By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
The Discalced Carmelite Sisters centered their lives on the eternal — living a cloistered and contemplative simplicity for more than 60 years at Monastery of Mary Immaculate and St. Joseph on Newburg Road.
The sisters moved out in 2015 and sold the property to the Archdiocese of Louisville for $1 million. The archdiocese’s plan for the property will continue the sisters’ legacy of prayer and focus on eternal life.
The property is now part of the archdiocese’s Catholic Cemeteries, whose grounds at Calvary Cemetery share a boundary with the monastery’s property.
“We are going to be as respectful as possible of the building itself and be conscious of the legacy of the sisters,” said Javier Fajardo, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries.
The monastery property will add about three quarters of an acre to Calvary’s 200 acre-property, providing space for 600 to 700 in-ground burials and thousands of niches for cremated remains, said Fajardo.
“We’re here to provide a service to the Catholic community,” he said during an interview at Calvary last week. “The longer we can extend the life of our cemeteries the better — to serve as many families as possible.”
The former Carmelite Monastery Chapel will become a cemetery chapel and will be used for Committal Prayer Services, as an alternative to graveside services, prior to burial.
Calvary Cemetery currently has two chapels that can accommodate three dozen or so people. A third chapel will help alleviate some scheduling difficulties, said Fajardo.
“We have 1,000 burials a year, an average of three a day,” he said. “There are days when we don’t have a burial and others when we have nine. I’ve seen a day with 14 burials.”
“Having a third chapel will help with the busy days and accommodate larger services,” he said.
The chapel will also hold niches for cremated remains, which will be housed behind glass panels along the chapel’s interior walls. They will look similar to niches in Calvary’s other chapels, said Fajardo.
Work on the former Carmelite property is expected to begin this spring.
The chapel will be left virtually as-is, with the addition of the niches. The part of the monastery that housed the sisters’ cells and other domestic rooms will be razed.
A wall that currently divides the monastery’s property from the cemetery will be removed and a road will be added to connect the driveways at Calvary with the Carmelite property. The new road will end in a parking lot where the monastery now stands. The building will be entered through a main entrance off the parking lot.
There are 13 graves of Carmelite Sisters currently on the monastery grounds. Those will remain and space for seven more Carmelite burials has been set aside, said Fajardo.
The property along Newburg Road will be fenced in, leaving Calvary’s entrance as the only point of entry.
The grounds of the monastery will accommodate in-ground burials and outdoor columbariums that can hold thousands of cremated remains, said Fajardo.
Fajardo said cremation will change the efficiency of cemetery space for the future.
About 10 years ago, he said, Catholic Cemeteries saw a 14 percent cremation rate. But now 22 percent of burials involve cremation.
“Our job here is to give options to the families. Demand for cremation is growing,” he noted. “We want to extend the life of the cemetery as long as we can without having to go to a different location. Cremation will allow us to use space more efficiently.”
With the new space, Calvary Cemetery has about 50 to 60 years left, said Fajardo, noting there are sections of the cemetery not yet developed.
In addition to Calvary Cemetery, the archdiocese has three other cemeteries in Jefferson County. St. Michael Cemetery has 45 acres and space there is limited, Fajardo said. St. Louis Cemetery has 43 acres and is mostly full, he said. And St. John Cemetery’s nine acres are also mostly full.
The Holy See has allowed cremation since 1963, though the memory of its prohibition is still fresh for some Catholics.
According to Catholic Cemeteries, “The cremated remains of the body, due the same respect as the remains of the body, must be buried in a cemetery, entombed in a columbarium or buried at sea.”