Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection

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Holy Cross Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame. Photo from summer of 2019.

November Rains Grief and Our Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves

I walked into this sacred ground of dead priests and brothers for the first time in 1974. Forty-five years of stepping among my dead brothers.

As a freshman, I prayed here often. I loved the quiet.

I carried caskets along with my classmates when family members were only faint memories of our dead brothers.

My classmates and I giggled at many priest funerals when a priest eulogized another dead brother by saying no other religious really knew him. Yet, his Marian devotion was real.

Worn beads are always wrapped in the hands of dead Holy Cross confreres.

Perhaps Mary is an only friend.

Most of them loved to go fishing. They won’t say that at my funeral even if they stretch the truth.

The stone crosses line up as a choir across the green lawn in summer.

I hear the many voices still after death. Ironically, some men who were professional enemies are buried next to each other. I can almost hear the chatter.

In the Midwest winters, the names of the men carved on stones are lost in snow drifts. That is when I fear I will be buried. I hope someone kneels to view my name in spring.

Our Holy Cross Cemetery will house all of the present living members. If we need more land, the field next to the retirement home can be filled in so the caskets will not sink into the lake.

I pray my window in the retirement house will not face the cemetery. I do not want to see in November caskets floating across Saint Mary’s Lake.

Always in November our priests, brothers and seminarians process with candles aside the cross into the cemetery during the damp and cold early evening in order to remember. I am not sure how they pray. I suspect they say something like, “I am sure glad I will not be buried next to him! Thank you, God.”

I have missed processing to the cemetery from The Basilica of the Sacred Heart for many of my friends. I do so in my imagination and prayer.

I miss their voices and faces the most, their bodies wrapped in vesture. I captured their integrity when they presided at Mass.

The priests are always buried in Mass vestments. I am consoled by that identity.

I hold a deck of funeral cards in my aging hands today. November comes so quickly with another ten in hand.

Especially in November, the deck seems stacked when the younger die first.

I still see their faces on one side and a list of the institutions in which they served on the other side of the thin prayer card.

Nowhere on the card does it say they knew Jesus.

In this blustery month of November, I remember again the reasons why each man lived here on earth. I carry them to the place of their body memory, the altar table here on earth.

I am happy to stand where they stood. I remember again this November without having to travel back to campus and peel wet leaves off my shoes and shield my face from the cold rain.

The secret they have taken to the grave is that Jesus loved them, until the bitter end. For this hidden gift, I am so grateful for cemeteries and crosses and names all in a row.

Someday, I will take my own place, buried next to the one Holy Cross religious who dies before me.



7 thoughts on “Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection

  1. Oh what a beautiful story ! Thank you for that Fr. Ron. It resonated with me especially since my roots are in the Midwest and I visited Norte Dame many years ago. Lovely images and sentiments….

  2. Dear Fr. Ron, these thoughts and reflections are so moving. In one of the photos you captured the marker of Fr. Jose Martineli, who evidently passed away earlier this year. I remember he was one of the chaplains on my cursillo retreat in 1981, just weeks before I decided to take a leave of absence, and he told me in confession that I would “make a fine priest”, that has always stuck with me, his kindness and support. I took a walk like yours through the cemetery with my younger brother back in 2005, and the names and faces of many treasured men warmed my heart with memories. Thanks so much for these reflections!

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