“It looks like it is not as easy to do as we originally intended,” said Jim Milway, chancellor of temporal affairs for the archdiocese. “The idea is not dead by any stretch.”
Original plans for the $128-million renovation of the cathedral included a Crypt Chapel with considerable space for urns. But creating new crypt space beneath the cathedral would make the area an active cemetery, according to provincial law. That means the cathedral would have to comply with various regulations for cemeteries.
One complication is that a cemetery must be prepared to open for visitation at any time of day or night. In the case of the cathedral that “could create conflicts” with other daily activities and scheduled uses of the church, according to Amy Profenna, a spokesperson for Catholic Cemeteries, which operates the cemeteries associated with the Archdiocese of Toronto.
“We’d have to have security and we’d have to allow visitors at any time,” Milway said. “Even if Fr. (Michael) Busch is celebrating a Mass down there, or if there is a school class down there, we can’t stop people from coming in and seeing their father’s niche.”
As the regulatory issues are addressed, a decision still needs to be made regarding how many crypts will be created. The Crypt Chapel, which may take up to two more years to finish, can accommodate up to 1,800 niches but the total may be limited to as few as 400.
Regardless of the number, Milway believes interest will exceed it.
“I can imagine there would be a great interest in having your remains there,” he said. “It is done at a lot of cathedrals around the world.”
When the new $250 million cathedral in Los Angeles opened in 2002, it included a mausoleum with 1,270 crypts for caskets and 4,746 niches for urns.
“We don’t have a ton of space down there (at St. Michael’s) in comparison,” Milway said. “They planned for that, whereas we were working with a 165-year-old building.”
More than 60 people are already entombed in crypts at St. Michael’s, including Toronto’s first bishop, Michael Power.
Unlike in Los Angeles, where caskets can be accommodated, the plan at St. Michael’s Cathedral will be restricted to niches for cremated remains in urns.
“The practicality of getting a coffin down the stairs and into the space, that was rejected as being impractical from early discussions,” Milway said.
Although Milway believes none of the problems are insurmountable, “they are headaches and road blocks that we just can’t deal with right now,” he said.
“So right now those plans are on hold.”