The living honor the dead on All Souls

St. Lawrence Cemetery (Miscellany/Amy Wise Taylor)

St. Lawrence Cemetery (Miscellany/Amy Wise Taylor)CHARLESTON—Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone will celebrate All Souls Day with a special Mass at St. Lawrence Cemetery on Nov. 2 at 11 a.m.

This marks the second year that the bishop has honored the day set aside by the church to remember and pray for our deceased loved ones. Bishop Guglielmone has said he hopes it becomes a tradition.

Last year, Mass was held at Holy Cross on James Island and attracted a crowd of about 200 people. Warren Stuckey, director of cemeteries, said they are prepared for that many again this year. 

Stuckey and Jimmy Lyles, supervisor of St. Lawrence, have been busily preparing for the Mass.

Although Holy Cross and St. Lawrence are the only diocesan cemeteries, graveyards can also be found at a number of churches.

History of St. Lawrence

The land for St. Lawrence was purchased by Bishop Ignatius Reynolds in 1851 and Msgr. James May became the first director, serving for 35 years.

In the style of the day, St. Lawrence is filled with family plots bordered by coping and beautiful fencework and gates. Huge statues decorate the grounds, along with various styles of crypts and tombs.

It has a historic beauty that modern cemeteries, built for practicality, cannot duplicate.

In the early days of the site, record keeping was not as detailed as it is now. The result, Stuckey said, is almost 4,000 people whose names and death dates are recorded, but nobody knows where they are.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Stuckey said they still have about 50 burials a year at St. Lawrence, and keep meticulous records.

Despite the burials that are still occurring, Lyles said for years now people have thought the cemetery is full.

But even with 19,388 recorded burials, there is still plenty of space for families in need.

The oldest marker in the cemetery is dated 1841, which was before the land was opened. Stuckey said what probably happened is that a family member who was buried elsewhere was moved to the new family plot.

Why a Catholic cemetery?

Unlike secular cemeteries, Catholic ground is consecrated each year by the bishop, making it holy soil for the faithful.

Lyles said many places will promote what they call a “Catholic section,” but he warns people not to be fooled. Catholics may be buried there, but it isn’t consecrated.

Also, diocesan prices tend to be lower. All the lots at St. Lawrence are $1,100, while the two closest cemeteries, Magnolia and Bethany, are $2,000 and up, Lyles said.

There was a time when only Catholics were allowed burial in consecrated ground, but that rule was relaxed so family members could be together.

Now, people of all faiths are buried in diocesan cemeteries, drawn to the site by the men and women who have made it their ministry.

“We’re here to minister to families in one of their greatest hours of need, and to make their sad task as easy as we possibly can,” Stuckey said.

Both Stuckey and Lyles said the hardest part of their job is burying babies. Second to that are tragedies, and holding services for people they have known for many years.

But as difficult as the service can be, they said if they ever reach a point where they no longer feel compassion, they will quit.   

How people honor loved ones

Stuckey and Pam Paquette, supervisor at Holy Cross, spoke about the different ways loved ones are remembered.

One of the most noticeable is performed by military veterans, who come out each year on Veterans Day and place flags on the markers of all the servicemen and women.

Families sometimes gather as a group to celebrate their loved ones, reading letters and poetry, or offering toasts. Stuckey said birthdays, death dates and other anniversaries often draw people to the gravesite, bearing flowers, plants and other items. 

Some of the things they have found on markers include heartbreaking letters of loss, and photos of the families or their loved one.

The most poignant are the graves of babies and children, whose burial spots are marked with balloons, stuffed animals and tiny toys.

“Mostly what they do is come out and kneel at the grave and pray,” Stuckey said.

Many of the older visitors, especially those who come on a regular basis, bring chairs and lawncare supplies with them. For them, taking care of the grave is an extension of caring for their loved one.

Saints & Souls

All Saints Day is celebrated on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2.

Bishop Guglielmone has said the difference in the two lies in whether a person has achieved one’s fullest potential or is still working on it.

Saints, both the canonized and the uncanonized, have reached their potential and achieved complete intimacy with God. The church celebrates this accomplishment on All Saints Day.

For the rest of the world, who are still striving for that goal when they die, there is a period of purification that the church teaches is purgatory. To help their loved ones reach admission into the Kingdom of God, people should pray for them.

This is where All Souls Day comes in, to celebrate and remember our loved ones, and to pray on their behalf.

Who’s who at St. Lawrence

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, people start thinking about the souls of those who have departed, and looking at cemeteries with curiosity.

At St. Peter Church in Columbia, a storytelling event for adults will be held on Halloween night to share tales of the history, inhabitants, and the night the city burned.

St. Lawrence Cemetery in Charleston, which is the site of this year’s Mass to celebrate All Souls Day, has its own stories and famous inhabitants.

Jimmy Lyles, supervisor, said one of Charleston’s most famous spirits is buried right at the front of the cemetery.

Zoe St. Amand was a schoolteacher and lived in a home on Queen Street with her sister. Stories abound about how the spirit of Amand, along with that of her dog Poogan, still inhabits the house, which was turned into Poogan’s Porch restaurant.
Others that have found their final resting place in the historic cemetery include:

John Patrick Grace. A former mayor of Charleston, the first bridge connecting the peninsular with Mount Pleasant, the Grace Memorial Bridge, was named after his family.

Francis Warrington Dawson. He was one of the founders of the newspaper that became the Post and Courier. The Englishman fought for the South during the Civil War and was acquitted after killing a local doctor in a duel.

Sarah Morgan Dawson. The noted author wrote “A Confederate Girl’s Diary” and other works, and was the wife of Francis Dawson.

There are also a number of soldiers, including the only Union soldier in the graveyard. Sgt. James Galloway was killed during a surrender ceremony when his rifle blew up during a 100-gun salute.

Lyles said a photographer with came to St. Lawrence one day and took photos of the markers there.


Universal tradition
All Souls Day is also known as the Feast of All Souls. In other languages, the celebration, not necessarily on the same date, is known as Day of the Dead — Día de los Muertos in Spanish-speaking countries, and Yom el Maouta in Lebanon, Israel and Syria.

Office of the Dead
Think about that one. It could inspire humorous images, or maybe horrific ones, but for those who know the real meaning, it inspires prayer. The Office of the Dead is a prayer cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours and is said for the repose of the soul of the deceased.