by Msgr. Steven Ferrari
“LET THE DEAD bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22), declared Our Lord Jesus when confronted by a would-be disciple. Yet, one of the corporal works of mercy in our Christian tradition demands that we, the “living” Body of Christ, bury our deceased sisters and brothers with dignity and honor.
Especially during November, we recall and pray for deceased loved ones in the two contiguous feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Many parishes have a novena of nine Masses to offer our prayers for the departed souls. In my parish of St. Teresa, we celebrated a special evening Mass on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, during which we read aloud the names of – and lit a candle for – all those who were buried from our church during the past 12 months.
A few blocks from St. Teresa’s rectory lies Calvary Cemetery. It is purported to be the largest cemetery in the United States, at least in the number of those buried there – more than three million! Begun in 1848, Calvary sits on land owned by the Archdiocese of New York, even though it is completely surrounded on every side by the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Since I live only a few minutes’ walk from the cemetery office, I often receive requests from funeral directors and families to offer prayers at the graveside burial of deceased Catholics. At times, a large crowd of mourners gather; at others, sadly, no one but myself and a funeral director are present.
Several months ago, I was contacted to conduct such a service in “Old” or First Calvary off Greenpoint Avenue. Arriving at the gravesite, I was quite impressed with the very tall obelisk gravestone memorial, over 100 years old.
While speaking with the family of the deceased, I was surprised to learn that also buried in the same multi-generational grave were two priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn. The two blood brothers, Fathers Louis and William Blaber, were ordained together the same day toward the end of the 19th century. One died, still quite young, in 1914; the other in 1942.
After completing this service, I began my walk back to the rectory. I was unexpectedly approached by a cemetery worker, asking if I might be available to do another service nearby. Turns out that it was the burial of a recently deceased priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Father Bernard McDonald. Meeting the dead priest’s sisters at the gravesite, I discovered that he would be sharing his grave with his blood brother, Father Thomas McDonald, deceased years earlier. Both priests had served the faithful for many years in the New York Archdiocese.
Nourished by Family
What a privilege to bury a fellow priest, even though I knew him not. And how unusual, I reflected, that in a matter of minutes I learned of two sets of brothers who were priests – four men who had responded to God’s call by devoting their lives to serve God’s holy people in the City of New York.
My mind has since drifted back to the a recurring thought: We priests are part of families, and our vocations are mostly nourished within the faith-filled family environment.
Indeed, my younger brother, Joseph, is also an ordained deacon serving in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill. In addition, my dad had two Ferrari cousins in England who were Salesian Sisters.
I have already purchased my burial niche in the new Garden of the Holy Family Columbarium in Second Calvary, off Laurel Hill Boulevard. I had blessed and dedicated the lovely columbarium three years ago in October of 2014. The very next day I was back at the cemetery office to be the first to purchase a niche there (sorry, there is no clergy discount, by the way!).
Most of my mother’s family, the Lusardis and the Chiesas (the Italian word meaning “church” – a coincidence?) are buried in Calvary, including my great-grandmother, grandparents, aunts and uncles. When my time comes to be buried there (God willing, not too soon), it’ll be nice to be near family. After all, from them, together with the grace of God, sprung my priestly vocation.
Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s parish in Woodside.