On Sept. 17,1897, as the Salt Lake Valley was beginning to cool from the hot summer months, the growing Catholic presence in Utah was recognized in a significant way. Mayor James Glendinning signed a document that donated 19.5 acres to the Diocese of Salt Lake City for Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery. At the time, Bishop Lawrence Scanlan, our first bishop, had a diocese of just six parishes with 8,000 Catholics, and the Cathedral of the Madeleine wouldn't be completed until 1909.
The significance of a Catholic cemetery for the Catholic community is stated in canon law: "Sacred places are those which have been designated for divine worship or for the burial of the faithful..." Early records show that many families subsequently had their loved ones transferred to the new Catholic cemetery for re-interment among the faithful.
In the history of the diocese published in 1909, Bishop Scanlan spoke of our church community, which endures forever: "These relations do not cease when death enters. The visible church, that is, the church on earth, is the channel and means of our union with the church invisible, that is, with the souls who departed this life in friendship with God.”
More recently, a bronze plaque was mounted in the Holy Cross plat, which provides testimony to the role of a Catholic cemetery in linking the visible church and the Communion of Saints:
This Catholic cemetery is a holy place. It is blessed by the church and dedicated to God as a place of worship, prayer, and reflection upon divine truth and the purpose of life. It is the resting place until the day of resurrection for the bodies of faithful departed, once temples of the Holy Spirit, whose souls are now with God. It is a final and continuing profession of faith in God and of membership in the church by those who have chosen to be buried with fellow believers of 'the household of faith.' Eternal rest grant to them, 0 Lord.
The centerpiece of Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery is the Holy Cross Plat, where a large crucifix overlooks the final resting place of Bishop Duane G. Hunt, 37 priests, and 96 sisters. It is here that Bishop Joseph S. Glass suggested in 1925, that an altar be erected in the center of the circle at the heart of the cemetery. It was not until 1947 that this was accomplished by a group of veterans who established the altar as a memorial to 78 Utah Catholics killed in World War II. Bishop Hunt dedicated the altar on Memorial Day, 1947, and every subsequent bishop has continued the practice of a commemorative Mass at the altar on Memorial Day. It has become the highlight of the year, complete with a flag ceremony.
Mount Calvary increased its capacity and the options available to Utah Catholics in 1987, with the addition of a garden mausoleum, a lawn crypt section, and a columbarium for cremated remains. The mausoleum has become the location of the annual All Souls Day Mass at Mount Calvary, weather permitting.
Just below the mausoleum is a garden in which a monument to the innocent victims of abortion was dedicated in October 1992. Since then, a multi-denominations candlelight vigil has been conducted each year on the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, making abortion legal. The vigil serves to reaffirm the sanctity of life.
While there is not a lot written about the history of Mount Calvary, the numerous monuments and statuary that adorn the grounds speak of its purpose and the lasting tribute to our faith community. It is indeed a sacred place of faith, honor, and prayer. From a vantage point above the mausoleum, it appears there are hundreds of tiny altars scattered throughout the cemetery where one may pause, pray for, and remember their loved ones, and contemplate the beauty of God's plan.