User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Perpetual Care? Think Again. Before Burying Your Loved Ones in a Catholic Cemetery Check It Out First.

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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Perpetual Care? Think Again. Before Burying Your Loved Ones in a Catholic Cemetery Check It Out First.

St. John's Cemetery located off of Lalor Street started accepting burials sometime in the late 1850s, before the start of the Civil War.  The parish which owns this cemetery has an interesting history.  When it opened as the first Catholic parish in New Jersey's Capital City, Sacred Heart at 1 Centre St was called St. John's, hence the Cemetery's name.  However, Irish immigration soon overwhelmed the parish which was founded by German immigrants.  Arguments ensued over who would be in charge and the parish eventually split in two.  The Irish got the original location which was renamed Sacred Heart.  The Germans moved a few blocks over and formed St. Francis. 

You would think that a cemetery this old would value its history.  Think again.  It seems that Sacred Heart has better things to do with its money than to look after its dead.  The aside from sending in a landscaping crew with lawnmowers and weed whackers it does little to take care of the grounds.  I am familiar with the place and up until last year, the stone of this Navy veteran of the SS Teal was standing.  Now it lays on its side and is regularly run over by landscaping equipment.  As far as I know, the "SS Teal" mentioned here was either the USS Teal, a minesweeper which saw service off the coast of New Jersey during World War 1 or the British freighter that was sunk in the Atlantic by the Germans during first world war.

One dirty little secret that the funeral director won't tell you about is that the concrete vault in which the coffin is enclosed doesn't last forever.  After about 80 to 150 years, this vault will rupture and the ground above the vault will cave in to form the shape of a coffin.  It looks like Mr. Eckert is suffering from just this sinking feeling.  (Get off your butts, perpetual care crew and fill that hole in.)

It seems the problems have only gotten worse for the permanent residents of St. John's since the parish has "forgotten" to replace its caretaker, who used to lock the gate each night.  My wife's stepmother's sister's husband, Charlie, who used to live across the street from the cemetery fulfilled that role.  After he moved out about five years ago, the church never replaced him.  Now, the cemetery gets whole new groups of visitors it never had in the past, including the homeless who come to the place to sleep and drink liquor.  It also draws youths who like to do nothing better than to throw midnight stone dumping parties.  The bums aren't really much of a problem, they leave their vodka bottles for the maintenance crew then move on.  Its the vandals that cause the real damage. 

It's not like toppled stones are a rare occurrence here, or that the cemetery actually does anything about it.  They just lay around on the ground, sometimes for years.  Unless the family pays to have them uprighted, repaired or replaced, nothing is ever done about it.  That just encourages more vandalism because the kids know that the parish really doesn't care about the property.

Its bad enough that the cemetery keeps getting vandalized and that the parish is too cheap to clean up the mess or even hire someone to lock the gate.  In the process a valuable historical treasure is being destroyed.  Back in the day, people tended to stay in the same area and used tombstones to document their historical heritage.  Many of the older stones list exact birth dates and death dates, the names of parents and sometimes the place of birth.  The stones often contain sayings and a statement as who paid for the stone.  They are living history and deserve to be preserved.  By allowing them to be destroyed, we are also allowing a part of our heritage to be destroyed.  These stones are irreplaceable reminders of our 19th century and early 20th century past.

If the destruction of our past is not a good enough of a reason to clean up this mess, perhaps the welfare of the living should be.  For this cemetery is still active and people are still being buried here.  Of course, this means that people are still spending money on stones that are at risk of being destroyed by vandals and mourners still come and these people are at risk of being attacked by criminals.  By allowing conditions to deteriorate to the level they have, Sacred Heart Parish and the Diocese of Trenton are putting the lives and property of the living at risk whenever they visit the place or invest in memorials for the deceased.

I would certainly be very sceptical about handing money over to Sacred Heart to bury a family member in St. John's.  Remember it's still not too late to demand respect for the living and the dead and demand that the Diocese of Trenton clean up this mess.

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