Nature Preserve Cemetery at the Loretto Motherhouse
Concerned about the environmental impact of traditional burials, Loretto set aside six acres of woods and meadow in 2018 as a natural burial site for Loretto Community members.
In 2020, the decision was made to open the Nature Preserve Cemetery to friends of Loretto who have some connection to the Community or to the Motherhouse land. Those friends could include retreatants, Motherhouse employees, family of Loretto Community members or anyone else who has some connection to the Community and wishes to be buried in the Nature Preserve Cemetery.
One of the inspirations for getting started to create a natural burial site was the documentary “A Will for the Woods.” Part of the reason the documentary was so moving was that it was watched around the time Loretto was fighting the Bluegrass Pipeline. During that time the Loretto Community was looking for ways to protect land, and cemeteries are one layer of protection.
In seeking more information, Loretto sought out resources from the Green Burial Council. The Green Burial Council says it is “the place to learn more about green burial and how to find certified cemetery stewards, funeral professionals and funerary product sellers who share the commitment to create more sustainable after-death options for you, your community, and the planet.” On the council’s website you can learn about the ins and outs of green burial, green burial providers and find several publications on the subject. If you or someone you love are interested in a natural burial or just want to know more, check out their website here.
Co-member Susan Classen, who directs Loretto’s Cedars of Peace retreat center, was featured in an article about natural/green burials. The article, “The church forbids ‘human composting’ at death; but what about ‘green’ burials?” was written by Colin Price SJ and appeared in America magazine. It briefly examines burial practices in different religions, centering the Catholic Church’s history, and talks about the new movement for natural burial. In the article Susan reflects, “After our first burials, people described it as such a ‘tender’ experience …. People who thought it would be stark and uninviting have been moved by how embracing it is.” You can view the article here.
For Loretto, establishing a nature preserve cemetery is more than offering a choice about how we want to be buried. It’s about how we live our lives. Nature teaches us that death isn’t the end of life but one stage in the cycle of life. Look, for example, at this photo of queen anne’s lace in the fall. Some might only see a withered plant, but look closely at the seeds. The seeds we celebrate as harbingers of life are actually the fruit of the dying plant. Nature makes visible the fact that life and death can’t be separated. Perhaps that’s why so many find the Nature Preserve Cemetery to be a place of solace.
Photo credit: Susan Classen CoL