Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 3

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November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 3

 Cardinal O’Hara’s body lies inside Sacred Heart Basilica. His remains are protected from lake-effect snows and spring rains. His anonymous friend donated a bouquet of roses to be placed on his grave every Friday afternoon. For decades a dozen fresh, red roses adorned his resting place, which is made of marble.

A freshman classmate came from a poor family and wanted to take a girl from Saint Mary’s to a dance. He could not afford a flower for his date. So I stole three fresh roses from the gravesite on a Friday afternoon and made a corsage for her.

I admit my theft.

I really did not think the Cardinal would mind, since the following Friday a dozen of fresh roses would adorn his place of death.

I believed he kept track, by the dozens, of the campus stories of love.

In the graveyard, there are no fresh roses in winter.

Another bishop lies under the snow. Bishop Paul had been a very heavyset man in his adulthood.

Every time I walk by his grave, I am reminded of the time I strolled by the outside of his Portland apartment one summer while visiting as a student.

A classmate and I tried to look the other way when we noticed three large pizza boxes on top of his trashcan.

There are no pizza boxes near gravesites.

He is enjoying the great banquet of heaven where there are no empty boxes anywhere, where no guilt will be found. I pray he is feasting with delight.

I know of at least another bishop whose remains are tucked under South Bend snow in winter.

Bishop Lawrence Graner had served in Bangladesh. His voice radiated love. When he presided in Sacred Heart Church in retirement, he hardly needed a microphone.

He communicated more than words written in a book. His soul sounded when he stood at God’s altar.

He used his voice deliberately to sooth families, especially mothers; on the day a son was being ordained a priest.

His manner invited calm. The tenor of his voice was balm for fear.

As seminarians, we nicknamed him, “Hands”. In those years, he was invited to ordain most of our men. We all wanted to be under the calming hands of his faithful inheritance, a sure sign of springtime.

He died before I could find myself under his wing.

There are many names written in stone of our men who died overseas. They would have feared the mountains of snow in South Bend for all eternity.

They were used to the brutal heat of serving in threatening governments or serving while the Church was just being born in third world nations.

Their names are protected by the vigilance of Our Lady of Sorrows. She over sees in bronze, the names of many missionaries from her perch on the side of the cemetery.

I am hoping she will not forget my name even though I have never been in our mission countries.

She protects me even now. I have to believe that.

Only the priests and brothers who served in the military have a different mark on their gravesites. I admire their service, but in that cemetery, another marker is not necessary.

We are all Holy Cross religious. When it snows, we are even more the same.

No other marker is seen under the drifts of memory, loss and belief and most of all because we are all soldiers for Christ.

These are the peace terms I have inherited.

As seminarians we always kidded and joked about dying during the Christmas break. There would be no one to welcome our bodies since our classmates would all be home resting and filling up on blood-family time.

Brother Clarence would not be able to dig a new grave. The heavy drifting snow wrapped around the previous grave marker would not allow for such a task.

There would be no other religious in the seminary to mourn us.

Our bodies would have to wait for the spring thaw to be lowered by the community into a dark grave.

Only once do I remember, in my day, a seminarian dying during Christmas break.

John Cross died on Highway 24 in Cascade, Colorado, walking back from Holy Rosary Chapel to the novitiate.

He was in the novitiate in the class after me, even though he was older than me.

This year, in 2019, it will be exactly 40 years since his death on December 30.

He was 26 years old at his death.

I will remember him here in Cascade on that day, no matter how much snow is on the mountain.

I know there will be no seminarians near the cemetery because of Christmas break from school.

In my heart, I will traipse through the drifts of memory and pray for all of our dead when the snows are deep. The hope for spring melts fear away.

Under the Holy Cross marker, lie many men, even one whose last name is Cross.

I wait for the healing spring rains.

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