His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan came to the parish late last month to bless the Saint Columba Cemetery land that is part of an expansion plan and the children’s playground, dedicated in memory of the Rev. Charles Szivos.
In hopeful anticipation of the cardinal’s arrival, a group of faithful followers gathered under and around a tent, with podium and a few chairs, erected at the cemetery site. As he emerged from his vehicle, smiles of happiness spread over their faces and many welcomes were uttered.
Dolan had the broadest smile as he greeted everyone.
From the podium, Father John Bonnici, pastor of St. Columba, welcomed Dolan, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, parish members and guests.
“The expansion of the Saint Columba cemetery and the construction of the new mausoleum and columbarium would never have been possible without the extraordinary generosity of so many people,” Bonnici said. “We are grateful to the Palmer family for donating the land itself. Edie and Andy Palmer, called home by God and remembered in prayer made all this possible. Thank you to all the members of the Palmer family for their continued support.”
Five acres on Route 94, two miles from the church
The five-acre plot dedicated to expanding the present cemetery on Route 94 in Blooming Grove, is located on a quiet hill side, about two miles past the church, which is located at 29 High St. in Chester.
“There are a few plots, but essentially the cemetery is built out,” said Glenn Pellino, a member of the parish council. Expansion plans include the construction of a mausoleum and a columbarium at the site, as well as relocating the cemetery entrance to an area that provides better road visibility for visitors as they leave the cemetery and re-enter Route 94.
Funds for the mausoleum and columbarium project are the result of the Archdiocese of New York’s Renew and Rebuild capital campaign, Pellino explained. “This is the lead project for the money that came into St. Columba.”
Bonnici added: “I am grateful to all parishioners who so generously made and honored pledges. I am especially thankful to Lucy and Joe DePaulis for their willingness to support this project.” They are main supporters of the mausoleum and columbarium project.
This place ‘reminds me of Jesus’
When the gathering turned to the cardinal, he began: “This is beautiful, rich land with seeds. It reminds me of Jesus who died but rose to live again.”
The ceremony included a New Testament teading, a Responsorial Psalm, and a reading of the Gospel according to John before Dolan blessed the cemetery with the Rite of Sprinkling Holy Water.
The end of life, but also the beginning of life
Bringing the ceremony to a conclusion, Cardinal Dolan commented, “We’ve just blessed the end of life; now onto blessing the beginning of life—the playground.”
As he entered the area of the playground, Dolan was heard uttering Chapter 19, Verse 14 from the Bible: “Let the little children come to me.”
The playground was completed at the end of the summer of 2020 for use at the Faith First @St. Columba preschool for three and four year old children.
“The playground was funded by a grant from the Blessed St. Joseph Foundation,” explained Susan Munks, Director of Religious Education and teacher at the preschool.
The preschool, licensed through the Office of Children and Family Services, offers a program that fosters spiritual and social growth as well as school readiness skills. Ten children per day are accepted into the program of two sessions: 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 12 to 2:30 p.m.
Munks called the Faith First preschool program “a hidden gem in Chester.”
Bonnici noted that the cemetery expansion project should take about a year for completion, “under the best circumstances.”
The pastor noted he was “delighted with His Eminence Cardinal Dolan’s blessing” for the expansion land and the children’s playground.