“You do not have to be Catholic to be interred here, but most are,” says Deacon Paul Kennedy, who manages the columbaria at Sacred Heart. Kennedy knows that many Catholics are uncertain about what the Church teaches about cremation. And that’s why he takes his job so seriously. Kennedy knows what the Church teaches. He is also convinced that many who visit Sacred Heart’s columbaria will leave with a new understanding of why a growing number of Catholics will choose cremation—and a columbarium—in the years to come.
According to information from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Roman Catholic church lifted its prohibition against cremation in 1963. Twenty years later, the option was coded in canon law. Over time, Christian Funeral Rites were altered to set the parameters for when cremation can take place before a Funeral Liturgy.
The rites detail where cremated remains are placed during the Funeral Liturgy (never on or immediately in front of the altar). They also spell out the need for all of the cremains to be placed in a secure vessel.
Fr. Edmund Vargas, a former pastor at Sacred Heart, first talked to Kennedy about establishing a columbarium in 2005. When the first of the 3,000 niches went on sale about five years later, the church-based facility was one of the first—and possibly the first—in Canada. Then-Bishop Fred Henry blessed the first columbarium at Sacred Heart on May 13, 2011, with the first interment that same month. The second columbarium opened in 2013.
Accessible by elevator and stairs, visitors enter the columbaria through a locked door. Mourners receive a punch key code that allows them to visit the indoor space 364 days of the year. “The only day we are closed is Boxing Day. I know some people come here every day to spend time with their memories,” notes Kennedy. “On the second Saturday of each month, we also host a special memorial service in the church. Those are always well-attended, and many people visit the columbaria after that mass.”
A sacred space
The hallways inside the columbaria are adorned with 13 stained-glass windows. Purchased from a Catholic church in Buffalo, New York, the 150-year-old windows were painstakingly restored and framed. “We’ve backlit the windows, and the effect is beautiful. Visitors feel like they are walking past actual windows. You lose any sense that you are in a basement,” explains Kennedy.
Once inside, visitors can rest on comfortable benches upholstered in an elegant shade of burgundy. Recessed ceiling lights contribute to the calming hue of the muted-yellow walls and ceilings. A lack of adornment inside the columbaria keeps eyes drawn to the niches.
“Father Edmund chose very meaningful names for the columbaria,” adds Kennedy. The first columbarium is called the Holy Land, and its sections are named after Holy Land locales, like Bethlehem and Mount Herman. The Galilee section includes smaller areas named Grace, Hope, Joy, Peace and Serenity. A special section in the Serenity area holds the cremains of stillborn babies and others who died soon after birth.
Most of the niches in the Holy Land are single niches, “but people can reserve two single niches, side-by-side, as long as they are available,” says Kennedy.
The second columbarium, with more niches designed for two or four urns, is named Holy See. Each of its sections references a Holy See location. Again, families can purchase several niches in an area.
People interested in touring the columbaria can reach out to Kennedy at Sacred Heart. He’s also available to speak with groups, including parish-based groups like the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Women’s League. Those interested will receive an Estate Planning Guide from a Catholic Perspective.
“People have a lot of questions, and I’m here to answer them,” says Kennedy, who’s already secured a Sacred Heart niche for he and his wife.
While he’s learned not to guess what questions people will bring to their first conversations about the columbaria, Kennedy’s accustomed to how the meetings end. “There is comfort in knowing what will happen after you die. After people choose a niche, their response is typically the same. They tell me, ‘I feel relieved.’”
Norman Henry Marshall, my Papa [grandfather], was a beacon of joy and love for our family. His laughter was deep and contagious. Papa was assured, kind and intentional. His steadfast love created a retreat for me in my teenager years away from trauma and distress. Papa always saw through the situations we were in or the bumps in the road to the beautiful uniqueness of each person. The love that beamed from his bright blue eyes called me out of fear countless times in my life.
It is no surprise that he became the rock to my grandma, his five kids, their spouses, his thirteen grandchildren and his six great grandchildren.
My Papa was strong and resilient, in his incredible 85 years he overcame hardship, felt loss, and knew pain. He threaded through each difficulty with valor and kindness. My papa never spoke the language of defeat. Sitting in the living room in the old farmhouse, I remember watching him love my Grandmother. He could turn her tears into laughter by taking her in his arms and singing and dancing. He loved all of us that way.
My Papa knew how to call us to bravery. He celebrated each one of my children’s births and mourned with me each of my miscarriages. It is hard for me to imagine welcoming my fourth baby in December without him.
For Flory D’Souza the Outdoor Way of the Cross is a family affair.
Her father Antonio Carvalho carried the cross in the procession a few months before he died. At 91, with a cane in one hand, the cross on his opposing shoulder, he carried the cross right to the very end of his life.
“I took a picture of him carrying the last station of the Cross and I got it printed while he was in the hospital. Everyone could not believe that was my Dad,” said Flory, picturing the scene four years ago.
“For him it was just because he was a man of faith and I think a little way of saying: Jesus I’m helping you carry your cross and carrying my own cross with His. It gave him fulfilment in being part of the Good Friday event,” said Flory.
For 20 years Flory’s parents Antonio and Annie made the Good Friday pilgrimage through the city. Now at 83, Annie is unable to participate anymore, but Flory fondly remembers how important this pilgrimage was for her parent’s spiritual lives — a spiritual practice she plans to carry on.
“When my dad was interviewed by a reporter he was asked: ‘You are such a small man and you carry such a heavy Cross?’ His answer was: ‘My Jesus helps me.’ I thought what a sweet answer,” said Flory.
“When I’ve carried the cross I’ve found it heavy, but I think it’s the weight of our sins that makes it heavier,” she said.
“It has helped us know that we all have a cross to carry, but Jesus helps us to carry that cross. And He never gives us a cross too heavy to carry. It helps our faith, to go on and trust in God and be thankful that Jesus did what He did for us to be free.”
Flory has carried the Cross a number of times and has consistently attended the pilgrimage for the last decade. Since she has never been to the Holy Land she sees this as her opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
“This just means so much. The stations take you to human suffering. It was Jesus’ suffering in Calvary, but here in every station is some kind of human suffering and you are made aware of it,” she said.
Flory is no stranger to suffering. Two years after her father’s death, her husband John suddenly died at the age of 57.
“My strong Catholic faith, thanks to my parents, has helped me cope with my cross in life and these great losses,” she said.
Flory immigrated on her own to Calgary 30 years ago from Kenya. Of her five siblings, she sponsored her sister in 1992 and three years later her parents. Then eight years ago she sponsored her brother Alex Carvalho. He volunteers with crowd control for the pilgrimage.
From humble beginnings, the Outdoor Way of the Cross has grown to attract between 2,500 and 3,500 pilgrims, some from other faith traditions. And more than 200 volunteers help keep it running smoothly.
Written by Sara Francis
From the moment Phyllis and Clem Steffler walked into Evanston Summit, they knew it was destined to be their new home. “Phyllis was ready to move in the next day,” laughs Clem. Retired and living in Airdrie, the couple was seeking greater ease in their lives, without the worry of maintaining a home and cooking their meals. They’d been looking at options when Judy, from Covenant Living’s Evanston Summit, met them at their local church and invited them to a BBQ. They walked in and immediately loved the welcoming, attractive front entrance.
Their instinct was confirmed several months later when their daughter, a public health nurse in Toronto, was in town. “We took her to several retirement residences,” Phyllis recalls. When they got to Evanston Summit, she turned to her parents and said, “Dad and Mom, this is the place for you.” The couple moved in on July 18, 2018.
Below is a video series on the Catholic Response to Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), presenting Bishop William McGrattan, Dr. Eric Wasylenko and Fr. Cristino Bouvette.
Moral Theology of Catholic Decision Making
The legalization of Euthanasia in Canada is of concern to all Catholics, not only those employed in the medical profession. As euthanasia (often termed Medical Assistance in Dying or MAID) involves the intentional taking of a person’s life, it presents a challenge for all who are committed to upholding the dignity of life and protecting the most vulnerable in our society. In a thoughtful and considered presentation which is of significance to all who are committed to living the Gospel message faithfully, Bishop William McGrattan of the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta, identifies the many spiritual concerns which flow from the legalization of euthanasia – including many you may not have previously considered.
Topics discussed include: the role of individual and institutional conscience; the basis for conscientious objection by medical professionals; the principle of cooperation as it relates to taking one’s life; and the risk of scandal. Regardless of how familiar you are with the subject, Bishop McGrattan presents insights which are sure to lead to further reflection.
Truly Caring for the Terminally Ill
Dr. Eric Wasylenko, a palliative care physician and clinical ethicist, shares his insights and concerns relating to the legalization of euthanasia (often termed Medical Assistance in Dying or MAID) in Canada. Medical intervention to hasten death differs greatly from withdrawing medical care so as to allow a natural death. He explains how attempts to
exert human control over the process of death are in conflict with both the traditional concepts of palliative care and the true essence of what it actually means to care for and assist those who are terminally ill.
Dr. Eric Wasylenko proposes that we ought not to apply the label of “conscientious objectors” to those who oppose euthanasia, but rather direct the dialogue to reflect that reality that those who oppose euthanasia hold deep convictions and are determined to adhere to their moral commitments.
The Dignity of Human Life
Fr. Cristino Bouvette, a priest for the Diocese of Calgary, leads an impassioned and inspired discussion on the Church’s teachings regarding euthanasia. As a consequence of the incarnation – the Word becoming flesh – acknowledgment of the dignity of each person as made in God’s image rests at the heart of Catholic social doctrine. As Fr. Cristino Bouvette explains, the Church does not pronounce on matters of morals without providing reasons which are derived from both scripture and rationality. As he guides us through Church teachings relating to the end of life, Fr. Cristino clearly illustrates why opposition to euthanasia is necessary to not only abide by God’s law, but also to draw each person’s heart closer to the Heart of God and the divine and personal plan which Jesus has for each and every life. Allow yourself to be inspired to live the Gospel more deeply.
Good food, great conversations and loads of laughs -- that's what made our first diocesan Seniors Get-Together a great success. We also had a special guest. Bishop Emeritus Henry came and shared his seniors wisdom on how to be fully alive as a unique creation of God. If you missed the event, here are some of the highlights of Bishop Emeritus Henry's talk:
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers