1. Who should be buried in a Catholic cemetery?
Believers in Christ. Burial in a Catholic cemetery is an affirmation of Christian faith, a statement of belief in Christ's words — I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believers in me will never die. (John 11:25).
All believers have faith. But, believers also confess a lack of faith: Lord, I believe, help me to believe more (Mark 11:24). So, believers should not judge themselves too harshly.
The Church is a tender, gentle, holy Mother, who, in the manner of Christ, seeks to heal and gather. Catholics who have been indifferent to or alienated from the Church might see dying and death as a chance to find a new embrace of acceptance and welcome. After all, each person's faith is known to God alone. (Roman Missal Eucharistic Prayer IV)
2. Who may be buried in a Catholic cemetery?
Members of the wider community have been served by these Catholic Cemeteries as part of our dedicated ministry of consolation. We receive non-Catholic spouses, children, parents, other relatives and friends of Catholics.
3. Must a Catholic be buried in a Catholic cemetery?
The normal and expected situation is to place a Catholic in a Catholic cemetery. However, a Catholic may be placed in another cemetery, according on circumstances.
4. Why should I be buried in a Catholic cemetery?
Believers in Jesus Christ form a community of disciples founded on a shared faith in the Resurrection. A Catholic cemetery continues that community…even in death. Here all await the Lord's call to a new life.
The Catholic Church brings its own traditions, beliefs and sensibilities to the reality of death. Such customs can be fully expressed in Catholic cemeteries. These are places appropriate for prayer and liturgy, visitation and remembrance. Sacred art and holy shrines strengthen our faith in the Resurrection. The beauty of these holy grounds ministers comfort and peace.
Since 1857, the Christian Faithful of the Milwaukee area have chosen the Catholic Cemeteries for Christian burial. These eight Catholic Cemeteries are owned and operated by the Archdiocese on behalf of the Catholic parishes. We exercise an uninterrupted ministry of consolation, guided by the universal Roman Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the needs of those we serve. Our non-profit, self-sustaining operation is based on guiding principles and deeply-held beliefs assuring permanence, reverence and respect for the deceased and support for the living.
Money derived from cemetery operations, beyond expenses, is contributed to the wider ministries of the Archdiocese.
We offer a variety of spiritual services, grief education, support of bereavement ministry in parishes and charitable burial assistance. We thus express our mission and philosophy. See A Delicate Balance.
5. Should I buy a crypt, a niche or a grave?
In-ground burial in a grave has been the traditional choice for many centuries.
Above-ground burial in a crypt or niche has become a recent opton in our Cemeteries for over 40 years.
Personal preference, family tradition, cemetery location and factors related to faith, economics or even ecology can guide such a choice.
To make this choice more clear, we provide cost comparisons with full disclosure of our prices, products and services prior to any purchase.
See Burial Options: Cemetery Interment
Burial Options: Mausoleum Entombment
Burial Options: Cremation and the Catholic Church
6. How do I make a purchase?
The Catholic Cemeteries formalize purchases with written agreements and supporting paperwork for:
the purchase of burial space, namely graves, crypts or niches
the purchase of grave memorials, namely monuments and markers of granite or bronze.
These agreements formally and legally define:
what is purchased
at what exact burial location
at what cost
with what payment schedule.
Thereby, the duties, expectations and obligations of both parties are clearly defined.
A minimum down payment is required at the signing of a purchase agreement. We take cash, checks and credit cards (MasterCard and Visa). Purchasers then pay the balance in full within 120 days of signing with no interest or penalty. We encourage complete payment at the time of signing.
For most agreements financing is available for up to four years at a set annual percentage rate. Consumer laws are in effect.
A written full disclosure of all cemetery burial options, products and services is part of an agreement signing. We always desire the purchaser to visit the exact location of burial space prior to signing the purchase agreement.
7. Can I change my mind after signing a purchase agreement?
Yes. Within the first 120 days of an agreement for burial space, changes are quite easily made or a full principle refund may be issued, provided no burial space has been used.
After 120 days, modifications are possible under defined conditions. In all cases, the business policies of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries subscribe to fairness and include the utmost consideration for our Christian faithful.
Contact a Family Service Counselor for more detailed information about agreement modifications and cancellations.
8. Who helps me write a purchase agreement?
A Family Service Counselor, who is trained in grief education and works at all of our eight cemeteries, assists those interested in making a purchase. After a time of assessing needs and identifying preferences, the counselor completes all necessary paperwork, plus offers detailed information and support materials. All pricing is uniform and consistent at all Archdiocesan cemeteries.
9. How can I meet with a Family Service Counselor?
This is how the Family Service Counselors cover all the eight cemeteries —
Saint Adalbert/Holy Trinity
A counselor is on duty until 4 pm every day of the year, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Days. You can drop in but, it is better to call ahead to verify the counselor will be free and can be prepared to address your situation.
Call the cemetery office first to set an appointment with a counselor at the a convenient opportunity time.
Appointments can be set outside of normal business hours and away from cemetery offices, if needed.
Cemetery locations and phone numbers.
10. Why should I prearrange my cemetery and funeral needs?
Prearranging for death is not a sign of hopelessness. Rather it is an expression of trust, faith and acceptance in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
By pre-planning your funeral and burial, your wishes are made clear, only needing implementation. Your funeral and burial will reflect your Catholic Faith. Advance planning is the best way to avoid heavier financial burdens later. Decisions are better made plan apart from the emotions and stress of a death. Couples, who have lived for years together, should plan their burials together while in sound mind and body.
Our Family Service Counselors will assist you and respect your preferences — personal, family, emotional, financial and spiritual. We will make a full, unhurried, in-depth disclosure, so you can make prudent and informed choices in an atmosphere free from the anguish and grief that accompanies a death.
See Advance Planning.
11. Can I arrange that no money is due the cemetery after I die?
Yes. After the purchase of the burial space, you can pre-pay the Burial Service Fee, which is the charge for placement in the burial space, that is, full-body burial in the ground or entombment in a crypt or cremated remains burial in the ground or entombment in a niche or crypt.
By completing a simple form, Certificate of Future Cemetery Services, you can avoid any future price increases. The only exception: burial on a Saturday or certain holiday eves. Choosing one of these times will require an overtime surcharge that can only be paid at the time of the burial service.
12. How do I purchase a grave memorial (monument or marker)?
A Family Service Counselor assists with a grave memorial purchase agreement. [See Question 9 for arranging a meeting.]
After discussing design options, we can usually provide a computer-generated proposal drawing as part of the agreement. It is a black-and-white rendering of the finished design for the granite. The purchaser approves the design and wording for completeness and accuracy. An sized cement foundation is purchased along with the memorial itself as part of the agreement.
We encourage full payment at signing, but also have provisions for a substantial down payment at signing complete payment within 120 days at no extra cost. We accept cash, checks and credit cards (MasterCard and Visa).
See Burial Products.
13. How do I purchase memorialization and silk floral decorations for graves, crypts and niches?
A Family Service Counselor or other cemetery office staff assists in completing an order form for a wide variety of memorialization and floral arrangements.
These types of memorialization are available: bronze emblems (crosses, saints, angels, service and service organization insignias), ground or mausoleum vases with silk floral arrangements, photo ceramics, Eternal Lights and granite etchings done by laser or diamond tip stylus. Restrictions and requirements may apply at a given burial location. We accept cash, checks and credit cards (MasterCard and Visa).
See Burial Products |Memorialization.
14. Do I actually own the burial space?
No. These Sacred Burial Grounds are not divided up into real estate parcels. A purchaser is acquiring rights to burial space, assuming complete control over all immediate and future burial decisions. But the space is continuously owned, operated and maintained by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, providing firm, long-term stability. Agreements, supporting paperwork and policy establish ownership and control of these rights, even through changing generations of family.
15. Who has burial rights in unused burial space after an original owner is no longer living?
Burial rights in a Catholic Cemetery are intangible assets, not real property. Burial rights, as such, cannot be given through a will or bequest. We have a Burial Right Assignment Form for an owner to assign anyone to available burial space. [See Question 18.]
A husband and a wife exercise joint ownership. When no original purchaser is alive, burial rights descend through blood relatives, beginning with children, grandchildren and so forth. Spouses of direct descendants have rights. A need caused by an unexpected death in a family may also take precedence.
If there are no direct descendants, then rights pass to any siblings of the original purchaser(s) and their direct descendants. Contact a cemetery office about specific cases.
16. Can I sell my burial space on the open market?
No. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee does not recognize the sale of burial rights between private parties without our involvement. However, burial rights may be transferred to another person, preferably a family member, by way of our Official Transfer Agreement. This document is signed by all parties and notarized or witnessed by cemetery personnel. An administration fee is paid upon acceptance of the Transfer Agreement.
Remember, burial space can always be returned to the Catholic Cemeteries for a refund of the original purchase price, less any applicable fees.
17. Is there any chance my burial space will be re-sold by the cemetery?
No. The Catholic Cemeteries grant an owner future rights for burial. The space is never reclaimed and resold, if fully paid.
18. How do I control who will be buried in burial space I have?
For graves, the owner has exclusive and permanent right of use through a Certificate of Burial. Beyond the owner's spouse, who has full control and the first right of burial, this right passes to direct blood heirs immediately after the death of the original owner. A married couple is considered a joint owner. Written permission of the heirs may be required for burial.
Beyond children, it is often very difficult to establish control and permission. Therefore, we strongly encourage all owners of burial rights to complete a Burial Right Assignment Form to make official burial assignments prior to their death. This will prevent unnecessary stress at the time when permission is essential. The document can be easily amended if new circumstances arise.
For niches and crypts, the right of burial is defined within in the purchase agreement and can only be amended by the original owners during their lifetimes. Blood descendants cannot change the burial assignments after the owner has died, unless granted by the Director of Cemeteries.
19. What mandatory costs are involved in purchasing and using cemetery property?
The first mandatory cost is for the grave, crypt or niche. The second mandatory cost is for the Burial Service Fee, which covers the actual burial and the operating overhead of the cemetery. Once the burial space and burial fee are completely paid, there are no additional mandatory costs.
See next question for optional costs.
20. What optional costs can be involved in purchasing and using cemetery burial space?
A memorial (monument or marker) in granite or bronze can be set at a grave, according to cemetery regulations. This is not mandatory, but is usually done as an optional cost. Other memorialization choices are also optional, such as: bronze religious plaques, symbols and emblems; vases with floral arrangements; benches; photo ceramics and Eternal Lights. These options may be chosen at the time of the burial rights are first purchased or anytime afterward. Choices may be restricted by grave, crypt or niche location. Some items must be purchased through the Catholic Cemeteries.
Other optional costs include an overtime surcharge for Saturday burial or on certain holiday eves. A chapel visitation is an optional extra cost.
Since mid-August 1998, lettering (names and dates) is included in the purchase of crypts and niches. Purchase agreements signed prior to that date require separate payment for lettering.
21. As a Catholic, can I choose cremation?
Yes. In light of the renewal begun with the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the revised Code of Canon Law (1983) states — The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching. (Canon 1176, paragraph 3)
The choice of cremation has implications for the funeral rites that follow death. A reverent and memorialized placement in a grave, niche or crypt is essential. These are mortal remains of a human being. The face and body may be gone, but the meaning and dignity of that person continues.
Our Family Service Counselors can assist in sorting through cremation options and preparing for a cemetery burial after cremation.
Permission to be cremated is not required in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
See Burial Options: Cremation and the Catholic Church.
22. Where can cremation urns be placed?
Cremated remains should be treated with respect since they are the remains of the human body. This treatment includes … the care and attention to their appropriate placement…
—Reflections on the Body, Cremation, and Catholic Funeral Rights
[National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, 1997]
Two cremation urns can be placed in a grave or in a crypt.
One cremation urn can be placed in a single niche or deluxe single niche or in a partial-sized grave
Two cremation urns can be placed in a deluxe single or deluxe companion niche.
A cremation vault is required for all in-ground urn burials.
We do not place an urn in a crypt or grave already occupied by a casket burial.
We do not place an urn inside a casket.
We do not place urns on top of an existing burial.
We do not place urns in any space not designated as burial space, such as marker or monument space.
These placement regulations insure that cremated remains are buried or entombed in a place that provides for distinguished and adequate memorialization of the deceased.
23. Do cremated remains need to be placed in a cemetery?
The Church requires a reverent disposition of the cremated remains of each person. Thus, remains should be buried in the ground or placed in either a niche or crypt.
They are not to be divided, scattered, placed in jewelry or statuary or commingled with another person or animal. Only permanent, reverent, marked placement is permissible.
Far too many cremated remains linger in closets, on shelves, beneath things…forgotten. The Catholic Church, with profound respect for mortal remains and spiritual realities, calls for permanent, reverent and marked placement in a Sacred Burial Ground, a cemetery.
Economics or a desire for simplicity may lead to cremation. It is important to plan beyond the completion of the cremation. Civil governments consider cremation to be final disposition of a human being. The Catholic Church considers permanent, reverent, marker placement as final disposition.
24. How many people can be buried in a single burial space?
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee subscribes to the following general placement principles primarily to insure the distinguished and adequate memorialization of the deceased.
One full body burial per crypt or grave space.
One cremated remains per niche space.
Two cremated remains burials per crypt or grave space.
One cremated remains or infant burial per partial grave.
25. Why wasn't I informed about a policy change?
Our 150-year-old burial records, now databases, only record the original owners of burial rights, unless we are notified of succeeding generations. Contacting all owners, heirs of burial rights and other interested parties is, therefore, not possible.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries make significant effort to communicate policy changes with our Christian Faithful. We use all available means of modern communication to convey new information. Signs are posted and brochures placed at entrances and in offices of our Cemeteries. This web site — www.cemeteries.org — is the most accessible and reliable source of accurate, complete and up-to-date information.
26. Will current cemetery policy always be in place?
Old, even ancient, traditions have established many of the policies and procedures that exist today. As society and church life changes, new customs will arise to shape our policy into the future. These new policies, however, will be created with the utmost consideration for our Christian faithful and will always maintain the integrity of our Catholic burial traditions.
27. Why can't I decorate a grave, a crypt or a niche any way I want?
We strive to balance individual and family decoration choices with the overall administration of a large cemetery system to assure order, beauty and tidiness. By our policies we strive to avoid subjectivity and assure objectivity in handling decorations. Certain latitude may be allowed at certain times (e.g. Mothers Day or Memorial Day), but in the end we will enforce our decoration policies so improper, irreverent and undesirable practices do not continue.
Graves can be decorated according to location, type and time of the year.
Crypt and niche fronts in our mausoleums can have only memorialization and decorations purchased through and placed by the cemetery.
See Decorations Policies and Decorations Privileges.
28. What is the Burial Service Fee?
Our Burial Service Fee is what funeral directors call the Opening and Closing. It pays for the physical placement of a person in a grave, crypt or niche as well as the ongoing operating expenses. The Burial Service Fee is variable, set according to the type of burial required: whether full body or cremation, above-ground or in-ground. This fee must be paid in addition to the cost of the burial space. It can also be prepaid to avoid all further price increases. There is an overtime surcharge for burials on Saturdays and certain holiday eves.
29. How do the Catholic Cemeteries use the income from the sale of goods and services?
Our fee structure keeps the Cemeteries solvent so we can receive the dead whenever our services are called for. We must also maintain the buildings and grounds for decades ahead. Expansion is always under consideration as well.
We also provide supportive ministries and services for the living.
See A Delicate Balance.
30. Who works at the cemetery?
There are approximately 40 full-time permanent employees and about 40 additional temporary employees added for the growing season. Our staff, headed by the Director of Cemeteries, handles all facets of cemetery services — management and operations, accounting, customer service, record keeping, burials, grounds and maintenance, sales, grief support and education. They have professional competence and years of experience. Many of our employees have special training and sensitivity to the issues of death and grief.
So, your investment with the Archdiocese preserves and perpetuates, operates and maintains eight Cemeteries and seven mausoleums in four metropolitan counties in southeastern Wisconsin. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Cemetery Division manages approximately 1,000 acres, over 60,000 crypts and niches, about 2,500 burials annually. Your Catholic Cemeteries are complex and varied.
We have a master's level Director of Grief Education on staff. He is available to our Christian faithful to assist them through their journey of grief.
We also have a Priest Chaplain, our Spiritual Director, who provides spiritual direction and inspirational programs, special masses and memorial services He and a corps of deacons are available to lead Committal Services when needed.
31. Can I arrange for a Funeral Mass in a chapel at one of the Catholic Cemeteries?
No. While the Catholic Church offers immense support and comfort through the Order of Christian Funerals, Funeral Masses are to be celebrated within a parish.
What if a person has not practiced the Catholic Faith for some time?
What if a person has been cared for in institutions for years?
What if a person has lived away in retirement for years and has not been part of a local parish?
In all these instances, contact a parish, either a parish from the deceased’s past or the parish of a family member. Parish staffs understand how things are. People who lived their last days or years in a different locale can assume their previous membership is still in effect at death, an honorary membership, as it were. In most cases, a parish will be accommodating, understanding and welcoming.
Our chapels are available, at an extra fee, for a visitation followed by a Memorial Service (not the Funeral Mass) or a Rite of Committal.
32. What is the Order of Christian Funerals?
The Order of Christian Funerals are the Catholic rites at and after death. It is modeled as a journey of prayer with the deceased from the deathbed to place of burial. It expresses deep emotions of profound faith in God and enduring love for the deceased. The rites also convey thanksgiving to God, hope in Christ’s Resurrection, consolation of the living and compassion for those hurting, afraid or sad.
The three main liturgical rites are to be celebrated in full, not shortened or omitted. They require time and travel. Death is never convenient.
The three main prayer moments:
A. The Vigil at a funeral home or at the deceased's parish, either the night before or just before the Mass.
B. The Mass of Christian Burial celebrated with the faith community where the deceased belonged or where a family member belongs.
C. The Rite of Committal prayed at the cemetery, either at a graveside or in a chapel, preferably right after the Mass.
There are societal and cultural changes underway. Many elements of the funeral and burial are minimized, combined, truncated or omitted. Death cannot be avoided.
See The Order of Christian Funerals.
33. Is there more about the Committal Rite?
Ordinarily, the Rite of Committal, the end of the funeral journey, is prayed in the cemetery at the actual place of burial or in a chapel near the burial site. Often inclement weather determines where the Rite of \Committal takes place.
Since the burial place will be an important location for the family and friends, the Committal is best prayed in the cemetery. But The Order of Christian Funerals allows it elsewhere, such as the church.
The final leave-taking should be meaningful and unhurried. It is the end of a life-long journey. The prayers of committal recognize that the place of burial has been transformed into a place of new life through Christ’s death and resurrection.
34. What is a "drop off"?
We have numerous instances when no one accompanies the deceased to the cemetery for burial. That is, a casket or urn is simply “dropped off” at the cemetery by the funeral director. Cemetery staff completes the burial with no witnesses, no prayer, no final farewell.
Yes, prayers and farewells are often expressed at the end of the ritual that preceded, but it is sad when no one from family or parish accompanies the deceased to the final resting place.
Would a parent not go to the hospital to bring an infant home after the birth?
35. Can I disinter or disentomb my loved one for re-burial elsewhere?
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries always discourages this difficult and expensive endeavor. We believe Rest in Peace means Rest in Peace.
Nevertheless, we support families that make this decision for valid reasons — keeping families together, desiring aboveground entombment, desiring better memorialization opportunities, etc. We do everything possible to make this type of move reverent and respectful.
Contact a cemetery office to inquiry about specifics and costs.
36. What about genealogical information?
Because we welcome and encourage frequent contact, our cemetery office staff responds to requests for burial locations related to personal visits, pilgrimage and other cemetery related activities.
If you are seeking background information about nearly half-million burials, please use our online genealogical database. We do not have the dates of birth, escept for burials since 2002; ages at death are in whole years.
We have a feature on our web site that allows family and friends to post approved additional factual or personal information about a person buried in our cemeteries. It is called Tell Us More. Memories, expressions of love, genealogical data can be submitted. In other words, you can offer anything that might help others know more about your loved one. Tell Us More is found below the individual burial record.
We are in the process of supporting parish cemeteries throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to enter their historical burial records on our web site for accessibility and security. In time we hope to have all 130 parish cemeteries on-line along with the eight Archdiocesan cemeteries now on www.cemeteries.org.