium. They will also be providing information for other churches and funeral homes.
The committee already has a good idea how many niches they need to sell before they can get underway.
“We can start with gravel and the foundation and the walkway, but if we can sell enough, I can see us moving ahead next year,” said Gary Moses.
The committee members all feel there will be support for a non-denominational columbarium.
“Times have changed greatly. Besides, we already have Catholics buried in the Protestant cemetery in early years and I am sure we have Protestants in the Catholic cemetery. We know we sell lots of dinners to Presbyterians and others, so I don’t think that is an issue at all,” said Leblanc.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at email@example.com