Old Sydney cemetery loses financial support for groundskeeper

As church attendance dwindles, the Roman Catholic parishes in Sydney that had contributed to the salary and expenses of a cemetery groundskeeper have withdrawn the funding.

Dwindling church attendance has reduced money for maintenance

Thomas MacDonald has been the groundskeeper at Holy Cross Cemetery in Sydney for 17 years. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

In another indication of dwindling church attendance, an older cemetery in Sydney, N.S., will no longer be maintained.

The Roman Catholic parishes that had contributed to the salary and expenses of a groundskeeper have elected to withdraw the funding.

Allen MacLeod, the general manager of Resurrection Cemetery in Howie Centre, is also the volunteer manager of Holy Cross Cemetery Society, formed in 1995 with a number of Sydney parishes on the board of directors.

Allen MacLeod is the volunteer manager of the Holy Cross Cemetery Society. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"It was St. Theresa's, St. Joseph's, Sacred Heart and St. Anthony Daniel forming a committee to run the cemetery," MacLeod said, "because it was pretty dilapidated at that time.

"The parishes contributed a few thousand dollars each year, and that slowed down to, basically, a trickle the last number of years." 

Recently, three of the four parishes on the board ceased to exist on their own and were amalgamated into one new parish, with new priorities for dwindling financial resources.

Holy Cross Cemetery in Sydney, N.S. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"The parishes didn't contribute because the finances, the money put into the coffers, wasn't there from the people attending churches," MacLeod said. "So, they had to make some decisions, and the cemetery is not high up on the list of things to do."

Loving care

For Thomas MacDonald, the decision to stop funding the cemetery's maintenance hits especially close to home.

He was the groundskeeper there for 17 years and learned in October that he was out of job.

His seasonal paycheque helped support him throughout the year. Just as important to him, though, was the pride he took in keeping the old cemetery in good form.

"It's going to be in bad shape in May, when the grass starts growing," he predicted. "I was doing landscaping and pruning trees and cutting grass and meeting people, fixing the headstones, the ones that get knocked over, and straightening them up, the ones that sunk."

The grounds at Holy Cross Cemetery will cease to be maintained by a groundskeeper. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Family members of those buried at Holy Cross would often visit in summer, particularly if they lived away from Sydney, MacDonald says, and they told him often how much they appreciated his efforts on behalf of their loved ones.

Now they'll have to maintain individual graves themselves.

But MacDonald still hopes for something of a miracle.

"I'll just pray and hope for some money to pop up to keep it up for years to come," he said. "There'll have to be a new plan on raising money for the cemetery."
 

With files from Gary Mansfield