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Parish offers new Catholic cemetery option in King George

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One day, if all goes according to plan, a mostly empty field with a hint of green inside Historyland Memorial Park in King George County will be filled with tombstones and an altar facing east. One day, mourners will walk through a large wrought iron gate bearing the Latin inscription “Coemeterium Sanctae Elisabeth et Sancti Antonii,” as they bury their loved ones after a funeral Mass.

For now, the aesthetics are a work in progress for this new project of St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach. Since the parish first created a Catholic section within the existing Historyland cemetery, 70 out of the 100 available slots have sold in this predominantly Protestant area of Virginia.

But with tens of thousands of Catholics in the greater Fredericksburg area and the Northern Neck, Father Francis M. de Rosa, pastor, saw the potential when the new owner of the cemetery approached him with the idea.

“It’s part of the work of the church to take care of people from their conception and even take care of their mortal remains,” said Father de Rosa.

While more than a dozen parishes and religious orders within the Diocese of Arlington operate their own cemeteries or columbariums, there are not many Catholic options locally. And the tiny graveyard at the mission is completely full.

Two people are now buried in the Catholic section of the Historyland cemetery. The first, James Lamont Childers, was a member of a family with deep roots in the parish. The second was a Baptist woman who converted on her deathbed, Father de Rosa said.

Nearby, the Catholic influence on the graveyard is evident. The Knights of Columbus dedicated a tombstone to babies who died before birth. In another nearby corner, a large headstone reads, “Tomb of the Forgotten,” and bears an image of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, patron saint of forgotten people. At the owner’s invitation, Father de Rosa and parishioners gathered last summer to give a proper burial to 54 men and women whose ashes were left unclaimed at the funeral home next to the cemetery.

If adjacent land is still available in the future and demand keeps up, there is potential to expand the cemetery and add more distinctively Catholic adornments, said Father de Rosa. Right now there is enough space for up to 200. While Father de Rosa said it’s possible some Catholics from Northern Virginia may be interested, he thinks most people will come from parishes such as St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church and St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, and St. William of York Church in Stafford.

A few plots are still available at an introductory rate of $1,800. The remainder will be sold for $2,100. Anyone interested may contact Shelley Buckles at stanthony@va.metrocast.net or 540/848-4785 for more information.

While there’s work left to be done, Father de Rosa said he looks forward to a time when he is allowed to celebrate an occasional Mass, such as on All Souls’ Day, in this quiet cemetery. The difference is much more than cosmetic. 

“The rich burial rites of the church remind us of the Resurrection and sanctify the ground,” he said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020