- Requiescant in Pace. The Story of Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Catholic cemeteries are sacred places, being an outgrowth of belief in the resurrection of the body. Monsignor Francis J. Weber, the author of this book, points out that burying the dead has long been looked upon as a corporal work of mercy. He thus thought it appropriate to write a history of the Catholic cemeteries located within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The author, currently the archivist of the Archdiocese, is no stranger to the funeral industry, having spent part of his youth in the employ of a Los Angeles mortuary.
The book opens with a discussion of the historical background of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Catholic burial practices, the general and evolving rules and regulations, and the administration of the cemeteries. The next three sections profile individually the six mission cemeteries within the archdiocese boundaries, the ten closed, abandoned, or alienated cemeteries, and the twelve currently functioning cemeteries. The discussion for each of these is pleasant, informal, even chatty, highlighting historical elements and quoting statements by church officials relevant to the particular cemetery. The text is amply supplemented by photographic illustrations, some dating to the nineteenth century, of both current and abandoned cemeteries. The final section ("Appendices") consists of a more lengthy discussion of six special topics, related in tangential ways to the preceding histories. The author's own opinions are occasionally evident; clearly, for instance, he lacks enthusiasm for cremation, while tracing its increasing use. (It is interesting that the new Los Angeles Cathedral Mausoleum was built with 1,275 casket spaces and 5,000 columbarium niches—an anticipation of about eighty percent cremation for that facility.) There is no index or bibliography, the latter sorely missed for the historical data cited.
In reading through the vignettes of the various cemeteries, and especially in reading the appendices where a few topics are discussed in more depth, one realizes the wealth of historical material that awaits even the moderately industrious student. Cemetery studies can involve research into local history, architecture and landscape design, sociology of burial practices, and monument symbolism and craftsmanship, among many other ancillary subjects. The author touches upon all of these, but lightly. And the book rightly should be regarded as an introduction to and overview of these Catholic cemeteries. In this it stands alone on the market today; and, although not written as such, the book could be of good use as a general guidebook when visiting the cemeteries.