Farewell, dear departed, once more

Ashes are moved from one memorial garden to another, lending a sense of peace to most, but not all, of the living.

Published June 8, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - The rains held off as relatives and friends gathered in a memorial garden to say a final farewell to their loved ones - again.

In a brief and unusual ceremony Friday evening, the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida consecrated the ground where the ashes of parishioners from the now closed Holy Cross church in St. Petersburg had been reinterred.

Minutes before the service, Mary Reynolds laid three white roses tied with satin ribbon on the tiny patch of ground at St. Giles' Episcopal Church, 8271 52nd St. N in Pinellas Park.

The roses were for her mother, Elizabeth Schoonover Cobb.

"Tomorrow is the 12th anniversary since my mother's death," said Reynolds, 51, who carried a red family prayer book to the service.

Her mother had been active at Holy Cross, Reynolds said, working tirelessly for the church. The diocese closed the struggling church in 1999. Now the church and the land it sits on at 750 93rd Ave. N, in St. Petersburg, are being sold for $1.2-million to developer Joseph Nix. Nix, president of West Florida Builders Group, plans to build two dozen single-family homes, averaging $300,000, on the property.

With the sale almost final, the diocese decided to move the memorial garden to St. Giles, where some Holy Cross parishioners settled. A plaque with the names of those buried there, two crosses, a couple of benches and a statue of St. Francis have found a spot in St. Giles' memorial garden.

Jane Leonard, a former member of Holy Cross, now attends the Pinellas Park church.

"I was glad when it was moved here, because it had fallen into disrepair," she said of the relocated garden.

The ashes of her parents had been buried near the statue of St. Francis at Holy Cross.

As Bishop John B. Lipscomb prepared to lead the service Friday, reunited friends hugged and greeted each other happily. Lipscomb said it had been a doubly difficult time for Holy Cross parishioners, who had lost both a church and loved ones.

The Rev. John Hartnett, rector of St. Giles, said he was pleased his church could offer the space in the St. Joseph's Memorial Garden.

Christine O'Brien and her husband, Jim, now members of St. Peter's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, were among more than two dozen people at the service.

"My mom and dad were part of the garden," Christine O'Brien said.

Lillian Budnick, 77, had been head of the Holy Cross altar guild. She now attends St. Giles.

"It's lovely here," she said, sitting in a wheelchair just outside the walled memorial garden.

Reynolds said she was pleased with the way things turned out.

"I thought the service was lovely," she said. "I'm quite at ease and comforted."

The Jobson family isn't. Ken K. Jobson said the diocese handled the relocation of the garden badly. The ashes of his 4-year-old sister, Somer Michelle, were buried at Holy Cross. Jobson said the relocation of the garden was purely symbolic.

"There are still two urns left there. They made no attempt to find anyone," he said.

"What has upset me with the whole thing is they didn't consult anybody," said his mother, Janice Jobson.

"I can't say I understand what the church has done. It's just not something that you expect. When you lay somebody to rest, you don't expect a house to be built on top of them."

The Jobsons say identifying discs buried with the ashes would have helped in the diocese's removal of the garden.

The ashes at Holy Cross had been poured directly into the ground, said diocese spokesman Jim DeLa. There are no records showing where each person's ashes were buried.

"I talked to the former longtime rector who was there. The church never kept any detailed records of where in that memorial garden ashes were scattered. There were some families who came out with Father Hartnett and said, here and here and here, and we did what we could to come up with soil to be transferred to St. Giles," DeLa said.

Anderson-McQueen Funeral and Cremation Centers was not involved in the relocation, but president Bill McQueen said that over the past 20 or so years most crematories attach a metal disc to the body, and the disc typically survives cremation. If ashes are poured directly into the ground, tags likely are not buried with them, he said.

"We realize that it's an emotional issue," DeLa said. "The overriding intent was that the families and friends have a place to go that is nice and accessible to remember their loved ones. I think that the St. Giles location is appropriate and preserves the dignity and memory of the departed."