A Corporal Work of Mercy: Bishop Thomas J. Tobin dedicates Saints Peter & Paul Mausoleum


CRANSTON — At the western end of St. Ann Cemetery, in a bucolic grove, stands the Diocese of Providence’s newest place of rest for the dearly departed.

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With its twin 50-foot-high towers the Saints Peter & Paul Mausoleum bears a resemblance to the diocesan cathedral in downtown Providence. The newly finished 22,000 square-foot building, which will provide much-needed interior and exterior burial space for 2,086 caskets and 720 cremation niches, is a work of art, crafted of some of the finest materials available.
But beyond the physical, the structure holds a much deeper spiritual meaning for the faithful.
“This is not just a majestic building. This mausoleum is an important symbol of our Catholic faith. It’s a reminder that we as Catholics always care for the earthly remains of the faithful departed with great love and reverence and respect and dignity,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who presided over the dedication of the new mausoleum on Saturday.
The bishop said that as human beings are created in the likeness and image of God, and our bodies are anointed with the sacred chrism at baptism that conforms us to the Lord, Catholic funeral rites are designed to reflect that sacred belief.
“This mausoleum, this wonderful building, beautifully reflects our faith. May this place always be a dignified resting place for the faithful departed. May those who come here to visit and pray always find comfort, peace and hope,” Bishop Tobin said, before walking through the chapel and each corridor sprinkling Holy Water on the burial spaces as he blessed and dedicated the mausoleum.
Filled to capacity for the dedication was the mausoleum’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Chapel, with its polished granite altar and iconic 30-foot marble-framed mosaic of the Blessed Mother and Jesus — both of which adorned the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Federal Hill — that are the focal points of the chamber.
For much of the remainder of the construction, the materials came from a bit farther afield.
The reddish-orange hued Roja Alicante marble was shipped from Spain, the light beige Botticino marble from the Brescia region of northern Italy and the Ghiandone granite was sourced from an Italian quarry.
The glass covers for the illuminated cremation niches were crafted in Verona, Italy.
“The craftsmen are the key to the whole thing,” said Bob DeBeltrand, president of McClesky Mausoleums, the construction company from Buford, Georgia, which built the mausoleum based on a design created by Cemetery Design Associates, referring to the local and overseas craftsmen whose handiwork produced Saints Peter & Paul Mausoleum.
Construction on the project began with a groundbreaking three years ago on May 1, 2018, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
“It’s been a big undertaking, but we got through it,” said Anthony Carpinello, director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Diocese of Providence.
Carpinello credited Bishop Tobin and diocesan leaders for seeing value in the project he proposed to provide much-needed above ground burial space at St. Ann Cemetery.
“It’s been a blessing to work for the Diocese of Providence,” he said.
In addition to preserving the mosaic and altar from Our Lady of Mount Carmel by using it in the new mausoleum, Carpinello said he is proud to have also been able to repurpose the former church’s beautiful stained glass and even the historic bell that one rang there.
“The bell out front that our staff refurbished is believed to be the second bell ever made in America. It was made by Henry Hooper, who was a direct apprentice of Paul Revere,” Carpinello said.
Each of the corridors is named after a specific patron saint of a church in the surrounding area and features their likeness in the stained glass windows lining it or in the statues erected nearby. Overhead are the crests of the eight bishops who have served as shepherds of the diocese.
Outside, two covered cloistered burial areas, with brick archways framing tranquil views of the pastoral grounds, provide granite benches and contemplative spaces to pray for loved ones who have passed, while inside, there are two areas for family burials which hold 14 crypts each.
“We’re going to have seating everywhere, with custom flower racks and a full stand of vigil lights for families to come in and light a candle,” he said, adding that a full memorialization program is also planned for the mausoleum, where families can add their names to bronze plaques below the stained glass windows, on the granite benches and even around the mosaic.
While the total cost of the project is currently at $12.3 million, including $2 million in anticipated interest, Carpinello said that with surprisingly strong sales over the course of the two-year construction project, and unexpected 16 month-long pandemic, $4.5 million has already been committed for the purchase of burial space there.
“We’re ahead of the interest and we’ve paid back $1.8 million already,” Carpinello said.
“It’s going to provide a burial space for families for the next 10 years.”
The project included the construction of a smaller separate mausoleum near the cemetery’s five other mausoleums — which are all at or nearing capacity — to hold the remains of 100 departed until the new facility was completed. Those remains will now be transferred to the new mausoleum.
Michael Sabatino, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Providence, said the project was much-needed for the diocese.
“I thank Bishop Tobin for his vision and for allowing us to be able to do this as a diocese,” Sabatino said.
“The need for additional above ground burial space has been known for some time.”
In addition to praising Carpinello’s oversight of the project, Sabatino also applauded the efforts of Bill Herren, director of sales at the cemetery, for his success in promoting the new burial spaces.
Msgr. Raymond Bastia, vicar for Planning and Financial Services, said that the true significance of the dedication and blessing of the mausoleum does not lie in the impressive size of a building or in the integrity of its design, nor in the beauty of its art or finishes.
“Its highest purpose stands as a statement of our Catholic belief,” Msgr. Bastia said.
“In every progress report that was presented, in every major design decision that was made, it was always understood that this project was to be an expression of our faith. From start to finish there was a conscious effort to link its purpose to the experiential life of the Church in Providence.”
“The atmosphere of this sacred place will speak wordlessly to all of our belief that death is not the end for human beings and that Christ will one day return. At the end of all things, there will be the resurrection of the dead.”
Cemetery Advisory Board Chairman Father William Ledoux said that the new Saints Peter & Paul Mausoleum will help further the Church’s mission to ensure respect for the dead.
“As we see a changing society today, we’re not always sure that always happens the way it should, but Catholic Cemeteries wants to make sure that our beloved are always taken care of — that they are laid to rest peacefully at a place that their loved ones can come and honor them and pray for them and ask their intercession in this wonderful mausoleum and these wonderful cemeteries that are under our care.”