HAMMOND — When the Father Roy Beeching, director of Gary Diocesan cemeteries, suggested Saint Joseph of Arimathea as the symbol for St. John/St. Joseph Cemetery’s new, $500,000 mausoleum, Mike Welsh couldn’t imagine anything more fitting.
“He’s the patron saint of coffin-bearers,” said Welsh, longtime chief operations officer for three Gary Diocesan cemeteries in Merrillville, Hammond and Michigan City.
St. Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy Israelite, is believed to have carried Jesus from the cross to a cave tomb he had intended for his own use. Arimathea donated his own tomb to Jesus, Welsh said.
Of the three cemeteries Welsh oversees, St. John/St. Joseph Cemetery is the largest — with 30,000 people buried or cremated over the span of 55 acres.
St. Stanislaus in Michigan City holds about 7,500 deceased individuals over 17 acres and Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Merrillville holds about 500 people over two acres.
The mausoleum — featuring a gray granite base with red granite crypt and niche fronts — will be built on a 10-acre plot of land close to Jefferson Elementary School near 169th and Northcote. Family names will be frosted and engraved, Welsh said.
The first phase of the project, to be completed by year’s end, also will feature a statue of St. Joseph of Arimathea. A lighted and heated gazebo will be used for final prayers before burials.
The mausoleum will feature 80 companion crypts, 111 single crypts and 240 niches, sized for either singles or companion cremation urns, along with family name engravings.
As the cemetery’s current mausoleums and columbarium are fully built out over the decades, three to four more buildings will be constructed, Welsh said.
Welsh said he has to consider how to best invest in the grounds’ use of space, based on trends and needs of the Catholic community.
Since 1963, cremation has been an acceptable option for those of the Catholic faith, and the trend remains on the rise. And large segments of the population also still desire to be buried above ground, Welsh said.
“This is a big investment, to be able to build this mausoleum and provide for families,” Welsh said.
Diocesan and cemetery officials, the project designer and general contractors will host a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at 1 p.m. July 17 for the St. Joseph of Arimathea mausoleum.
Bishop Donald J. Hying; Mark Tucker, project designer with the Louisiana-based Cemetery Design Associates; and Jim Mork, general contractor with the Wisconsin-based Carrier Mausoleum, will be on hand.
DOH Granite in South Holland is also assisting on the project.
The public is welcome to attend.