Ashes to Ashes, Prayers to God
Ellen and Nicholas Brumder, along with stonework artist Holly Kincannon, had more in mind than just a final resting place for their clients’ loved ones when they set out to design a new burial ground.
They envisioned a site that would combine the natural beauty of the Texas hill country with Catholic prompts to prayer about life in this world and the world to come.
It was to be a fitting place to pray, in particular, each Nov. 1 and 2, feasts of All Saints and All Souls, respectively.
The Brumders had been inspired by their travels through the ancient cemeteries of Europe, where sculpture, masonry and ironwork lift heart and mind to God.
And so Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery of Georgetown, Texas — as much an outdoor sanctuary as a graveyard — was launched.
So successful were the founders in turning their vision into reality that their cemetery was awarded the Premier Award for Total Concept Design in the Stoneguard Phoenix Award, an international competition whose latest ceremonies were held in London, England, in July.
Assessors for the competition made specific allusion to the prominent level of community involvement in the design of Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery, as well as the “sympathetic integration” of memorials in the environment.
While the cemetery serves as a place of quiet reflection, they noted, the natural environment will also serve as a learning center about plant life and offer nature trails for exploring.
When the Brumders built the cemetery, they were responding to a real need in their diocese. The Diocese of Austin is home to more than 125 parishes and more than 400,000 Catholics.
On my recent visit to Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery, I encountered — before even exploring the lovely grounds — a wonderful witness to the Catholic faith. This came in the person of Ellen Brumder herself.
Here, I thought, is a Catholic living out the universal call to holiness within the parameters of the apostolate in which God has placed her. You wouldn't expect a person associated with a graveyard to be filled with childlike faith and joy over her work, but that's exactly what you find in Ellen.
Surely this spirit of consoling yet joyful hope is exactly what bereaved family members need to see when they come to visit their loved ones’ graves.
What's more, Ellen Brumder evinces real concern over the ways in which secular society denies and trivializes the meaning of death. And she expresses her concern in the language of one who thinks with the Church.
“One of the theological points [people need to bear in mind] about death is that everyone is so focused on the soul,” she points out. It's easy to forget, she adds, that “the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We want to reflect the faith and life of every person who is buried here. “Catholic cemeteries enable the faithful to carry out a corporal work of mercy by burying their beloved departed,” she continues, “while teaching respect for life and the dignity of those who, even in death, remain part of the Church.”
Physically, Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery is as memorable as any beautiful basilica.
The main entrance signals the Catholicity of the cemetery with a soaring iron cross designed and created by Nicholas Brumder. I learned that plans are under way to erect supporting obelisks on either side.
A horse pasture, complete with roaming mares, tall grass and a “Texas fence” of tree limbs and barbed wire borders the driveway on one side. On the other is the wooded Walk of the Beatitudes.
As you enter, the 20-acre expanse opens into view. In the spring, the grounds are carpeted in Texas wildflowers dominated by the state flower, bluebonnet; you'll also spot Indian paintbrush and verbena.
The eyes are immediately drawn to the 20-foot Resurrection Cross and Circle on the hill. This cross, too, is a creation of Nicholas Brumder.
The area around the Resurrection Circle is reserved as the final resting place for priests and brothers of the diocese. In spring the hill is awash in lavender verbena, the Church's color for Lent.
Four gardens surround the cross: the Marian Garden with a Walk of the Rosary, St. Francis Garden, John Paul II Garden and St. Florian Veteran's Garden.
A special area for miscarried, stillborn and early-death babies is set aside in Our Lady of Guadalupe Garden of Precious Love.
Tree-canopied walks are abundant all around the cemetery, most notably in the Walk of the Beatitudes, Mother Teresa Grotto and Path of St. Francis. Benches and pathways are dotted throughout to give the visitor many choices of quiet areas to reflect and pray.
Artists from Texas and as far away as Austria are involved in the ongoing creation of this unique final resting place. June Doerr sculpted the beautiful bronze bust of Mother Teresa located in the Mother Teresa Grotto. Father Andrew John Wincheck cast in bronze the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Garden of Precious Love. (Father Wincheck was a personal friend and confessor to Mother Teresa.) And Austrian Marie Rohrmeyer is creating the Franciscan tiles for the Path of St. Francis.
The feasts of All Saints and All Souls may be the best two days of the year to visit Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery. But this is one place where it's fitting to pray deeply about life, death and the life to come every day of the year.
Zeta Angelich writes from Austin, Texas.
Planning Your Visit
Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 with schoolchildren from nearby St. Helen's hunting for white roses on the Walk of the Beatitudes. These they'll bring to the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There will also be a guided nature walk and refreshments will be served. For more information, go to olotr.com or call (866) 999-9657.
The cemetery is 30 miles north of Austin, Texas, on Interstate 35. Exit in Georgetown on Hwy. 29 off I-35. Travel east 3.7 miles. Turn left on Berry Lane. Entrance is on the right. For more information, go to olotr.com or call (866) 999-9657.
- October 30-November 5, 2005