Second Catholic mortuary opens in diocese

Holy Cross Cemetery in Avondale. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Holy Cross Mortuary in Avondale. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

AVONDALE — The Diocese of Phoenix now has two mortuaries on either side of the Valley to prepare bodies for their final resting place.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed and dedicated Holy Cross Catholic Mortuary April 20. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed and dedicated Holy Cross Catholic Mortuary April 20. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blessed and dedicated Holy Cross Catholic Mortuary April 20. The 22,000-square-foot facility, at the southwest corner of 99th Avenue and Thomas Road, joins Queen of Heaven in Mesa in offering mortuary and cremation services for burial or interment at any cemetery.

Catholic cemeteries and mortuaries are places set apart, however. The bishop shared with the more than 250 people in the mortuary’s overflowing chapel about the natural relationship between the Catholic Church and the seventh corporal work of mercy — to bury the dead. It wasn’t until after the time of Jesus that a new word about burying the dead even existed, he said.

Before that, a place of burial was simply a “decropolis,” a city of the dead. Cemeteries, even more so those carrying out the sacred religious function of care for and burial of the dead, are more appropriately named to serve as a dormitory for those who have fallen asleep, the bishop said.

“Every Christian place of burial speaks to the fact that the pain of death will come to an end,” the bishop said. “It speaks even more clearly about the resurrection.”

A Catholic cemetery and mortuary is filled with signs of love, he said. Those signs create within the imagination a sense of a garden, “especially the garden where the King of Creation walks,” the bishop said.

The first image visitors to Holy Cross Mortuary encounters is a rusty cross a few short steps away from the main entrance. Three large nails and a crown of thorns lie at its feet. Gary Brown, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries for the diocese, conceived the idea carried out by local Catholic artist Dean Dwyer as a reminder that, like Jesus, Christians too await their resurrection.

Inside they find a peaceful, comforting environment starting with an image of St. Joseph on his deathbed on one wall and an Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine across from the main entrance. The mortuary also has four family rooms each with a flat screen TV where funeral planning occurs, an embalming room, plus a dressing and flower room. A smaller second chapel and two family viewing rooms are all named after nearby parishes.

“We’re Catholic. We want to make a statement about us being Catholic, so when they come in, they should feel that spirituality and emotional connection to the Church,” Gary Brown told The Catholic Sun.

They do. Brown said comments from visitors and staff so far said they feel inspired when they step foot inside Holy Cross mortuary, which also houses workspace for sales staff and administration.

Ronda Berkey, funeral director and funeral services manager at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery and Mortuary, noted that visitors to the nearly 50-year-old cemetery find the new mortuary an eye-opening experience and are captivated by the artwork and overall beauty. She said the Madonna shrine reminds her of a piece in the Vatican.

Berkey spent four years working at Queen of Heaven in Mesa — its mortuary opened nearly six years ago — and is eager to start working with and serving more families in the West Valley.

“We grow up in the Catholic faith. Who better to take care of us or our families when we pass?” Berkey said.

Catholic cemeteries and mortuaries lets families know their loved one is being taken care of by the Church, she said.

Having two Catholic mortuaries in one diocese is a bit of a novelty, too, Brown said. He quickly named only three other dioceses or archdioceses nationwide that have at least one mortuary, with one forthcoming in Toronto. Brown fields calls nationwide from Catholic cemeteries interested in the latest developments.