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Birdhouses under construction that now grace Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum in North Arlington.

Service, Teamwork and Reflection

By Max Almenas

Immersed in the grandeur of regal trees, precious flowers and emerald fields of grass, visitors occasionally discover birdhouses installed throughout Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum in North Arlington. No two of the birdhouses are alike. The unique designs, colors and personal features come from the imagination of local teens who give up a week of their summer vacation to volunteer in soup kitchens, parishes and bird sanctuaries for Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark.

This year, the Archdiocesan Summer Work Camp Week hosted 85 teens and 16 adults who volunteered for a weeks’ worth of service. Youth groups came from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ridgewood, Saint Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, Holy Trinity and Saint Helen parishes in Westfield and Saint Michael in Cranford. Some teens came from as far away as Saint Eleanor in Collegeville in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Teens arrived on Sunday afternoon and began work Monday morning. They attended daily Mass and enjoyed social and community building time in the evenings. The groups put in full days at eight different locations including Saint Ann Soup Kitchen in Newark, Catholic Charities sites in the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Paterson, the Saint John Paul II Youth Retreat Center in Kearny, Sacred Heart in Bloomfield, Saint Michael Parish in Cranford, Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Newark and Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington.

They gathered each evening to share how building birdhouses and working soup kitchen for the homeless changed their perspective on life. As the teens built and painted the sections of their birdhouses into different architectural styles and shapes, many reflected on who they would commemorate when adding a name plaque to the birdhouse. It was more than just an opportunity to volunteer. It was a chance to connect deeper within their faith, while realizing that that were making a difference in people’s lives and adding to the already beautiful Holy Cross Cemetery.

The teens and their chaperones were given a tour by sales manager John Derienzo from Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Newark, to discover the natural beauty of Holy Cross Cemetery and the inspiring artwork of the award-winning mausoleum. At one of the entrances, everyone marveled at the 15-foot marble Pietà Rondanini, imported from Italy and inspired by Michelangelo’s final sculptural masterpiece – a statue of the Virgin Mary mourning over the body of her son, Jesus.

Inside the Chapel of the Round, Italian marble walls tower over the story of Adam and Eve carved into the marble altar below, a glorious space for the Monthly Mass of Remembrance and prayers. Other works of art include a 100-year old stained glass art with two six-foot round windows reclaimed from Sacred Heart Church in the Vailsburg section of Newark, a bronze garden featuring life-size bronze statues, an 18-foot tall flight of doves and four life-sized statues of the “Mothers of the Church,” including Mother Teresa, Mother Marianne Cope, Mother Seton and Mother Cabrini. The 25,000 square-foot mausoleum at Holy Cross Cemetery is the largest Catholic mausoleum in America and features six mosaic murals depicting the Book of Genesis and 90 major works of art.

No one understands the profound impact the youth volunteer program has on teens and the community more than Andrew Schafer, Executive Director of Catholic Cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Newark.  “Our goal in constructing the Holy Cross Mausoleum was not only to provide a beautiful place for our deceased loved ones,” said Schafer, “but also a worship space that is educational in our journey of faith.”