Memorial Ministry

Oct. 28 – Nov. 3, 04
Memorial Ministry
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
New Director of Cemeteries for the Syracuse Diocese Offers Expertise and Compassion

Mark Lazaroski has worked for the Syracuse Diocese since1980, when he was hired by Bishop Frank Harrison as the executive director/general manager for Catholic Cemeteries. He began his career in 1974 as manager of buildings, grounds and cemeteries in West Hartford, Conn. Currently a member of the New England and New York Cemetery Associations, Lazaroski was recently elected to a two-year term as vice president of the National Catholic Cemetery Conference. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a background in landscape architecture and is a U.S. Army Veteran of the Vietnam War.

“When I came to interview here, I looked at what was here versus the well-kept grounds in Connecticut,” said Lazaroski. “I love a challenge and so I dug in my heels and got started.” Over the past 25 years, Lazaroski said that the management of cemeteries has changed reflecting the changes in the church. Previously, clergy were taxed with the responsibilities of schools and parishes as well cemeteries, explained Lazaroski. “There was no central leadership for the cemeteries,” he said. “Bishop Harrison thought that they should become part of the diocese to amalgamate fiscal responsibility and maintenance. Up until that point cemeteries were run independently of each other and the diocese.”

Lazaroski is responsible for 13 cemeteries in the diocese and over 75 staff members who are responsible for the smooth and meticulous management of both a business and a ministry. While the staff is responsible for mowing 900 acres of grass each week as well as clearing roads and maintaining grounds, they also work to assist families during a very emotional and sensitive time in their lives.

“It’s not just a job to us,” said Lazaroski. “We go the extra mile. The staff has a lot of feeling and compassion for people.” Lazaroski said that his staff trains extensively on the grieving process in order to help families on a daily basis. “They attend grief counseling classes several times a year so that they don’t lose sight that this is a ministry,” he said. “I once spent five hours with a young couple who lost their infant in a tragic circumstance. They couldn’t decide whether to bury their infant in a family plot or in the children’s section. Those types of experiences stay with you always.”

The business side of managing cemeteries requires knowledge and forward thinking that requires specialized training. Every cemetery has a master plan that indicates acreage, space available, road locations, drainage and utilities. “The responsibilities are tremendous,” said Lazaroski. “To ensure perpetuity is a real challenge. Most businesses are considered as having longevity if they last 50 years. In the cemetery business, we have to ensure that it will be here forever. We have to look to the future –– 100, 500 years from now.”

Development to both existing and new land has been ongoing since Lazaroski came to Syracuse. Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Clay is the most recent addition to the Syracuse Diocese. “In 1995, we bought 107 acres of farm land. There was no Catholic cemetery in the northern suburbs,” he said. His background in landscape engineering gave him the opportunity to not only design the layout of the new cemetery, but to get down in the trenches and work side-by-side with the construction crew. When not donning a hardhat, Lazaroski works with town, state and federal officials as well as environmental agencies and the Corps of Engineers to address a variety of issues.

Lazaroski said that past struggles included financial and operational challenges and the lack of equipment and expertise needed to maintain 900 acres of property. He and his staff worked hard to bring back the beauty to area cemeteries. “Bishop Moynihan has been a strong leader for cemeteries and a strong mentor for me,” said Lazaroski. “He has offered his support and guidance to ensure the best possible resting place for families.”

In looking toward the future, Lazaroski stressed the importance of planning ahead. He suggested that families come to him in advance instead of at a time of emotional upheaval. “It’s easier to deal with it ahead of time, both emotionally and financially,” he said. “There is nothing worse than an 80-year-old woman coming alone, trying to pick out a lot in the snow.” The tradition of being buried in a Catholic cemetery hasn’t changed said Lazaroski. “Because society has become more secular and mobile, some may lose site of the fact that they need to come back to their roots. It’s important to look back at one’s family tradition and Catholic tradition. And the Catholic cemeteries in Syracuse can offer the best of Catholic burials to members of the diocese who entrust their loved one to us until the day of resurrection.”

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