Handmaids Come Home to Blessed Sacrament Cemetery
On March 29th, 2016, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood celebrated an important milestone in their settlement in New Market, TN. After moving our entire Resurrection Cemetery from Cor Jesu Monastery in Jemez Springs, NM to the Christ, Prince of Peace Retreat Center in Benton, TN in 2013; we did not anticipate moving our Sisters again. In fact, both Bishop Stika and the Sisters joked they were finally home permanently. But, our God is the God of surprises and we never could have dreamt he would desire our moving north to New Market in so short a time, less than two years after our arrival in TN. Hard as it was to imagine, as beautiful the blessings the Lord showered us with in the new property, we knew it meant moving our departed Handmaids one more time.
But, as with the move in 2013, God sent us the help we needed. Once again, as we experienced in the first interment of Handmaids in Tennessee, both Bishop Stika and Bridges Funeral Home went over and above the call of duty, and even that of extreme charity, to assist us in this rather complex undertaking. Although the Bishop didn’t have to drive a majority of our Sisters’ cremains across country again, he did want to see that ‘his girls’ were taken care of properly and beautifully. The Holy Spirit did the rest.
Prayer, Peace, and Inspiration
When Dennis and Kim Bridges visited the proposed area for the cemetery to begin the paperwork and planning to create a new cemetery, it was Kim Bridges who, knowing our charism of giving our lives for Christ in His Priest and our love for the Blessed Sacrament, surveyed the blissful view overlooking the Holston River valley and suggested the design of a chalice and host. The open end of the chalice would face the river towards the downslope of the hill, evocative of our very title “of the Precious Blood”…the Handmaids to be buried there poured out their lives in imitation of Christ pouring out his Precious Blood for the salvation of the world. We took this concept to Trey Benefield, our Project Manager, and he designed a two level cemetery area centered on the very symbols of the source and summit of our Catholic Faith: the Eucharist seen in the Chalice and Host suspended above it.
As Handmaids, this is also an image central to our very “raison d’etre”, our sacrifices for priests – who alone can bring us Jesus in the Eucharist. The design speaks so highly of the Mass, the Eucharist, and the Priesthood that we couldn’t wait to see it come together.
Building on The Rock and Digging into Rocky Top
Integrity Lawn and Landscaping prepared the site, removing some trees and leveling the land before executing the initial steps of the design, building the retaining walls. They got used to curious nuns observing the process and keeping all involved in our prayers.
In the end, we discovered that the limestone ubiquitous to the East Tennessee mountains was not lacking in the site chosen for our Sisters to rest in peace. A fair bit of “un-peace” in the form of large scale rock splitting and hammering was required to prepare graves for the four vaults containing our Sisters. Nothing less than a Caterpillar Excavator with a fascinating jack hammer on the front came to the rescue, courtesy of Rod Yates Construction. This was probably one step short of explosives,– after all we didn’t want to destroy the beautiful retaining walls already in place.
While Rod Yates’ crews pounded rocks to only unearth more rocks, jokes among planners and designers opined that this was perfect for the Church built on the Rock of Peter. Likewise, we all gained an appreciation for the fight song “Rocky Top”, though we neither sang it or delved into the lyrics.
On a Swing and A Prayer
When the interment day finally arrived, we found the presence of the Caterpillar Excavator and crews incredibly valuable to maneuver the vaults into place over rocky, steep terrain while avoiding newly built retaining walls….and nuns and guests. Rather than move them into position for lowering using the vault carrier device, the vaults were connected right to the jackhammer arm of the excavator and hoisted effortlessly up and into position. Only once was a little application of pick and shovel necessary to square off a grave prior to descent. Seeing the vaults gently swinging by a cable while suspended over the river valley was really amazing. While this saved several hours of heavy labor that would ordinarily have been done by the crews from Bridges Funeral Home, the actual process from vault arrival to blessing of the graves still took hours, far longer than a simple, graveside interment ceremony and commendation.
Joy and Homecoming
Nuns celebrate at funerals and burials. It is a time of joy and remembrance of lives completely spent in the service of Christ in His Priest and during the periods of waiting, there was plenty of time to share stories and laughter with our guests, Bishop Stika’s entourage from the Chancery, our Handmaid Advisory Team members, Bridges Funeral Home and the dedicated crews who worked so hard to bring this about. It was a pleasure to again welcome members of the Bishop’s staff who were instrumental in welcoming us initially to Benton: Deacon Sean Smith, Chancellor; Paul Simoneau, Vice Chancellor for Administration; and Peggy Humphreys, the Bishop’s Executive Secretary. It felt like a family reunion on the natural and supernatural plane: welcoming home our dear Sisters finally and welcoming old friends as well and sharing this special moment with our spiritual father, Bishop Stika. Joining also were some of Handmaid Advisory Team, lead by Jimmy Dee. This included Trey Benefield, our Project Manager, Gisela Chaparro, Ralph Herbert, and Scott Maentz. Scott, as our Communications Director, jumped in to photograph the historic event on little notice and we are also grateful to Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey for lending his camera for that important task.
We’re Not All The Way Home Yet
Bishop Stika blessed the four graves containing 1) Our very first Handmaid, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, 2) The cremains of 39 Sisters and Oblates, 3) Mother David Marie, and 4) Sister Margaret Mary, our most recent Handmaid called into eternal life. While that meant their vaults were buried, it didn’t complete the cemetery. Only after the placement of the vaults, could Integrity Lawn and Landscaping tackle the work of placing the Host and Chalice Design. When it reaches a further phase of completion, full consecration will be performed by Bishop Stika and it will mark another wonderful milestone.
We want to thank everyone who helped make this possible and assure you of our prayers. God bless you all.