A columbarium is a building or portion of a building where niches are placed to house cremated remains to honor and remember our deceased family and friends.
This page is intended to provide you with information regarding The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s, as well as information relative to cremation, the Church’s position on human remains and cremation, and the anticipated benefits for the Church and our community. We are hopeful you will find this information helpful.
In the 1930s, the City and County of San Francisco mandated the closure and removal of all cemeteries within its borders, with the exception of three historical sites: the Presidio, Mission Dolores, and the Neptune Society.
In 1963, the Catholic Church approved cremation for Catholics who so choose. According to the Church, cremated remains should be buried or entombed and receive the Rite of Committal in accordance with the teaching of the Corporal Works of Mercy. The Church teaches that the scattering of the remains, keeping them at home, or dividing them are not reverent dispositions.
In 2006, cremations reached 33% in the United States. In California the rate was higher than 50%. In 2009, slightly more than 50% of deceased California Catholics were cremated.
Some reasons for the increase in cremations include the cost of traditional burials in cemeteries, families wishing to keep loved ones close, and a changing and mobile society making visits to cemeteries difficult or often impossible. Cremation also addresses environmental concerns such as the use of open space, the reduction of the use of toxic chemicals, and saving trees and steel.
Presently there are five columbaria in San Francisco. One is non-denominational and four are Episcopal. They are, the Neptune Society (non-denominational), Grace Cathedral, St. Mary the Virgin, All Saints and St. Gregory’s Episcopal Churches. Currently there are no Catholic columbaria in the City of San Francisco. As a result, some Catholics are being inurned in secular and other-faith columbaria.
Only one of three Catholics cremated in 2009 was inurned according to the Church’s teachings, leaving as many as two-thirds in homes, scattered, or in other places, which are not in keeping with Church teachings.
Why a Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?
The Columbarium will promote the Corporal Works of Mercy by providing a proper inurnment with the reverence and dignity required by the Church. It will provide a Catholic alternative in the City and allow more Catholics the opportunity to inurn their loved ones in a Catholic columbarium, within a sacred church and within close proximity to their home.
The Columbarium will bring parishioners, family and friends closer to the church and provide member affinity since members are allowed to stay “at-home” in death, surrounded by loved ones, prayed for, and tended by the community for generations to come.
After a funeral rite or memorial service, family and friends will be able to continue to The Columbarium within the church for the inurnment of the loved one, concluding the service in a way that is quite holy and powerful.
We are a diverse parish, with over 3,200 registered parishioners who have a love of our church and strong connection with St. Dominic’s Church and to the Dominicans.
St. Dominic’s is centrally located, with good public transportation and parking for our visitors. We offer bi-lingual funeral services and an active grief-counseling ministry. Importantly we have the support and commitment of the Church staff, the Dominican Priory, the Western Dominican Province and the San Francisco Archdiocese.
Appearance and Placement
The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s will respectfully and discreetly complement the beautiful gothic architecture of St. Dominic’s. Family members and friends will have access to The Columbarium and will be able to pause and remember their loved ones in a quiet and private prayerful place. The niches will be placed out of sight of the nave, within the ambulatory walkway and the Friar’s Chapel behind the main altar. Materials will match the stone and architecture used throughout the Church’s construction.
The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s will be financially self-sustaining and will not require contributions or pledges. An endowment will be set up with the revenues in excess of The Columbarium’s expenses for the preservation of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church and the Dominican priory.
Frequently Asked Questions
In 1963, the Catholic Church removed the prohibition on cremation to allow deceased Catholics to be cremated if they so choose. The Church teaches that the cremated remains should be buried or entombed and should receive the "Rite of Committal" as an act of the Corporal Works of Mercy. The Church does not consider scattering the remains, keeping them at home, or dividing them among various family members to be reverent disposition.
We have prepared this page to provide information that may be helpful as you consider your support of The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s, whether or not you personally would consider cremation.
1. What is a columbarium?
A columbarium is a building, a room or a wall with niches for urns or boxes containing the cremated remains of the dead. Columbaria are also sometimes located in gardens or other outdoor locations. The word is derived from the Latin word columba which means the dwelling place of a dove. This name may have been chosen because of the resemblance of the burial niches to dovecotes, or because the dove also is a symbol of the Holy Spirit whose presence is associated with the resting place of the faithful departed.
2. What is a niche?
A niche is a space in a columbarium to be used for the inurnment of cremated human remains.
3. What is inurnment? Interment?
Inurnment describes the placement of a person’s ashes in a niche in a columbarium after cremation. Interment refers to the placement of a person’s body in a casket in the ground or in a mausoleum.
4. Why do some people choose cremation?
There are many reasons why people choose cremation. Since 1963, the number of Catholics choosing cremation has grown and now more than half of Catholics choose cremation for reasons including the cost of burials in cemeteries, the mobile society of today making visits to distant cemeteries difficult, environmental concerns about the use of land and resources for burials, the lack of availability of desirable burial plots, and the ability to keep the remains of loved ones nearby or to relocate cremated remains. The Church teaches that cremated remains are to be treated with the same respect as the full body of the departed. Inurnment in a columbarium meets this requirement.
5. How will St. Dominic’s pay for this columbarium?
The Columbarium will be self sufficient, meaning that there will be no community-wide drives to collect money to build or maintain The Columbarium. Funds to build and maintain will come from the pre-sales of niches and/or donations specifically for The Columbarium.
6. Who can be inurned at The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?
All registered parishioners of St. Dominic's and their family members may be inurned in The Columbarium. Other friends of St. Dominic’s may be memorialized on a plaque or on a bench.
7. Why should I choose a niche at The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?
Burial within the church itself or in the adjacent churchyard was once a common practice. Historically, Christians from the earliest time have buried their dead in the consecrated areas in close proximity to their place of worship where they could be remembered and their remains safeguarded. The Columbarium at St. Dominic's will be the first Catholic columbarium in San Francisco and will provide a resting place in a sacred and beautiful setting. St. Dominic’s Church is our spiritual home where the deceased will be able to remain with community, family and friends for generations to come.
8. What will the niches look like?
The niches will be dignified and respectful of the architecture of the Church. They will be sealed with a granite slab engraved with the name of the deceased and dates of birth and death.
9. Where will the niches be located within the Church?
The initial planning is for niches to be available in the Ambulatory, the Friar's Chapel Entrance, and inside the Friar's Chapel on each side of the altar. In the future, additional locations may be made available as needed. Niche installations will be unobtrusive so as not to affect the beauty of the Church.
10. May I specify a desired niche location?
Yes. Niches are selected and assigned on a first-come basis, and are permanently reserved upon complete payment of the niche subscription.
11. How do I determine the size and shape of urn?
St. Dominic’s will provide information about the type and size of urn that will be suited for the niches, and about resources where those urns are sold. Niches typically accommodate one or two urns depending on the niche size and the urn size.
12. Is there room in the niche for memorabilia?
Depending on the urn(s) selected and final design there may be limited space for small memorabilia.
13. Has pricing been established for St. Dominic’s Columbarium niches?
It is estimated that niche prices will vary from $4,200 to $15,200 depending upon location of the niche. This price is for up to 2 persons per niche. There will also be opening fees.
14. What if I can’t afford the lowest price?
It is St. Dominic’s plan to include a low cost community niche in The Columbarium at some time in the future for those who cannot otherwise afford an individual niche.
15. Is the cost of the niche tax deductible?
St. Dominic’s recommends that you consult with your tax advisor and offers no legal or tax advice. However, a portion may be tax-deductible.
16. How will The Columbarium be administered?
St. Dominic’s will establish a Columbarium Advisory Board at the church. The board will include a committee of laypersons and clergy.
17. What funeral rites are celebrated when a person is cremated and inurned?
All the usual celebrated funeral rites may also be celebrated in the presence of cremated remains. During the liturgies, the cremated remains are treated with the same dignity and respect as the body. After the funeral Mass or rites the remains are placed in The Columbarium for inurnment.
18. Where will the Funeral Mass and Memorial Services be celebrated?
Funeral Mass and memorial services will continue to be celebrated in the Church Nave or Our Lady Chapel. The Friars Chapel will be available as a private, peaceful, place for prayer.
19. May family and friends attend the inurnment?
Yes. They are encouraged to attend.
20. What are St. Dominic’s plans regarding The Columbarium in the case of a catastrophe, such as a major earthquake that destroys the Church?
The Church had to be demolished after the 1906 earthquake. Of course, it was rebuilt. If the Church building suffers a major catastrophe, restoring or rebuilding the Church would be the preferred course of action. That would include The Columbarium. In this event the remains would be inurned in the restored columbarium. We can only guess what the situation might be in the future. If The Columbarium will not be restored or rebuilt after a catastrophic event, our intention is to try to contact the relatives of the inurned person(s) to determine their wishes with respect to the remains. If we receive no other directions, or if the relatives prefer, we anticipate placing the remains in another sacred location.
21. If a deceased family member is buried or inurned elsewhere, is there an opportunity to memorialize him or her at The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?
Yes. There are 2 ways to memorialize your loved ones. The plans for The Columbarium include a wall of remembrance (a cenotaph), and memorial benches to be placed near the niches. The cenotaphs will have marble or granite faceplates. There will be 6 names per faceplate. There is one bench per family or individual. The memorials will contain the name, date of birth and date of death of individual persons to be memorialized so that they also can continue to be part of St. Dominic's.
22. Where will the revenue go that is generated by the columbarium?
Niche reservation revenue will pay The Columbarium’s construction and operating expenses, and will create a reserve for expansion. Any revenue in excess of these needs will be placed in an endowment for the preservation of St. Dominic’s Church and the Dominican Priory.
23. When will The Columbarium be operational?
The initial plan provides for 320 niches. Approximately 100 of the niches will need to be pre-sold prior to construction beginning. After this has been accomplished, the estimated time for the completion of construction is two to three months.
24. Who should I contact for more information?
Please contact Judie Doherty (415-652-6166) or Don Fitzgerald (415-749-2781) or Michael Rossi (415-567-7824) or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the future there will be informational meetings you may attend. Notices about the meetings and The Columbarium will be printed in the Church Bulletin going forward.
Death is part of everyone’s life. By acknowledging and supporting each other in planning,
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