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Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Rev. Robert DeMartinis, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church in Amsterdam, talks about the columbarium project while in the parish office Thursday.

Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff The foundation has already been laid at the St. Stanislaus Cemetery for the soon-to-come columbarium.


Church readies Amsterdam's first-ever columbarium

Saturday, May 11, 2013 - Updated: 3:29 PM


Recorder News Staff

For local resident Michael Ryba, it has been his decision for the past number of years to be cremated when it is his time to go.

As registered organ donors, that was a decision that he and his wife, Kim, had made together.

And the plan was to always be cremated and buried in plots next to his parents in a local cemetery.

Now, however, Ryba's plans have changed and he and Kim have secured their spot in a new space in Amsterdam: the columbarium.

Ryba said it brings a sense of ease knowing that things are planned out and there will be no grave plots for his family members to maintain.

The granite columbarium, a structure used to house the cremains of individuals, is being built right within city boundaries at St. Stanislaus Cemetery. The two-piece structure will house 50 individual niches, each able to hold up to two urns.

Ryba has already made his commitment for his niche.

The idea to construct a columbarium came to Rev. Robert DeMartinis, pastor of St. Stanislaus Church, about a year ago.

"The reality is that death comes to everybody, but in the 27 years in my priesthood, it's quite obvious that more and more people, as the times are changing, are choosing cremation now as an option for final disposition," he explained. "Because of that, we felt here in Amsterdam there may be a need to give them another choice."

The foundation for the Holy Cross Memorial Columbarium, as it will be called, is already in place and the entire $30,000 structure will be completed before Memorial Day. With approximately 40 percent of all funerals being cremation and that number continuing to grow, DeMartinis said, he knew it was the right decision.

"We just want to give the whole community at large, not just Catholics, but the whole community, Fulton, Montgomery and the surrounding area, the option of this columbarium if they choose cremation."

And it not only provides another option, but provides a lower-cost option as opposed to a regular burial with a casket, DeMartinis added.

"That's one of the reasons people look at this, because of the expense," he said.

Peter Rose, a licensed funeral director for Betz, Rossi, Bellinger, and Stewart, said that families often choose cremation, not just for the financial reasons, but for the simplicity of it, as well, and the fact that it opens up an entirely different set of funeral options.

"A lot of times it's going to be the deceased's decision to ease the pain on the family," Rose explained.

Individuals can have a direct cremation, a cremation with a service, or a full-service cremation, he explained. The latter is the most popular, Rose said, as it involves embalming the body, providing calling hours with a ceremonial casket and rather than going to the cemetery after the funeral, the person is cremated.

But while many people choose cremation, the family members who are given the urn of cremains are often unsure of what to do with them.

Some bury them. Others scatter them. But, DeMartinis said, the proper thing to do is to place them in a columbarium and that's where this project comes into play.

"The Catholic Church discourages against scattering or even keeping cremains at home," DeMartinis said, adding that that is different for every denomination. "The Catholic Church really believes that they should be in an inurnment."

Once the urn is placed inside a niche in the columbarium, a shutter is cemented in front of it, closing the niche and locking the urn away. The person's name, dates of birth and death, and sometimes even a saying are engraved on the front.

Dolores Dybas, a parishioner at St. Stanislaus as well as the church's office manager, said the columbarium is a great option that wasn't available before and it's also an opportunity for community members to learn more about the cremation process.

"Personally, I'm not going to take that option, but I think it's giving people the chance," she said. "They understand the church policy now about cremation and they understand there's a way to bury people in a very respectful way.

"I'm glad to be able to share that with people when they come in for questions."

The closest columbarium to the Amsterdam community is located in Saratoga, Rose said, making this project something very different.

"This is going to be unique to Montgomery County and for that matter, I'm going to probably say the Mohawk Valley," Rose said. "I don't believe there is any other cemetery that has this opportunity."

St. Stanislaus had to go through the Albany Catholic Diocese to get the project approved, and after getting the approval, funded the columbarium to get it constructed.

Though the columbarium won't officially go in until the end of the month, a handful of families have already secured niches in the structure, Ryba being one of them.

DeMartinis said the niches are available for everyone, not just Catholics.

"The sad actuality is we all die, but one way or another people have to make decisions of do I want a traditional burial or do I want the option of being cremated," he said. "Up until this time, the only options were to scatter, keep in the house, or bury, but now they've got another option and that's why we call it a "sacred space and a difference choice.'"

A dedication service for the columbarium will be held on Memorial Day at 11 a.m. at St. Stanislaus Cemetery after which point cremains will begin to be placed.

For more information on the columbarium, readers can contact St. Stanislaus Church at 842-2771.


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