A letter has been sent by Msgr. Daniel Kutys, moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, requesting a notice be placed in parish bulletins or a handout be provided to parishioners concerning the pending 60-year lease agreement for the operation of 13 archdiocesan cemeteries to StoneMor Partners, as announced Sept. 26.
The inserts or handouts will be provided at all the weekend Masses celebrated in parishes Dec. 21-22, Dec. 28-29 and Jan. 4-5. In addition, a short announcement is to be made at all of the Masses on the three weekends.
(See the insert and more information at the archdiocese’s website.)
The lease, which must be approved by Orphan’s Court of Philadelphia, does not affect the rights of lot-holders in the cemeteries or the status of the cemeteries as Catholic cemeteries. Their ownership remains with the archdiocese.
An initial court hearing was held Dec. 11, with no objection to the arrangement by the state Attorney General’s Office. The court at that time took notice of letters it had received concerning the proposed lease, and also of calls of inquiry the archdiocese had received.
In light of this, although the proposed release had received wide-spread publicity in the news media in September, the court requested further notice be provided to interested parties who might have objections. A new hearing date for the petition’s approval was set for Jan. 6.
The cemeteries lease is just one of the steps taken by the archdiocese since the arrival of Archbishop Chaput in 2011 to address the very serious deficit that had been building up for decades and by June 2012 stood at $350 million. Under the terms of the lease, StoneMor will provide an initial payment of $53 million to the archdiocese with an additional $30 million spread out over future years.
The current perpetual care fund of approximately $30 million will be retained in a special account by the archdiocese for use after the expiration of the lease. StoneMor will provide perpetual care during the lease and set aside funds to cover perpetual care of any lots sold during the lease. The archdiocese remains liable for accrued pension benefits for cemetery employees; StoneMor will be responsible for future earned benefits.
The approximately 160 full-time employees of the cemeteries will receive two years’ job protection, or payment for any remainder of the two years if they are terminated for reason other than cause.
“This arrangement serves the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia well by maintaining our cemeteries as sacred, dignified places of burial while offering employment and important protections for our dedicated staff,” Archbishop Chaput said in a statement at the time of the initial announcement. “This is not a decision I came to lightly. It is being entered into only after considerable discussion, prayer and approval by the Holy See.
“It allows us to retain ownership of the Catholic cemeteries while creating immediate and long-term benefits to help us rebuild a strong financial footing. StoneMor is a local company with a deep experience in the management of cemeteries. This factor, combined with their willingness to maintain the Catholic identity of our cemeteries, made them the logical choice.”
The affected cemeteries to be leased are All Souls Cemetery, Coatesville; Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken; Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia; New Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia; Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon; Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham; Immaculate Heart of Mary Cemetery, Linwood; Resurrection Cemetery, Bensalem; St. John Neumann Cemetery, Chalfont; St. Michael Cemetery, Chester; SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Springfield; All Saints Cemetery, Newtown; and Holy Savior Cemetery, Penn Township.
Parish cemeteries are not affected by the agreement.
For answers to frequently asked questions or to obtain a copy of the petition and for all other information see www.archphila.org and click the link “Notice for Public Hearing and Opportunity for Comment Regarding Archdiocesan Cemeteries Transaction.”
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.