What inspires the love of a vision so much, that like the Biblical finding ‘a pearl of great worth’, a family gives its heart and soul, time and treasure to it, without counting the costs? For our family that pearl of great worth was given the name, Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery and Prayer Gardens for its conception in the Year of the Rosary in 2003. The vision was of a beautiful, faith-filled cemetery of consolation, peace, and natural beauty. Celebrations of our faith in the ‘love that never dies’ and a return to the art of memorialization are central to that vision. On May 1, 2014, we celebrate that a decade ago, we opened our gates of our Marian sanctuary for the first time.
Since that day, 1600 people of all faiths, some coming long distances, have chosen Our Lady as their “sleeping place” (the Greek meaning of cemetery). The theme of the Resurrection reminds us that while we long for the glorious Return of Our Lord, we also await with ‘joyful anticipation’ the Great Reunion with our loved ones who have gone to sleep before us. The cemetery with all its beautiful sacred art and monuments, its fields of flowers and plentiful signs of love and care-taking, reflects that expectation of the return of the Bridegroom for his Bride, and the wondrous beauty of the wedding feast.
The idea of Our Lady was conceived on Oct. 21, 2002, at a daily Mass with then Father Michael Mulvey, our parish priest and family friend. Fr. Mulvey mentioned in his homily that it was the feast day of Pope St. Callixtus, who was martyred in the catacombs while saying Mass with his deacons in 222 and is credited with starting cemeteries above ground, with flowers, evergreens, and symbols of faith. After that Mass, I asked Fr. Mulvey (now Bishop of Corpus Christi) why we didn’t have a Catholic Cemetery. That absence had bothered him too, and he asked me to do some preliminary research on starting a new cemetery, and would ask his fellow priests when gathering that week their opinion on the matter. With a new Catholic school and plans for a new Church, Fr. Mulvey delivered the disappointing news that he had been advised against starting a cemetery. Then came the idea of asking if our family could start the cemetery.
With the hearty approval of Bishop Gregory Aymond to the idea, Our Lady of the Rosary became the first privately owned Catholic cemetery in America. The 20 acre property selected near St. Helen Church in Georgetown seemed part of a divine plan for a burial sanctuary, thousands of years in the making. Its hilltop view overlooking the San Gabriel River Valley gently slopes down through undisturbed meadows of amazing wildflowers to a forest, spring fed pond and natural waterfall. There was even a beautiful grotto area beside the pond where we put our very first piece of sacred art of Mother Teresa, in the year 2003, when the beloved saint was declared ‘Blessed’.
Our natural approach to the grounds has gained us the invaluable and inspired help of the Native Plant Society of Texas and the Master Gardeners of Williamson County. Working under the leadership of Cindy Stone, the Native Plant Society has been focusing on the contemplative areas in the woods and around our waterfall and spring fed pond- – developing a butterfly way station, planting native flowers and grasses, mulching, and creating additional habitat for the wildlife that takes sanctuary there from the encroaching development. To attract additional butterflies the Master Gardeners of Williamson County, under the leadership of Claire Hall, have landscaped and planted numerous plants in the Butterfly Garden that will also attract a multitude of butterflies.
On Oct. 3, 2004, the Feast Day of St. Francis, Bishop Gregory Aymond blessed Our Lady of the Rosary. Senator Steven Ogden, the sponsor of the necessary Senate Bill to permit a new cemetery, joined the dedication. Led by a delegation of Knights of Columbus, who had been so faithful to Our Lady during the hearing process and onwards, for most of the scores of people there, attendance at blessing of a new Catholic cemetery was a first!
In 2005, Our Lady of the Rosary was the only American cemetery to be a winner in the prestigious, international Stoneguard Phoenix Competition in London. Our Lady took fourth place for her Master Plan– designed by architect/stone carver Holly Kincannon and Nick Brumder. Attuned to the stunning features of the land, the design contrasts the sunny open meadows where the Marian Garden and St. Francis Garden lie, and the shady contemplative areas by the pond: The Mother Teresa Grotto, the Prayer Path of St. Francis (with cremation burial following the prayer shrines) and Walk of the Beatitudes leading to the waterfall. Holly, who designed and carved many of our first monuments in native stone, went to London to receive the award, and another first for Our Lady. Now Holly is part of a team of 12 artists, led by chief monument designer and founder, Nick Brumder, which includes Fr. Jairo Lopez’s work in mosaics, Fr. Andrew John’s bronze sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the baby’s garden, Mary Melinda Brumder’s masterpiece, the Immaculate Conception in the Marian Garden, and June Doerr’s sculpture of the Mother Teresa and many other monument pieces.
The cemetery has been featured on PBS Central Texas Gardener local public television, which was viewed across many parts of the country, and Our Lady has received glowing attention from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for her uncommonly diverse plant life. In addition to being the first xeriscaped Perpetual Care Cemetery in the US, Our Lady became the first Perpetual Care Cemetery to offer the ‘green burial’ option —welcoming a natural, Franciscan approach in addition to the traditional and cremation burials. Natural burial is simply the old fashioned kind—without concrete vaults or embalming, often using a simple wood box.
This May 1 is a day of remembrance of the remarkable history of Our Lady of the Rosary, the struggles, the sorrows, learning to trust and move forward in faith, as well as to note the devotion and accolades Our Lady has received. People of all faiths are at rest under a blanket of wildflowers, a sign of unity and that all people are sacred, unique, and exquisitely loved by God. All are welcome to come pray, walk, enjoy the sacred art and natural beauty at Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrating a decade of Consolation. Our pearl of great worth.