A tight band of saints-still-striving trod softly above those at rest at St. Mary Cemetery in Montgomery City.
They joined Father Augustine Okoli for Mass on All Souls Day and to dedicate the recently completed shelter and outdoor altar.
“We are here because we believe in the power of the Resurrection,” Fr. Okoli stated. “All of this — this shelter, this altar, everything around it — speaks to our belief in the power of the Resurrection.”
The substantial structure, with steel beams and columns and a concrete foundation, will accommodate outdoor Masses and burial rites in inclement weather.
Parishioners donated labor to build the shelter, the stone altar and a new pedestal for a life-size image of the Blessed Mother, along with other cemetery improvements.
Fr. Okoli — pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Montgomery City, St. Joseph Parish in Martinsburg, St. Patrick Parish in Jonesburg and Church of the Resurrection Parish in Wellsville — noted that the project has been about three years in the making.
“And it came at a proper time, because God’s time is only the best,” he said.
In God’s hands
The priest reminded everyone of two questions and answers from the once-ubiquitous Baltimore Catechism:
“Who made you? God made you.”
“Why did He make you? To love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”
Fr. Okoli emphasized that in God, nothing is lost.
“That’s what Jesus tells us in the Gospel: ‘Everything that the Father gives to Me, I will raise on the last day!’” he said. “That is why we celebrate the feast of All Souls.”
He pointed out that the Church consists of three parts — the people who are in heaven, those who are living on earth, and those who have died and are being made ready for heaven.
“There’s always a connection among the three,” he stated. “We pray for all souls, especially those in purgatory, that through His mercy, God will open the gates of heaven to them and welcome them.”
At the same time, people in this life ask the saints in heaven to pray for them, “because we want to be like them!”
This deep connection is too much to understand fully in this life, “but Jesus tells us, ‘Everything the Father gives Me will come to Me,’” the priest noted. “And as St. Paul reminds us, ‘We walk by faith and not by sight.’”
Faith gives people the desire and motivation to keep moving toward God and having that reflect in actions that are pleasing to Him.
“That’s why we hear in the Book of Wisdom, ‘The souls of the just are in the hands of God,’” said Fr. Okoli.
“Even though sometimes through our sin, we forsake God, we run away from God, He is ALWAYS looking out for us,” he said.
Fr. Okoli prayed a blessing over the altar and sprinkled it with holy water.
“Through our adoration of Your Son present in the Eucharist, lead us to a closer union with the mystery of our redemption,” he prayed.
He also blessed the shelter and then re-blessed the entire cemetery.
He offered prayers for the faithful departed, especially those from Immaculate Conception Parish.
“May Your departed servants, for whom we have celebrated this Paschal Sacrament, pass over to a dwelling place of light and peace, through Christ, Our Lord,” he prayed.
He thanked the members of the cemetery committee — Brad Arens, Michael Auchly, Tom Benney, George Boes, Daryl Cobb and Janet Stumbaugh — who oversaw the building of the pavilion and other improvements.
“They did a wonderful job, and I believe this is the first of its kind in this area,” he said.
He said he considers it an honor to serve as pastor during such a great accomplishment.
“We’re making history!” he said.
Hope and comfort
Immaculate Conception parishioner and cemetery committee member Michael Auchley said the shelter and altar project took shape through lively discussions.
“Finally, we came to an agreement on what and where it should be, and we were all excited to move forward with this project,” he said.
Construction began last fall.
Board members and other parishioners helped pour the concrete and build the altar.
“There were a lot of donations of time and effort and energy that was put into making this happen,” said Mr. Auchley.
The shelter is a tangible manifestation of the parish’s concern for people mourning the loss of a loved one.
“Hopefully, for inclement-weather funerals, we have a nice and more comfortable spot to have the burial services,” he added.
It’s all part of an ongoing effort to “to provide a home for all of our past parishioners,” he said.
This is the parish’s second cemetery.
The earliest parishioners were laid to rest in the Worland family cemetery, located due south and over a valley and a ridge from the present cemetery.
The parish purchased the current, larger site at 46-98 Old Williamsburg Road as the community continued to grow.
A recent addition expanded the cemetery by about one-third.
The cemetery board has recently undertaken the repair of headstones, the replacement of footings under those that were settling, and the regrading of entire sections of the cemetery to make it more level.
“We’ve been doing quite a bit of upkeep and upgrading,” said Mr. Auchley.
There is a slightly larger than life-size statue of the Blessed Mother outside the pavilion, facing the front of the cemetery and Williamsburg Road.
Mr. Auchley’s father, William Auchley, now deceased, donated the statue in memory of William’s deceased mother and uncle about 20 years ago.
In its new location, the statue is now more visible from the road.
William Auchley and his late wife, Marion, were avid chroniclers and curators of Montgomery City and Immaculate Conception Parish history.
Their earthly remains are now at rest under a shade tree in St. Mary Cemetery.
“There are a lot of good memories, fond memories of everybody here,” said Michael Auchley.
Mr. Auchley said maintaining and beautifying the cemetery is important work.
“These are our relatives and this is our past and our history,” he said. “This is their final resting place and it’s gonna be my final resting place and the rest of my family, more than likely.
“This is ‘eternal rest’ and ‘perpetual light,’ and it’s in memory and honor of them as we await the Resurrection, so that they have a beautiful place to arise from!” he said.
What will that day be like?
“Joyful! An absolute celebration!” said Mr. Auchley. “What a wonderful reunion!”