SALT LAKE CITY — Nestled among the Avenues of Salt Lake City is a property sacred to many Utah Catholics because it’s the place their loved ones are buried. Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery which is located at 275 U Street will celebrate its 125th anniversary later this year. It came into existence in September 1897 when Salt Lake City Mayor James Glendinning signed a document donating the property to the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake for the sum of $1.
Mt. Calvary is located adjacent to the city cemetery; 1100 East is the boundary between the two. It is the only Roman Catholic cemetery in the state, and only Catholics may be buried there. The diocese celebrates Masses for Memorial Day and All Souls Day, along with Respect for Life events, on the site.
The cemetery is built in the shape of a Celtic cross with the center ring symbolizing eternity. Buried in that ring are the fifth and sixth bishops of the diocese, the Most Rev. Duane G. Hunt, D.D. and the Most Rev. Joseph L. Federal, D.D., along with 58 priests and more than 100 religious sisters.
One of the newest additions to the cemetery is a columbarium remembrance wall inscribed with the names of 123 priests and 36 deacons who have served in the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. Some of these men are buried outside Utah and the United States.
The cemetery contains 1,700 grave markers. A project last year with ground-penetrating radar located an additional 2,005 unmarked, occupied graves in its southeast corner.
“Those people couldn’t afford headstones; I noticed a lot during the Depression-era lacking headstones,” Cemetery Director John Curtice said.
Most of the cemetery’s gravesites have been occupied for some years. To accommodate the need for more burial spaces, the Risen Savior Mausoleum, which has close to 400 crypt spaces, was constructed in 1987 in the northwest corner of the cemetery. An adjacent second mausoleum, the Holy Cross Mausoleum, was constructed shortly after and holds 200 crypt spaces. An expansion of that mausoleum is underway. The addition will provide 664 crypt spaces, 732 niche spaces for cremated remains and a chapel that will seat 80 to 100 people to accommodate funerals and other events.
In 2012 the cemetery reclaimed about an acre of ground in the historical area by hauling off about 700 tons of dirt from a mound that was created from graves dug through the years. Curtice believes that dirt mound began when the cemetery opened. The mausoleum is expanding into the area where the dirt mound had been.
The mausoleum expansion should ensure the cemetery can accommodate the needs of the Catholic community well into the future, Curtice said.
The project, which is expected to take 18 to 24 months, will also include the installation of solar panels on the building that will fully power the cemetery. A well dug in 2009 provides all of the cemetery’s irrigation water.
About 80 percent of the cemetery’s yearly 150 or so burials are now of cremated remains, Curtice said. Historically the Church prohibited cremation, but the practice has been allowed since 1963 as long as remains are buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium, according to The Order of Christian Funerals’ Appendix on Cremation. Since that change, cremation has increased in popularity among Catholics.