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The Columbarium at St. Dominic's

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General Information

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.

Why a Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?

The Columbarium supports and nutures the Corporal Works of Mercy though appropriate inurnment respect, reverence, dignity, and hope of the Ressurrection that is required by the Church. The Columbarium provides a Catholic alternative in the City and allows 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 stay at their church 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 located within the church for the inurnment of their 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 Consolation Ministry. Importantly, we have the support and commitment of the Church staff, the Dominican Priory, the Western Dominican Province and the San Francisco Archdiocese.

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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 cremated 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. The choice of cremation is expected to continue to increase.

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.

Before 2012, there were 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. As a result, some Catholics may have been inurned in secular and other-faith columbaria. Currently there is only one Catholic columbaria in the City of San Francisco: The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s.

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.

Appearance and Placement

The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s respectfully and discreetly complements the beautiful gothic architecture of St. Dominic’s. Family members and friends have access to The Columbarium and will be able to pause and remember their loved ones and all those you have died in a quiet and private prayerful place in accordance with the Spritiual Works of Mercy. The niches are reverently placed behind the Grand Main Altar of the Church within the Friar’s Chapel, and along the ambulatory walkway that encircles the altar. Materials match the stone and architecture used throughout the Church’s construction.

Memorial Plaques - Remembering Those Who Have Gone Before Us

Preserve the memory of your family members, friends, or those who have been special to you and who are buried, inurned or scattered elsewhere. Keep them close to you in prayer for generations to come. Memorialize them with a plaque in The Columbarium at St. Dominic's, located within St. Dominic’s Catholic Church. (The Catholic Church prohibits the scattering of remains, however you may remember and honor them with a memorial plaque).

Memorial plaques are located in the ambulatory walkway adjacent to the columbarium niches. See the image above or take a walk through The Columbarium to view them personally. While there, say a prayer for all those resting here, memorialized on the benches and Memorial Wall of Remembrance.

Memorial plaques are available to parishioners and non-parishioners and to all those who have an affiliation with or affection for St. Dominic’s.

Each memorial plaque include 2 engraved lines; one for the name of the person, the second for dates of birth and death. Memorial plaques are $300 per name or a full faceplate of 6 memorial plaques for $1,800. There is one name per plaque.

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 information regarding The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s to provide information that may be helpful as you consider your support of the Columbarium, 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 cremated remains in a niche in a columbarium, mausoleum, or in sacred ground and after a funeral service.

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 San Francisco Catholics choose cremation. Some reasons include deeply held person preferences, the cost of traditional burials, the potential difficulty of making visits to distant cemeteries, environmental concerns about the use of land and resources and the lack of cemeteries in San Francisco, and the desire to keep the remains of loved ones nearby in a Catholic Columbarium. 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 is self sufficient, meaning no community-wide drives were used to collect money to build or maintain The Columbarium. Funds to build and maintain The Columbarium have come from the pre-sales and sales of niches, memorial plaques, benches, and/or donations specifically for The Columbarium.

6. Who can be inurned at The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?

All registered parishioners and approved associate members 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. Only registered parishioners who are or have been involved through consistent volunteering, service or participation at St. Dominic’s who also qualify for financial assistance will be considered for the Community Pedestal.

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 is the first Catholic columbarium in San Francisco and provides “ A Sacred Place of Rest, Near in Prayer and Near to the Lord’s Table”. St. Dominic’s Church is our spiritual home where our deceased loved ones will be prayed and cared for by the community and our family and friends in faith and hope of the Resurrection for generations to come. A Mass is said daily for “Those Resting Here”

8. What do the niches look like?

The niches are dignified and respectful of the architecture of the beautiful gothic architecture of St. Dominic’s Church. The niches are sealed with an engraved faceplate with the name of the deceased person(s), the date of birth and date of death.

9. Where are the niches, memorial benches and memorial plaques located within the Church?

The niches are reverently place behind the Grand Main Altar of the Church, within the Friar’s Chapel, and along the ambulatory walkway that encircles the altar. Memorial Benches and The Wall of Remembrance are also located in the Ambulatory. The niches will accommodate one or two individuals. The Community Pedestal will be located in the narthex.

10. May I specify a desired niche location?

Yes, individual and double niches in The Columbarium are reserved on a first-come basis at the time of purchase with the first payment and are reserved permanently upon complete payment of the niche subscription.

However, the location of the spaces in the Community Pedestal may not be specified by the subscriber. They are assigned on a first-come basis at the time of committal are permanently reserved upon application approval and complete payment, if payment is applicable.

11. How do I determine the size and shape of urn?

The Columbarium provides information sheets explaining the actual size of the niche and the type and size of urn that is suited for the various niches and spaces in the Community Pedestal. Niches vary in size and location and can accommodate one or two urns.

12. Is there room in the niche for memorabilia?

Depending on the urn(s) selected there may be limited space for small memorabilia inside the niche. This does not apply to the Community Pedestal where space for memorabilia is not available.

13. What are the niche prices?

Parishioners need to contact The Columbarium to find out prices for currently available niches.

14. What if I can’t afford the lowest price?

The Columbarium offers a lower cost or no-cost community pedestal niche option for those parishioners who cannot otherwise afford an individual niche and meet specific criteria.  They must be a registered parishioner and be or have been involved in the parish through consistent volunteering, service, or participation at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church and qualify for financial assistance.

15. Is the cost of the niche, memorial bench or memorial plaque 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 considered a charitable contribution. For niches, you will receive a Fair Market Estimate tax letter in January only for the portion you paid within a given calendar year. The full amount paid for Memorial Plaques paid for in a calendar may be considered a charitable contribution.

16. Are payment plans available?

Yes, for niches and community spaces only. There are no-interest payment plans available for niches and for the Community Pedestal, but not for memorial plaques, which are paid in full at time of purchase. Memorial plaques are available for $300 per name.

17. How is The Columbarium administered?

An Advisory Board administers the Columbarium. Governing Documents, By-Laws, and Articles of Agreement exists to govern the Board. The Board includes a committee of laypersons and the clergy. The pastor is a member of the advisory board, as well as an ex officio.

18. 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 full body. After the Funeral Mass or rites the remains are placed in The Columbarium for inurnment.

19. 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.

20. May family and friends attend the inurnment?

Yes. They are encouraged to attend.

21. 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, we believe 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 St. Dominic’s Church and 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.

22. If a deceased family member or loved one is buried or inurned elsewhere, is there an opportunity to memorialize him or her at The Columbarium at St. Dominic’s?

Yes.  You may memorialize your loved ones and friends on The Wall of Remembrance (a cenotaph), with a memorial plaque for $300 per name. The memorial plaques are located in the ambulatory adjacent to the niches. Memorial plaques include the name, the date of birth, and date of death of each individual.  For information on purchasing memorial plaques Click Here.

23. Where will the revenue go that is generated by the columbarium?

Niche reservation revenue will pay for The Columbarium’s construction, maintenance, operating expenses, and a reserve. Any revenue in excess of these needs will be placed in an endowment for the preservation of The Columbarium, the two buildings of St. Dominic’s Church & the Dominican Priory.

24. How can I get more information?

First go on line at www.stdominics.org/columbarium or email questions to thecolumbarium@stdominics.org or Contact Us.

A Special Note to Families Now Honoring Cremated Remains in Their Homes

We encourage you to consider inurnment at the The Columbarium or another Catholic Sacred Place. Please provide your loved ones a permanent home in a sacred place of rest and prayer in faith and hope of the Resurrection for generations to come.