Calvary Cemetery offers a wellspring of peace for all

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“Blessed are the sorrowful; they shall be comforted.”

By Matt Nagle

matt@tacomaweekly.com

As the only Catholic cemetery in Tacoma, Calvary Cemetery has held a special place in the hearts of locals for more than a century. Its beautifully kept grounds serve as a blessed oasis amid the bustle of the city – a place where everyone living or deceased is welcome to receive the tranquil gifts that can be found in this special place of eternal rest.

Strolling among the headstones there will take you on a journey through time, with some dating back to the turn of the century. Incorporated in 1905, Calvary Cemetery was built on 55 acres adjacent to Pioneer Catholic Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Pierce County. To date, 29,772 people have been laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery, revered as one of the finest cemeteries in the area. 

Calvary’s story goes back to 1873 when John and Eliza Rigney sold A.M.A. Blanchet, Bishop of Nisqually, four acres of land for $1 that became the “Old Cemetery,” or Pioneer Cemetery. In 1904, Bishop Edward O’Dea granted a committee permission to form a Catholic cemetery association. The committee chose 34 acres east of the Old Cemetery and the first board meeting was held in 1906. Over the next 25 years the cemetery grew and developed – the memorial altar with its stunning statue of the crucifixion was dedicated above the burial plot of Father Peter F. Hylebos in 1921, the main entrance was moved from Lakewood Drive to 70th Street West in 1935, and the Soldiers Memorial Plot was dedicated on Memorial Day 1937. In 1957, the Garden Mausoleum and the Visitation Chapel were dedicated, and in 1994 the monument to the unborn was placed in the baby section by the Knights of Columbus, who also replaced this section’s damaged angels in 2009.

Groundskeepers keep the cemetery looking beautiful year-round. Credit: Stephen Joyce Photography

Founded by Tacomans, built by Tacomans and operated by Tacomans, today Calvary is operated by a six-member board of directors who live, work and worship in our community. 

“I remember being 3 or 4 years old, coming out here with my grandparents,” said Board President Tony Anderson. “From Easter until bad weather came in October, my grandparents were out here every week.”

Calvary is a full-service cemetery, with both burial and cremation in accordance with every families’ decision. If burial is chosen, loved ones can be interred (earth burial) or entombed in the crypt within the mausoleum. Cremation also offers two options: in-ground burials in designated plots, and columbarium cremation niches for above-ground cremation burials. The option of burying a cremation into an existing family grave, or putting a cremation in an existing family mausoleum tomb, is often considered as a choice for those wanting to place the remains close to a family member without buying a separate site.

Graves at the cemetery date back to the 19th century. Credit: Stephen Joyce Photography

For grieving family and friends of the deceased, Calvary Cemetery attends to their emotional and spiritual needs to help foster understanding of what is involved in the funeral process and to soothe compounded grief at a time of loss. For those seeking peace of mind by making cemetery pre-arrangements in advance of need, Calvary Cemetery provides this service with no pressure or commissioned sales team making sales pitches. Once pre-arrangements are made, the price is locked in, with no additional costs to families.

In keeping with Calvary Cemetery’s concern for surviving family and friends, the Visitation Chapel is a serene place for committal services to pay final respects. The chapel’s stunning circular rose stained glass window is a centerpiece depicting Christ and a Catholic Nun representing the order of the Sisters of Visitation. The window came to the chapel from Visitation Villa in Lakewood when the school was sold and demolished, bringing a distinct sense of hope and comfort in its holy message. In addition, St. Joseph Chapel is always there as a sacred place to pray and reflect.

Just visiting Calvary Cemetery can bring quietude to the soul, with delicate breezes whispering comfortingly through the trees, songbirds making their joyful music, and flowers and pinwheels at grave sites bringing gentle solace in their simple beauty. Learn more about this iconic Tacoma landmark at www.CalvaryTacoma.com

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