Does Your Parish Have A Columbarium Yet?

The “Skull” Chapel in Czermna, Poland

If it doesn’t, it probably will soon. Five parishes in the Diocese of Knoxville have them now.

What is a columbarium? It’s a consecrated resting place for the ashes of cremated parishioners.

But Frank, isn’t cremation not allowed by the Catholic Church? Evidently that’s not the case, dear reader.

The term columbarium comes from the Latin word for “dwelling place of a dove.” Christians believe the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. A columbarium is a vault, or wall with niches to store the cremated remains or cremains of the dearly departed.

Since 1963, cremation has been permitted by the Catholic Church. With the body washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed by the Bread of Life, it is afforded dignity as a temple of the Holy Spirit destined for future glory at the resurrection of the dead. If these beliefs are upheld, cremation is acceptable. Burial or entombment of the body after death remain the norm of the Catholic Church.

From the diocesan website, here is a description of  a dedication of one from back in March.

New Columbarium dedicated at St. Mary in Oak Ridge

RESTING PLACE Father William McKenzie (center) blesses the new columbarium at St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge on March 1. The columbarium is the fifth to be established in the Diocese of Knoxville.Courtesy of Ronald Bugos
Father William McKenzie blessed a new columbarium at St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge after the noon Mass on March 1.

Immediately following the blessing and committal service, urns containing the ashes of three parishioners were placed in the columbarium by the families. Ashes of five additional parishioners were scheduled for inurnment in the columbarium in the coming weeks.

The columbarium will provide a consecrated resting place at St. Mary for urns containing the ashes of deceased parishioners, their families, and former parishioners. The columbarium site was completed in February under the direction of a board appointed by the pastor and with the approval of the diocese.

The columbarium was fabricated by Eickhof Columbaria of Minnesota Carnelian granite and is in a garden setting at the Oak Ridge Turnpike entrance of the church. The garden site is designed to provide the location for a second columbarium when needed. Each columbarium contains 96 niches, and each niche accommodates the ashes of two people, for a total of 192 persons.

Subscriptions for 39 of the 96 niches in the first columbarium have already been received. Former parishioners are eligible to use the columbarium and should contact the parish office at 865-482-2875 for information.

Columbaria had previously been established in the diocese at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City, St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade, St. Augustine in Signal Mountain, and St. Joseph in Norris. The St. Joseph columbarium is shared with St. Therese in Clinton.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church is located a few miles down the road from where I live, and is pastored by Fr. Christian Mathis, who blogs at Blessed is the Kingdom. He and radio personality Frank Murphy, who has his own blog as well, posted a terrific podcast with special guest Dr. Bill Bass.

Dr. Bill Bass, and friend

Dr. Bass is a retired forensic anthropologist best known for his work at the infamous Body Farm located at the University of Tennessee. He has collaborated with John Jefferson in the successful series of forensic mystery novels which started with The Body Farm.  Metro Pulse, a local independent paper, has a good write up on Dr. Bass as well.

For questions and answers about Catholicism, cremation, columbaria, and corpses, have a listen to Fr. Christians podcast. I guarantee you will learn something of value.

Oh, and here is a link about that chapel in Poland.

UPDATE: Other Catholic columbaria via Google search (not an exhaustive list).

St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, San Francisco.

St. Thomas More, Chapel Hill, NC.

Prince of Peace Catholic Parish, Hoover AL.

St. John the Apostle, Virginia Beach, VA.



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