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St. Isidore the Farmer opens a cemetery for Catholics in Orange

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On a grassy hill above Route 15 sits St. Isidore the Farmer Church in Orange surrounded by tree-lined farmland. In a field next to the church lay two gray headstones, the start of the parish cemetery.

Parishioners have wanted to create a cemetery for years, said Father Terrence R. Staples, pastor, but two years ago work began in earnest. A committee researched other diocesan cemeteries and county regulations, and the diocese approved the plans last year. “Bishop Loverde was all for it from day one,” said Father Staples.

Around a dozen diocesan churches have active cemeteries or columbariums. In addition to their own cemeteries, some religious orders within the diocese also have burial grounds for laity, such as the sisters at St. Benedict Monastery in Bristow, who have a columbarium in their Place of Peace garden, and Cool Spring Natural Cemetery in Berryville, run by the Cistercian monks of Holy Cross Abbey.

Though the St. Isidore graveyard is primarily for parishioners and local Catholics, it is open to other Catholics because many churches either have no land for a cemetery or their cemeteries are full. Nearby, Our Lady of the Blue Ridge Church in Madison would like one but doesn’t have the land, according to Father Staples. “They’re kind of our sister parish,” so sharing the grounds with them was part of our vision, said John Clemente, facilities manager.

Clemente believes adding the cemetery has helped unite the parish, which was founded in 2002 with the merging of two churches, one in Orange and one in Gordonsville. “It helps give everyone a common place,” he said.

Thus far, the parish has sold 84 plots, which can hold a casket or cremation urns. That nearly completes the first section of the cemetery, said Valencia Bowman, business manager, with the possibility of three more sections for a total of around 700 plots. Construction will begin soon on a road that will wind around the cemetery.

Headstones can be flush to the ground or as tall as 3 feet 6 inches. Plots were priced below market value to keep costs low and available to as many as possible. Sales of the plots have gone toward creating the cemetery, said Father Staples. “We’re basically doing this without putting any money down,” he said.

One parishioner volunteered to survey the land and map out a cemetery plan, which saved the parish thousands of dollars, said Father Staples.

The committee hoped to put a statue garden at the far corner of the cemetery, but made no further plans when a Centreville couple came to buy plots. While there, the husband asked if he could donate a marble Pieta, which the church was happy to accept, said Father Staples.

Bowman has been touched by the many veterans who have bought plots in the parish cemetery. In the future, they hope to honor the dead with ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

“I have found a number of people who are military, who could be buried at Arlington or Culpeper National Cemetery, are actually choosing to come here because they said being Catholic was a bigger part of their identity than having served,” she said.

Father Staples knows the parishioners will appreciate having their loved ones buried both near to them and at their place of worship. His own father is buried at Quantico, which can be a long drive, he said.

 “I know when I come down (from the rectory) every morning, I walk down the road and say a prayer for the souls,” he said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017