For nearly 25 years, Gary Brown cared for families during their time of greatest sorrow: the loss of a loved one. Brown’s devotion to carrying out the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead was evident in his leadership of Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries for the Diocese of Phoenix. He recently ended his tenure as president and chief executive.
“It’s time to move on and let others come in and get a fresh look at things,” he said. “I loved this job and working with the Church. There have been a lot of great memories and relationships.”
Family, friends, co-workers, religious and priests joined Brown June 20 for Mass and a reception on the grounds of Xavier College Preparatory. He was toasted for his leadership and roasted for his propensity to lose personal effects and unabashedly promote Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries during every waking hour, but those gathered for the celebration agreed Brown was a special gift to the apostolate.
Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries
“We have been richly blessed by the ministry of Gary,” said Fr. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor for the diocese. “Remembering the ministry of the Church through the corporal works of mercy, he touched lives through his efforts.”
Brown mused it was the dry riverbeds, scorpions and snakes that lured him to the Valley of the Sun from his birth state of Michigan. When the Navy veteran and his family did arrive, his budding career began in 1990 when the field was in its infancy. Throughout his tenure he opened two additional cemeteries for a total of six located throughout Central and Northern Arizona, built two mortuaries, added an additional four mausoleums for a total of six, grew the staff from 30 to 100, developed an additional 50 acres and identified another 161 acres for future use. He also grew the operation budget from $900,000 to $12 million.
Catholic Cemeteries are sacred places
As an extension of the Church community, Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries strives to acquaint all in the diocese with the purpose of its mission and its ministry toward the Corporal Work of mercy, “to care for the dead.” As a not-for-profit organization, its primary focus is service.
Christian Care for the Dead
The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2300)
Brown, 68, served the bereaved with compassion, love and deep-seated faith.
“His entire career was involved in ministry with people of all ages,” said Msgr. Richard Moyer, who worked with Brown for 14 years on various projects. “He knew more about cemeteries and mortuaries than I did. He was up-to-date in the industry, a step ahead in developing his ministry and compassionate,” he said.
He related how Brown would reduce or waive fees when people didn’t have the means to bury their loved one.
“He always found a way to help,” Msgr. Moyer said.
Brown, who has two grown children with his wife, Deborah, and four grandchildren, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling from Eastern Michigan University. He has a master’s degree in business administration from Saginaw Valley State University.
In addition to his involvement in professional organizations, he also volunteers for a variety of public, private and government organizations. Brown is a member of the International Life Teen board of directors, a member of the East Valley Chapter of Serra Club International and a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre with a rank of commander with star.
Brown is also an artist and his influence and flair for design can be felt throughout the cemeteries, most notably in St. Theresa’s Shrine, St. Peter’s statue, and statues honoring the Holy Spirit, the Fallen Christ, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego. As the recipient of the Cemeterian of the Year award from the Arizona Funeral, Cemetery and Cremation Association, Brown embraced his life vocation honoring the dead.
“It’s a great industry,” he said. “I didn’t build these cemeteries — it was never me.”