Natural burial to begin at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights

| May 16, 2019 | 0 Comments

Phyllis Strong, who worked in pollution control for the state of Minnesota, looks forward to The Catholic Cemeteries starting natural burial at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights June 1.

“I had looked at a lot of different natural burial options, and so at Resurrection … it incorporates the Catholic faith view that you bury the remains … in blessed ground,” said Strong, 71, a member of St. Louis King of France in St. Paul.

As a pollution prevention coordinator with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in St. Paul, now retired, Strong consulted with various industries to reduce toxins in their work. With the funeral industry, she researched burial options to find methods that used fewer chemicals, fossil fuels and metals than prevalent current customs. Those options pose hazards such as formaldehyde from embalming fluids seeping into the ground, she said.

Strong and her husband, Peter, 81, joined more than 50 other people at St. Peter in Mendota April 30 to learn about The Catholic Cemeteries’ natural burial process and site at Resurrection. Archbishop Bernard Hebda will bless the site, titled Gate of Heaven Preserve, on Memorial Day May 27. The cemetery set aside a section for natural burial, but it will continue to offer typical burial options.

“Jesus was laid to rest in a shroud without embalming and/or a burial vault,” said Joan Gecik, executive director of The Catholic Cemeteries, a Mendota Heights-based organization that oversees five Catholic cemeteries in the Twin Cities. “This has been the way Christians have honored their loved ones for most of the Church’s 2,000 years.”

Gecik said The Catholic Cemeteries researched doing natural burial and saw it as a response to Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” on ecology and care for the environment.

Natural burial uses a biodegradable container for the body, and the container goes directly into the ground without a burial vault. The body often is wrapped in a shroud and placed in a wicker or wood casket, or placed directly in the grave. At Resurrection, the body will be transported to the grave by cart, which people will pull, to reduce harm to the environment.

In natural burial, family and friends of the deceased may have a private viewing of the body within 72 hours after death. State law requires that the body be embalmed or refrigerated after that point.

Gecik presented some of the environmental hazards of regular burial, which included national statistics from California-based nonprofit Green Burial Council. Among the hazards, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid go into the ground annually as does 20 million board feet of hardwoods, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze and 64,500 tons of steel. Because cremation involves chemicals in the cremation process, cremation won’t be an option for natural burial at Resurrection.

Gecik said natural burial could save families money because it doesn’t involve the cost of embalming fluids, a fancier casket, head stone and a grave liner or burial vault. The cost will vary depending on what families do, such as the type of shroud or casket they choose, she said.

At the Gate of Heaven Preserve, prairie grass will cover the graves, and a cement walkway will lead to the grave sites. A rock monument at the entrance of each section will have the names, birth dates and death dates engraved for each of the deceased with a map of the plots. Gecik said the monument replaces individual markers to preserve the natural integrity of the prairie grass areas. She said more than 100 graves are planned for the preserve, and there is room for growth.

She encouraged attendees to meet with a Catholic Cemeteries family service counselor to plan for natural burial. Phyllis and Peter Strong plan to be buried that way when they die.

“You’re using less,” Phyllis Strong said about natural burial. “You’re one part of that choice of the population that’s saying, ‘This is one little thing that I can do to use less.’”

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