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 History of Catholic Cemeteries in Los Angeles

"The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead."

—Catechism of the Catholic Church #2447

Prior to 1822, those dying in the Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles were buried in the cemeteries of Mission San Gabriel Arcangel (est.1771) or the Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana (est.1797).  In 1822  the first burial plot in the City of Los Angeles was established adjacent to Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, known to many as the "Old Plaza Church" or "La Placita" at 521 North Main Street.  It  served the area for about twenty years. A formal petition was presented to the Los Angeles Ayuntamiento on August 16, 1839 stating that the old cemetery was "totally inadequate to the present needs and endangering the health of the community."  

In 1844, a new cemetery was set aside by the "Illustrious Council of Los Angeles" on Buena Vista Street (now North Broadway) at the southwest corner of Bishop's Road. Plans  were drawn up and Bishop Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno authorized the local priest to bless the 12 acre site "as soon as it is properly fenced in."

The new burial ground was blessed on November 3, 1844 by Father Thomas Estenaga, and formally consecrated twenty-two years later by Bishop Thaddeus Amat, C.M., under the title of Calvary Cemetery. Old Calvary Cemetery served the City of Angels for the next six decades, until city expansion called for a second relocation.   "New Calvary Cemetery" was established in 1896 on Whittier Boulevard just east of downtown Los Angeles. Now simply referred to as "Calvary", it continues to serve the community and is considered among the most prominent cemeteries in Los Angeles.

The oldest of the Archdiocesan cemeteries in its original location is the 30-acre Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard. Founded in 1874 during the leadership of Bishop Thaddeus Amat, C.M., who moved the Episcopal seat to Los Angeles. Bishop Amat also built the present St. Vibiana Cathedral in 1876.

Holy Cross Cemetery in Pomona, was founded in 1886 as the parish cemetery of St. Joseph Church in Pomona, under Bishop Amat's successor, Bishop Francis Mora. Holy Cross became part of the Archdiocese Cemetery Department  in 1967.

In 1896, the archdiocese's second cemetery was founded in Santa Barbara by a Jesuit priest and botanist, Father Stockman. The establishment of the 20-acre Calvary Cemetery on Hope Avenue, three miles from the courthouse, coincided with the beginning of the rapid growth in Los Angeles to the south, which doubled in size during the tenures of Bishops George Montgomery, (1896-1903) and Thomas Conaty (1903-1915). During that time, more than 100 churches, schools and hospitals were built, and with the development of new parishes came the need for more burial ground.

In 1922, Pope Pius XI divided the 90,000 square mile Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles and created the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego. Then, three years after the final alteration in 1936, which made Bishop John J. Cantwell the first archbishop of Los Angeles, Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City was founded. It's site selection, with its rolling hills, peaks and valleys, have allowed Holy Cross to become one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Southern California. Holy Cross is the largest of the Archdiocesan Cemeteries and is comprised of 200 acres.

The 1950s saw a need for more Catholic Cemeteries in the Archdiocese. All Souls Cemetery, Long Beach, began in 1950, with 78 acres. Two more cemeteries were founded in 1952: San Fernando Mission Cemetery; with 86 acres, serving the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys; and Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello, east of Los Angeles, with 97 acres. In 1959, the 100-acre Queen of Heaven Cemetery, was established on Fullerton Road in Rowland Heights.  

The 90-acre Assumption Cemetery in the Simi Valley was established in 1970. The most recent cemetery in the Archdiocese is Good Shepherd Cemetery in Lancaster, opened in 1991. In 1985, Pope John Paul II named Roger Michael Mahony the first native born Angeleno to shepherd the largest archdiocese in the country.  Archbishop Mahony became Cardinal in 1991, and five years later he created these five pastoral regions.  Under the present leadership of Cardinal Mahony, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has kept pace with the rapid growth of its Catholic population, attending to all its spiritual needs, including the corporal work of mercy of providing space for Christian burial. At last count, the Archdiocese serves 4,080,793 Catholics in the three counties of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura, which encompasses 8,762 square miles.

 Text adapted from work by Msgr. Francis J. Weber, Archivist Archdiocese of Los Angeles

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