Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Catholic cemetery chapels and their cemeteries can be both interesting and inspirational places to visit. Next time you’re in California, here are four you might like to see:
All Souls Chapel, Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles
All Souls Chapel can be found on the grounds of Calvary Cemetery in East Los Angeles. The cemetery was established in the late 19th century; the chapel built in 1902. It is an ornate Gothic chapel with a gabled tower and “heaven-pointing” spire. It is a replica of a church built in England.
On All Souls Day, 1902, Bishop George Montgomery offered the first Mass at All Souls on a temporary altar. The cemetery grounds themselves cover 137 acres; the first burials were in 1896. Their vast lawns are well-maintained.
Buried at the cemetery are many prominent Los Angeles-area Catholics, including diocesan bishops, oil tycoon Edward Doheny, film stars John and Lionel Barrymore, mobster Jack Dragna, comedian Lou Costello, actress Irene Dunne, Manson Family murder victim Leno LaBianca, producer Hal Roach and Jack and Nelle Reagan (President Ronald Reagan’s parents).
The grounds are generally open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but hours vary on weekends and on holidays. All Souls Chapel is used for burials; if you wish to attend Mass, it is offered daily at the larger Mausoleum chapel Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. The Main Mausoleum and chapel, completed in 1936, is also worth a visit. It includes beautiful stained glass windows and painted ceilings. Also, along the main drive, are outdoor Stations of the Cross made of stone.
All Saints Mausoleum Chapel, Colma
All Saints Mausoleum is the smaller of two mausoleums at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, the oldest and largest cemetery in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Holy Cross is celebrating the 130th anniversary of its founding. Archbishop Patrick Riordan opened the cemetery in 1887 on 300 acres of farmland. It has since become the final resting place of 400,000, including many prominent residents of the Bay area.
Baseball great Joe DiMaggio is among the best known of those interred there; you can also find the gravesites of archbishops, prominent politicians, business leaders and artists. Stroll the grounds and enjoy beautiful old buildings, monuments to the deceased and well maintained grounds. The cemetery welcomes visitors; groups and students can call and ask about walking tours.
The cemetery is not yet half full, and due to the increasing popularity of cremation, could continue to accept new persons for burial for the next 300 years. Mass is held First Saturdays, 11:00 a.m., celebrated by a visiting priest. There are also Masses for special occasions, such as Memorial Day and All Souls Day, held in the larger mausoleum towards the back of the property (All Saints is off Mission Road as you enter).
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery Chapel, St. Helena
Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in St. Helena was established in 1901. It is located in northern California, in the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Upon purchase of the land, palms, trees and native plants were added, and construction of the chapel began. It was completed in 1904, and was refurbished in 2005-2006. Its features include original flooring and stained glass windows. The refurbishment included a re-leading of the windows, and new pews were purchased from a small church in Germany. (The refurbishment was paid for by parishioners of nearby St. Helena Parish.) It is located in the center of the cemetery.
If you tour the cemetery grounds, you’ll find the graves of prominent winery families from the Napa Valley buried over the past century. One of the most prominent members of the clergy buried there is Father Patrick Blake, pastor of St. Helena 1892-1921. A century and more ago he was known for establishing many parishes in the Napa Valley, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Calistoga and Holy Family in Rutherford, and charities as well. He also led the efforts to rebuild St. Helena Parish after a fire. He is buried in front of the chapel.
Mission Dolores, San Francisco
Although not cemetery chapels per se, many of California’s Spanish mission churches have original cemeteries which are worth a visit. Mission Dolores in San Francisco is one of the best known.
Mission Dolores is located in the busy Mission District of the City of San Francisco. It was founded in 1776, five days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Established by Spanish Franciscans and built to serve the Ohlone Indians who inhabited the region, it is today the City’s oldest building. Blessed Junípero Serra, leader of the Franciscans, himself celebrated Mass there.
Towering on one side of the historic church is the newer Basilica church, along the other side is its cemetery, made famous by the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock classic movie Vertigo. Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak to the Mission Dolores cemetery, where her character visits the grave of Carlotta Valdes. Is the Kim Novak character a reincarnation of Carlotta? Ask a docent to show you the exact spot of the famous scene.