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 CNS Story:

MAUSOLEUM Feb-9-2009 (450 words) With photo. xxxn

Former Pittsburgh Catholic church being converted into mausoleum

By Patricia Bartos
Catholic News Service

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- In what is believed to be the first such makeover in the country, renovation work is under way to convert a former church in a Pittsburgh neighborhood into a mausoleum.

The Pittsburgh Diocese's Catholic Cemeteries Association is overseeing the project to turn St. Mary Church in Lawrenceville into St. Mary Mausoleum.

The renovation will add 880 crypts and 712 niches for cremated remains along the interior walls, plus a commitment chapel in the former sanctuary with seating for up to 200 people.

"I'm very happy that the church will remain standing -- it's a beautiful building -- and that it will continue to be a sacred space," said Capuchin Father John Daya, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish.

Our Lady of the Angels was formed by the merger of St. Mary and three other parishes in 1993. St. Mary Church, which dates to 1873, was closed in 2004. The cemetery association purchased the building in 2007.

Upon hearing the association was seeking to build a mausoleum, Father Daya approached officials about using the church.

"From those initial discussions it all went very smoothly," he told the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Pittsburgh Diocese. "This is a good model for churches that must close."

"We are very excited about the unique project that will convert the former St. Mary Church building into a chapel mausoleum," said Annabelle McGannon, executive director of the Catholic Cemeteries Association. "The church building is a treasure that will now have new life."

The association is now in the process of preselling crypts.

Joe Huber, director of family services for Catholic Cemeteries, said his organization expects "a lot of interest because of the historic nature of the building and the unique nature of a mausoleum within a church."

While the building's outward appearance will remain much the same, the interior will undergo major changes. A new concrete foundation already has been installed, the original stained-glass windows have been restored and a new heating system will be added.

The renovation involves preserving much of the original structure and the sanctuary, which will now feature an all-marble interior.

The church abuts St. Mary Cemetery, which dates to 1844. More than 100,000 area Catholics are buried there, including three of Pittsburgh's bishops. In some of the graves are Catholics who died during the occupation of Fort Duquesne by the French in the late 1750s. Those graves were relocated to St. Mary Cemetery in 1871.

The cemetery also includes the graves of veterans of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II.


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