Calvary Cemetery preps for Memorial Day



A whirlwind of preparation is happening at Calvary Cemetery right now for its biggest event of the year: Memorial Day.

“Typically, we have more people visit the cemetery on Memorial Day than all the other days of the year combined,” said Terry Miller, Calvary Caretaker.

A special Memorial Day Mass will be held at 8:45 a.m. on Monday, May 30th. Father

Fr Tim Reker

Timothy Reker of St. Joseph the Worker and Holy Family Catholic churches will be the celebrant.

“In the past, we’ve had anywhere from 100 to 700 people attending. It really depends on the weather,” said Terry.

While the Mass is said within Calvary Chapel, many of the visitors sit outside on lawn chairs and hear the service through the P.A. system.

Immediately following Mass, American Legion Post 11 will conduct a ceremony at the veterans’ memorial on the east side of the chapel.

Terry has some good advice for the event visitors:

  • Park on Goodyear Avenue in front the cemetery and walk in to avoid being blocked in the cemetery.
  • Bring lawn chairs in case you cannot get a seat inside the chapel.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather that morning.
  • Ground decorations are allowed to be placed on sites on or after May 23rd but must be removed by Monday, June 6th. (To decorate year round, you must have a cemetery-approved pot stand in a concrete pad — certain areas only. Please check with staff.)
  • No glass containers are allowed — please anchor flowers well or the wind will take them.


Spring weather kicks up Wings of Hope activity

wings of hope 1_4.16Although the month of April contains the annual hammer of the U.S. income tax deadline, April does bring spring. And in Minnesota, spring is no small blessing.

We get to shed months of cold and gloom and be outside in comfort again. Spring is particularly welcome at Calvary Cemetery.

At Calvary, this year’s thaw brings renewed work on the cemetery’s exciting new addition – the Wings of Hope Memorial. This will be a new area of the cemetery dedicated as the resting place for children who are lost in miscarriage.

When the project paused last fall, the walkway pavers and the concrete footing for the memorial had been put in place, and trees had been moved to help screen the area off from the rest of the cemetery. Then landscaping work stopped for the winter.

Last week, Caretaker Terry Miller set up the two pillars that flank the paver walkway entrance from the cemetery roadway. That officially kicked off the project re-start.

Not everything about the project was dormant though. Over the winter, artisan Tom Miller has been working the stone memorial itself – the sculpted image of an infant cradled in angel’s wings. That will be eventually provide the visual centerpiece for the new section.

Plans also include the installation of several granite benches and a wrought-iron fence.

Discussions are underway about the eventual dedication of the new area. Those arrangements will probably be announced prior to Memorial Day.

The members of Project Embrace, the volunteer group spearheading the project, are looking for donations to complete the $25,000 fundraising effort. It’s still possible to “buy” a paver and have the name of a lost loved one engraved into the stone. Tom Miller will soon be engraving the purchased pavers. For more information go to

Tax-deductible donations can also be made to the cemetery for the Wings of Hope project. Simply write your check out to “Calvary Cemetery” and put “Wings of Hope donation” in the memo line.

Remember that you can always call Terry with questions. He can be reached at 507-995-1010.

Honor a loved one with a tree or a bench

"In Memory Of" marker at the base of one of Calvary's many trees.

Cemeteries are all about remembering and commemorating people we have lost. We go to a cemetery to bury our loved ones and return to the cemetery to see their name in stone and remember them.

A memorial marker also tells the world that the person we miss was loved and was worthy of love.

There are other memorials available, besides gravestones, for those laid to rest at Calvary. The cemetery has many trees available for “In Memory Of” marker placement. Terry Miller, Calvary Caretaker, also reports that it is sometimes possible to place a memorial tree in a certain area of the cemetery.

“We have about 100 trees growing in the northeast corner of the cemetery that we can move to a desired area if space warrants it,” said Terry.

Memorial trees are a long tradition at Calvary.

“People sometimes use leftover money from funeral donations,” said Terry. “We also offer ‘in memory of’ benches. We have some in place for sale that just need to be lettered with your loved one’s name. Or, if space permits, we can have a bench installed in a certain area.”

Anyone interested in an “In Memory Of” tree or bench can call Terry at (507) 995-1010.

'In Memory Of' bench

Fresh versus artificial flowers

While the practice of decorating graves is not as popular as it once was, it is still

An elegant and well-tended display.

An elegant and well-tended display.

practiced. The big day for this is still Memorial Day. At Calvary, there are more visitors during Memorial Day weekend than the rest of the year combined.

Flowers are the principle decoration. While all flowers must be put into an approved container, the big choice is whether to buy fresh or artificial flowers.

To the general public, artificial flowers on a grave probably make a lot of sense. They can be cheaper, they last longer and their color fades slowly. What’s not to like?

But there are reasons Calvary favors the use of real flowers for grave site decorations.

Real flowers may not last long, especially in the colder months, but their brief beauty is in keeping with the natural, garden-like setting of the cemetery. There’s also an appropriate analogy between the brief beauty of the flower and the brevity of human life.

Mankato florist Jeanie (owner of Flowers by Jeanie) reports that the majority of her customers buy fresh flowers for grave site decorating. It doesn’t matter to them, Jeanie says, that the flowers do not last. What’s important is that a visit was made.

(Jeanie has a charming story about cemetery visitation. Her mother was in the habit of visiting and tending the grave of her husband. His grave  happened to be next to the grave of a woman whose husband also visited regularly. Jeanie’s mother and the widower eventually got to know each other. One thing led to another, and the two started dating and eventually married!)

Although artificial flowers are durable, the weather will eventually destroy them. When real flowers fall apart, they just quietly disappear. When artificial flowers eventually fall apart, their scattered pieces must be picked up by hand. Very few cemetery caretakers are bullish on artificial displays.

A display in need of repair or removal.

A display in need of repair or removal.

While Calvary’s rules state that artificial flower displays must be changed or updated twice a year, many are installed by visitors for Memorial Day and left there. More often than not, they are removed by the caretakers or the wind when they fall apart or become hopelessly unattractive.

Remember that even a strong concrete, stone or ceramic pot is not a match for the Minnesota winter. When the freeze hits, the moisture in the dirt expands and the pot may crack.

If you are thinking of decorating the grave of a loved one and have questions, please check the Rules & Regulations page on this blog or talk with Terry Miller, Calvary’s Caretaker. The Calvary Board of Directors and Terry want you to enjoy your visits to the cemetery.


What is ‘perpetual care?’

With the warmer weather and spring approaching, Caretaker Terry Miller has been removing the holiday wreaths.

Many people think of cemeteries as quiet places.

While it’s true that things move slowly and quietly by human reckoning, cemeteries have a different lifespan than you and I. Ideally, a cemetery’s life spans centuries instead of decades.

After all, when you lay a family member to rest you would expect your descendants to be able to visit on a pleasant summer morning many years from now, read the stones in quiet wonder and try to imagine what that family member was like, how he or she lived and how the historical events during her life affected her. You would also expect the cemetery to be as well kept and manicured as it was the day of the burial.

With care, cemeteries can age slowly and gracefully. But any caretaker would tell you that grass does not mow itself, trees and brush require continual pruning and that even the stones need an occasional power wash. Add to that building upkeep, drainage and irrigation, snow plowing, fence upkeep and a thousand other housekeeping issues not related to excavation and burial.

Part of Calvary Cemetery’s mission is to strive for “perpetual care.” Perpetual care means that in 40 or 100 years the grass will still be mowed, the chapel look well kept and the grounds neat and tidy.

Thanks to uncommon foresight, the cemetery has been continually saving for decades for the point in time that the cemetery is full and income from burials dries up.

Caretaker Terry Miller estimates that Calvary will not be filled for at least another 150 years, especially with the growing popularity of cremation. Cremation burials take much less room than casket burials.

“The board and I are very grateful for the sound money management that began decades ago,” Terry said. “A portion of the money coming in for every property sale, along with donations, goes to the Perpetual Care Fund. That means we should be able to provide upkeep for generations to come.”

Terry clarified that “perpetual care” does not extend to the gravestones. Those are the responsibility of the family of the deceased. That includes damage from vandalism. Fortunately vandalism has not been a problem for over 25 years, Terry said. However, the bases under older stones sometimes fail and reinforcement work has to be done. That is also the responsibility of the family.

“In all my time here, I have only seen one marker crack and break, and the person’s homeowner’s insurance covered it,” Terry reported.

Details aside, Calvary Cemetery families can feel reassured that decades from now, the final resting place of their loved ones will look as pristine and cared for as it does today.


Tips for winter cemetery visits

Granted, it’s been a strange winter in Minnesota. In October, the experts forecasted a warmer winter. And it has been…waiting until later than usual to drop into the traditional mix of numbing temps and the annoying salt coating over roads, cars and overcoats.

The next few days show some promise with temps in the 40s — Friday’s forecast is boasting a high of 50. As the snow retreats in the heat, the gravestones at Calvary may seem to grow taller or become visible again.

“Calvary changes dramatically in the winter months with lots of snow,” said Terry Miller, Calvary’s Caretaker. “Hopefully it’s almost over, but we still have a ways to go.”

How do you make the most of a cemetery visit during the winter? Here are Terry’s best tips for finding and maintaining your family lot(s) in the snowclad months:

  • If you are in an area where pot stands are allowed, do something unique in your pot, keeping with the winter theme. Greens with accents and pine cones are timeless and classy. Maybe paint your stand a different color.
  • Artificial flowers are not allowed in the winter months. And, although they may last longer, artificial flowers just do not give off the same feeling of natural beauty.
  • Pick a landmark. Some people count how many trees to go before they stop.
  • Know which street to use. All streets in Calvary have names prominently displayed on tall street signs.
  • In Resurrection Garden and the Rosary Garden, plant stands are not allowed. But you can order a wreath from the cemetery staff. The crew places those on stands by your lot, and those remain until the snow melts, giving you a winter-long marker.
  • Calvary’s streets are always promptly plowed. But always be on guard for slippery ice.
  • Ask for help — Terry and the staff are there to help visitors. Terry, who literally grew up at Calvary, can walk to any grave, even in the deepest snow.

2015 stats show blog readship growing

Not that we can claim viral growth, but Calvary’s blog did see an healthy uptick in readership in 2015 over 2014 with hits from all over the world.

In 2015, the blog welcomed 1,574 visitors, up appreciably from 1,180 in 2014. Total views topped the 5,000-mark at 5,154, up from 4,622 in 2014.

Of course most of our visitors hail from the United States and Canada. But some visitors came from more exotic climes, namely Malta, Germany and Slovakia.

The blog home page, history page and the cemetery map topped the charts in most views. It’s good to see that the map is well viewed. First and foremost, the blog was created to provide visitors, who need to make arrangements for the burial of a family member, with immediate reference material.

During our first full year (2014), we logged 17 posts. That number climbed dramatically in 2015 to 34. We hope to do better in 2016.



Calvary welcomes new board members

At its January meeting, the Calvary Board of Directors welcomed two new members.

To represent all four Catholic parishes in the Greater Mankato / North Mankato area, the Board prefers to have a member of the clergy and a lay representative from each parish.

To achieve this level of representation, the Board welcomed two new lay members.

Doug Sjulstad

Doug Sjulstad is the new lay representative from St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church. In addition to being a successful salesman at Lagers of Mankato, Inc. for over 30 years, Doug worked several summers at Calvary Cemetery with the current caretaker, Terry Miller.

Tom Kiffe also joined the board as lay representative for Holy Rosary Catholic Church in North Mankato. Tom (photo not available) also has experience in the funeral business. Before he retired, Tom worked with Mankato Mortuary for several years.

“Having these new lay representatives is great,” said Terry. “But having people who have some past experience with Calvary is an extra benefit.”

In other business, the Board reviewed projects completed in 2015 and projects up for completion in 2016.

One of the finished projects was the installation of new carpeting at the base of the Calvary Chapel altar.

The most significant 2016 project will be the completion of the Wings of Hope addition for children lost in pregnancy. This innovative addition is scheduled for completion in this spring.

(For more information on Wings of Hope see previous blog posts.)

Calvary Chapel altar





More about gravestones


Tom Miller

Tom Miller

On November 12th, we published a post about cemetery markers or gravestones as the start of an intended series. That post included information about marker requirements at Calvary and discussed why it’s better to order a marker before it’s needed.

One of the posts in this series was going to be about the history of gravestones. But internet research revealed a fabulous article already exists on the International Southern Cemetery Gravestones Association website: .

Along with information about the history of gravestones and the evolution of public cemeteries, the ISCGA site has a great depth of material on the different types of markers, along with good practical advice on “Choosing a Gravestone for Mom or Dad,” along with “Inspirational Verses” for gravestones and even information on “Pet Gravestones and Markers.”

There are a lot of synonyms for “gravestones” – headstones, tombstones, markers, monuments. A visit to almost any large cemetery will also show you that there can be a huge variety of shapes and sizes.

Most of the markers created for Calvary Cemetery are now done by Tom Miller, well-known Mankato area sculptor ( ). In addition to many of the signature monuments at Calvary, Tom has created some of the prominent landmarks in Mankato, including the limestone buffalo that showcases downtown’s Reconciliation Park, along with the “Winter Warrior” statue and Korean Soldier memorial at the nearby Blue Earth County Library.

Tom has been creating cemetery markers for 30 years and his many of his creations appear in cemeteries in a 60-mile radius around Mankato. According to Tom, about 70 percent of the markers he creates are upright and 30 percent flat. Surprisingly, that has not changed over the years.

In general, creating a stone marker takes six to eight weeks. But a piece that

This monument, by Tom Miller, is one of cemetery's most beautiful works.

This monument, by Tom Miller, is one of Calvary’s most beautiful markers.

involves custom statuary, like the Haefner Angel, can take four to five months.

Tom says some people will wait for years to get a grave marked. Sometimes it’s just facing the reality that a loved one is gone.

“A lot of times, it’s that finality,” he said. “When you have that stone up, it finalizes everything. Some parents can’t handle that yet.”

Tom advocates planning ahead whenever possible.

“Done in advance eliminates family squabbles,” he said, adding that while he’s seen some heated arguments over the years, people in southern Minnesota are generally very pleasant and a pleasure to work with.


Snowless winter ends

Weeks of unseasonably snowless November and December weather ended as a heavy snowfall settled in the Greater Mankato area during the last 24 hours.

The snow is slowing traffic all over southern Minnesota as plows continue to work to clear the roads and parking lots.

At Calvary Cemetery this snow is welcome; snow helps insulate the ground, keeping in heat and trapping moisture. This makes the ground easier to excavate for funerals and provides moisture for the grass in the spring.

Caretaker Terry Miller reports that the Calvary roads are in good shape following this snowstorm. He estimates that the 40-acre facility received between 9 and 10 inches of snow in the last 24 hours.

The Calvary crew works diligently throughout the winter to keep the cemetery roads clear for visitors, especially during visiting hours between dawn and dusk.





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