By KATIE BORKOWSKI
With most of the Ministry 2025 pastoral plan going into effect, parishioners are wondering what is going to happen to the cemeteries of the parishes that now have oratory status or are closed.
“If a parish is closed that has a cemetery, it will be transferred to the assuming parish,” said Father Brent Lingle, director of pastoral planning. “Every cemetery will be maintained and cared for. The parish has both a legal and a moral obligation to care for the cemetery.”
When it comes to allowing burial in a cemetery associated with a parish that is closed, Father Lingle noted it will be “business as normal for the cemetery with perhaps some changes on how it is governed.”
If a church is suppressed, the building may be sold and used for something that would not bring sacrilege to the church. Father Lingle acknowledged that in a few cases a cemetery can be sold to a city or a county to ensure its care, but “for the most part we keep it within the church.”
According to Msgr. Mark Duchaine, there are only four canons in Canon Law concerning cemeteries, “though more general canons on sacred places are also applicable. Cemeteries, like churches, are set aside for sacred usage.”
“They (cemeteries) receive a special blessing upon their initial dedication,” said the judicial vicar and pastor at parishes in Moville, Kingsley and Anthon. “They are subject to the same requirements as a church, insofar as decoration is concerned – nothing tawdry or garish is to be permitted, either for the cemetery itself or for individual graves. One commentary noted that a Catholic cemetery is to have a large standing crucifix, but that is not mentioned elsewhere.”
There is an understanding, the priest said, that a cemetery should be properly maintained – grounds, trees trimmed, grave markers repaired as needed, and so on.
“The last canon on cemeteries simply notes that it is up to the local church or diocese to develop its own particular law regarding the ‘management of cemeteries, especially in what concerns the protection and the fostering of their sacred character,’” said Msgr. Duchaine. “As far as I know, there are no diocesan norms regarding parish cemeteries, though there are certainly regulations or guidelines – or there should be – for each such separate cemetery.”
Depending on the parish, the cemetery is kept up by a paid staff member, a volunteer or a mix of both.
Jim Tentiger, a parishioner at St. Joseph in Ellendale, volunteered to take on the upkeep at the Ellendale cemetery within the last year. He is the closest to the cemetery, so it made sense.
“I go over and check it to see if it needs to be mowed,” he said. “Three or four of us guys mow it every couple of weeks. If someone passes away, the funeral home gets ahold of us and we go mark the grave out. They call the grave digger. When it is filled in, we level it off and grass it down.”
They also take down the leftover flowers after Memorial Day.
Most recently a flag pole was added to the cemetery for the veterans and a blessing was held on July 23. The Merrill American Legion presented a dedication.
Steve DeRocher, a parishioner at All Saints in Le Mars, oversees Calvary Cemetery in Le Mars and is also on the cemetery board for All Saints. He started as the sexton at Calvary about 15 years ago, which is a paid position.
The cemeteries’ part of the All Saints corporation are Calvary, Merrill, Maurice, Struble and Neptune. All of the cemeteries have representatives on the cemetery board, which meets annually to discuss policies and other topics concerning the needs of the cemeteries.
“The cemeteries are doing well,” said DeRocher. “They are well kept-up. We have great people there running them. We do pay to have the mowing and trimming done at most of the cemeteries.”
Within the past year, all of the paper records and cemetery books have been gathered. It is now almost all on a computer database.
“We all worked together very well to get that process done,” said DeRocher. “It was quite an undertaking. It won’t be long and we will all have it at our finger tips for searches for graves, the history of all the burials in the cemeteries and who owns the plots. That is a big step. It needed to be done.”
Some of the cemeteries only had a 3-foot by 3-foot paper map as the records for the cemetery. Now all the names are in the database as well as maps of all of the cemeteries and what spaces are available.
“If someone decides they don’t want to be a cemetery caretaker anymore, it will be a seamless transition,” said DeRocher. “The database will help with that.”
If someone wanted to have a family member buried in one of these cemeteries or wanted to buy a plot, they would contact All Saints Parish and then be put in contact with the correct person.
“It is a pretty easy process,” said DeRocher. “In this time of need, we realize people need extra attention and special care. We will go out of our way to get them what they need.”