Mount St. Mary's to sell burial plots to alumni

January 30, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG -- School spirit is taking on new -- and everlasting -- meaning at Mount St. Mary's College.

The 186-year-old Catholic institution will begin selling mountainside burial plots to its alumni this spring. The cemetery is being developed near the college's Grotto of Lourdes shrine and overlooking the Mount campus on the eastern slope of College Mountain.

"There's a feeling among people who have been here that there is something special, something gripping," said Kelly Fitzpatrick, Mount professor and archivist. "People are looking for some place they can identify with. The Mount was an important part of their life, and it's the place to be in death."

Nineteen acres are being set aside for the cemetery, with space for about 2,000 gravesites concentrated on about five of those acres, a college spokesman said.

Plots will be arranged in groves, surrounded by trees and connected by walking paths, benches and memorial statues.

Unique in Maryland and at least unusual elsewhere, this manner of letting alumni maintain old-school ties has a few conceptual cousins on other campuses.

The University of Virginia, for example, has allowed faculty and their families to be buried in a campus cemetery for nearly two centuries. The university has allowed some distinguished alumni who were cremated to have their remains placed in an area near the Charlottesville cemetery, which is now full.

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., have burial grounds for faculty and staff, but not alumni.

For Mount St. Mary's officials, the new cemetery -- for which ground is now being prepared -- will accommodate longtime alumni wishes and provide a new fund-raising source. Plots will sell for more than $500, said Daniel Hallinan, executive director of business affairs, and the college expects to realize a substantial profit.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a perfect project for the college," Mr. Hallinan said. "The alumni are interested in it. It's a service everyone needs, and it will be a revenue producer for the college. It's meeting the best of both worlds."

In addition to alumni, the college's staff, faculty, their spouses and children, will be eligible to buy plots, as will alumnae of St. Joseph College, a nearby women's school that closed in 1972.

The Mount will begin marketing among its 12,000 alumni this spring, said George Gelles, director of auxiliary services. A recent survey showed that some 195 graduates were "very interested," he said.

"We even have some classes that want to be buried together -- several people in a designated area," Mr. Gelles said.

John G. Green, a 1951 Mount graduate who lives in Frederick, said he plans to buy burial space for himself and his wife, Barbara, a graduate of Mary Grove College in Detroit.

"I've always had a warm, close feeling for the place. My family has ties to Mount St. Mary's, too," said Mr. Green, a retired senior marketing representative for IBM, noting that three of his four children are Mount graduates. Like other alumni, Mr. Green tried to buy burial plots in a private cemetery also near the Grotto -- a replica of the French Lourdes shrine owned by St. Anthony's Shrine Parish. But that graveyard is full.

Mr. Green doesn't think choosing one's alma mater as one's final resting place is at all strange.

"One has to look at the mobility in this country," said Mr. Green, who has lived in several cities in four states. "In times past, you were buried in your hometown. That isn't the case today. When you have a place you've been attracted to for almost 50 years -- that's home," he said.

"There's no question -- I'm definitely going to do it," said Mr. Gelles, a 1964 Mount graduate who lives in Gettysburg, Pa., about being buried in the new cemetery.

"My roots are very much involved with Mount St. Mary's. It gave me the foundation for my life work," he added. "I don't really have any ties to [anywhere else]."

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