Franciscan Spirit – Summer 2020

Sister Alice Gilabert spends a lot of time thinking about where people will spend eternity.

Sister ministers as the secretary for St. Aloysius parish cemetery in western New York. There she is responsible for everything related to burial, from working with funeral homes to arranging for the grave to be dug. She completes all necessary paperwork following internments and bills for pre-paid gravesites. She submits work orders to complete the cement work needed before placing a monument on a grave, and she works with the companies that sell grave monuments to parishioners.

But it is her direct contact with those who are grieving a loss that is most meaningful to her.

“I sell graves to parishioners and non-parishioners; 90 percent of the time that requires that I meet the person(s) in the cemetery itself,” she says. While pre-planning a funeral and buying gravesites ahead of time is becoming popular, Sister Alice says most often she is meeting with grieving families after a loved one passed away without a burial plot.

“That is the hardest part of my job,” Sister Alice says. “How does one console a grieving wife, husband, or grown children who have lost their parent? I spend much of my time listening to the people who are grieving.”

Sister Alice walks the deceased’s friends and family through the cemetery to pick out a gravesite. She shows them the cemetery map with the names of those buried or who will be buried in a particular spot. “It does help when the family knows someone in the cemetery; they feel comfortable having a loved one buried next to Joe Smith or Katy Jones because they were good friends or good neighbors,” she says.

Sister Alice began handling cemetery duties in 2010 when St. Aloysius Parish’s pastor, Fr. Larry Cobel, asked her if she would take over the position when the former cemetery secretary took a new job. She and Sister Lois Jean Nunweiler live at the parish’s convent and are active parish members.

“Serving in this ministry, I have learned to walk and talk with reverence and compassion,” Sister Alice says. “How can you not when you stare death in the face and deal with people who have lost their beloved family or friends? We become sisters to all by our comfort and compassion to those broken in heart and spirit at the time of a loved one’s death.”