Since it opened in 1991, the Memorial Gardens cemetery at the former Crystal Cathedral, now Christ Cathedral, has been a restful enclave where relatives of the dead could pray, reflect or grieve. Set below grade, in the shadow of the iconic glass cathedral and prayer tower, the 3-acre plot of green with a mausoleum and niches, flanked by fountains, has been a popular feature on the Christ Cathedral campus. 

Once one of the best-kept secrets in the Diocesan roster of cemeteries, the Memorial Gardens are about to undergo a major overhaul and expansion. 

“It’s an important feature for the community,” said Michael Wesner, director of cemeteries for the Diocese, calling it an “honor and a privilege” to oversee and maintain the grounds. 

In recent years, as the small cemetery has begun to approach capacity, the Diocese began planning to undertake an impressive expansion of the space. In addition to expanding the footprint of the cemetery by nearly an acre, the grounds will expand capacity by about 450 percent, adding a Sanctuary of Eternal Life; mausoleum; sarcophagi, or stone coffins; and thousands of glass and marble niches. 

While the Diocese oversees more than 100 acres of property across four operating cemeteries, the parcel in the Christ Cathedral complex is unique. It is the only ecumenical burial ground, and a rare operating cemetery adjacent to a church. 

Wesner said the cemetery will remain available to non-Catholics to honor the multi-denominational roots of the space. However, he said about 95 – 98 percent of those now purchasing spaces are Catholic. 

Because of the cemetery’s ecumenical history and the modernist architecture throughout the campus, the expansion will be reflective of that look. 

The new sanctuary will be “striking and modern,” according to architects, and feature “large doors embellished with glass artwork.” 

The expansion will be able to accommodate about 6,300 added spaces, including room for 1,200 more in-ground burials, which are sold in 600 two-space lots. Wesner expects these spots will go quickly. Already 30 have sold before the groundbreaking. Another 800 mausoleum spaces will be available and may take several years to sell out. There will also be more than 4,000 niches, which could remain available through the second phase of construction, Wesner predicted. 

Full story at OC Catholic.