July 29, 2022

Catholic Cemeteries, “Gravediggers,” Cemetery Services Team

Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Archdiocese of Cincinnati

By Kate Joyce Thesing


The first Catholic Cemetery was established with the first burial, of the first disciple, of Jesus Christ after the event of His Resurrection from the dead. That first burial was so different from all burials prior to it. Those first believers witnessed something radically new in human history.

The good news about the Risen Christ was witnessed then shared throughout the world. The burial of the dead then became common to be close to where the faithful gathered to celebrate the Mass. Overtime, in America, as land values and other costs rose, many US Archdioceses implemented a plan to provide additional cemeteries for the burial needs in growing suburban areas like Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, starting in 1947, with the first  interment in 1948.

There are so many important responsibilities for all of the Gate of Heaven Cemetery team.  Many of those are with the “gravediggers,” our Cemetery Services team. Through extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, snow, sleet, or hail, six days of the week, our grounds team always prevails.  It is expected from them and they persevere.

Throughout history, there have been many notable “gravediggers,” and one particular was Abraham Lincoln, later President of the United States. He worked as a sexton in a church yard in Spencer County, Indiana.  Yes. The old title and responsibility, “gravedigger,” is still a daily need in our Catholic Cemetery. However, that title has changed over time.  Here at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, we have many cemetery grounds responsibilities.  One particular daily position is of the Cemetery Services team.

The Cemetery Services responsibilities are preparing gravesites for interments and assisting in loading/unloading caskets. They repair graves that have settled and install markers, crypt, and niche plaques. They operate mowing and trimming equipment used in care and maintenance of the cemetery. They also remove flowers and related items from cemetery grounds every week for mowing.  Working safely and complying with the Cemetery’s operating procedures every day is required along with the proper use of protective equipment. The Cemetery Services effectively work with others to accomplish tasks. Respect and sensitivity to families visiting while working in a physically demanding environment is a daily responsibility with many other multi-tasks too.  Many of us see their daily care and compassion when they stop what they are doing to help an individual or family find their loved one’s gravesite. We also have our Superintendent of Cemetery Services, Cemetery Services Supervisor, Cemetery Services Equipment Building Manager Coordinator, Cemetery Services Operator and Cemetery Services Landscape Lead, who have exclusive detailed roles on these 160 acres, yet also wear many other hats to assist all of their teammates. All of this team live out their day to day responsibilities in action, in service and in ministry.

This 2022 is the 30-year anniversary for our outstanding, Cemetery Services Superintendent, Jeff Calvert, here at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Jeff started at Gate of Heaven at a very young age and shared with us how throughout his years here, he has seen many changes in the products offered to meet the changing needs of families.  Some of these changes range from the different equipment options for the grounds and the different methods for burials, always looking at how to meet different needs, wants and options.

When asking Jeff how these years employed here at Gate of Heaven Cemetery have affected his life, he shared, “Throughout the past 29 years, soon to be thirty, working here at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, I have met some dedicated family members that visit regularly. I always hope that I have made a difference in their lives, as they have in mine, during the hardest times of their lives. I like being able to serve others in the way of making one of the toughest times of their lives a little easier.”

The “Book of Blessings,” shares a prayer for the blessings of cemeteries. This prayer, through the years, has been a part of cemeteries, their “gravediggers” and their cemetery services who prepare the final resting place.

                May the bodies here sleep in your peace,

                to rise immortal at the coming of Your Son.

                May this place be a comfort to the living,

                a sign of their hope for unending life.

                May prayers be offered here continually in

                supplication for those who sleep in Christ,

                and in constant praise of Your Mercy.

In our history of Catholicism, there are particular saints that have a feast day and are known as the patron saints of gravediggers and cemeteries.  July 23rd is the Feast Day of Saint Phocas, the Patron Saint of Gardeners and Gravediggers.  October 14th is the Feast Day of Saint Callistus I, pope and martyr, the Patron Saint of Cemetery Workers.

Do you remember these old phrases?  “You never know what is on the other side of that fence.” “You must always put yourself in the shoes of others.”  Let’s combine those two phrases and take time to remind ourselves of the “gravediggers,” the “cemetery services team workers,” and their daily labor, no matter what the forecast is that day.  Let us show and share our respect and appreciation to them for all of their daily responsibilities, their labor, and their ministry on the other side of this “gate” on Montgomery Road, on this sacred ground, at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Archdiocese of Cincinnati. We are so blessed to have them!