Mausoleum to open, bring solace to grieving

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NISKAYUNA — Drivers on Route 7 have been watching the construction of Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery’s mausoleum for more than two years.

Now, with the granite, timbers and custom stained glass window in place, Mary Immaculate Patroness of America Mausoleum is scheduled to be dedicated by Albany Diocese Bishop Edward Scharfenberger on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

The building is shaped like a cross with crypts and niches in each of the four wings. The building was designed to reflect more than faith. Soaring Ponderosa Pine trunks stretch to support the vaulted ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling cedar planks give the space an Adirondack-like feeling, design elements included on purpose to honor famed Niskayuna architect and conservationist Paul Schaefer.

“I love that it’s open and airy,” said Lori Biskup, director for family services at the Albany Diocesan Cemeteries. “It’s reflective of the Adirondacks and a nod to Paul Schaefer’s architectural style and conservation work.”

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The most striking piece in the mausoleum is a stained glass window that measures 16 feet by 18 feet. Green, yellow and blue tones again emphasize the natural aesthetic while the window’s centerpiece features an interpretation of the Biblical Tree of Life behind an image of the risen Jesus.

The window was created by Conrad Pickel Studio, Inc. in Vero Beach, Florida. To accommodate the size of the window, artists rented a gymnasium in which to work before delivering it to Niskayuna.

Two murals also adorn the main space. These murals were created in Italy and measure 4 feet by 8 feet. They are made from smalti glass tiles that are made to reflect the light. One of the murals depicts Mary Immaculate Patroness of America while the other Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Below each mural, there is an engraving of a portion of a psalm.

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Two of the mausoleum’s wings also feature an image of a local saint painted by Hudson Valley iconographer and artist Christine Simoneau Hales. Hales painted two portraits each measuring eight feet by four feet, the same size as the murals.

An image of Jesuit priest, missionary and martyr St. Isaac Jogues overlooks the west wing with an inscription from Psalm 34 beneath the painting while in the east wing, there is a painting of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery broke ground on the building in the spring of 2015. Now that it is complete, the mausoleum contains 992 crypt spaces, including 672 inside and 320 outside. There are different types of crypts: single crypts or spaces for two people either side by side or in tandem.

Slabs of sandy-colored limestone or dark Adirondack granite are used to mark the crypts. The lettering will be done via a sand-blasting process then painted with gold lithichrome on the granite fronts and will be laser etched on a plaque and placed on the limestone fronts.

For cremated remains, there are also 704 niche spaces for urns, also of different sizes, including 20 single niches, 80 companion niches, 20 glass-front single niches and 32 glass-front companion niches inside. The mausoleum’s exterior will have 456 of the 704 niche spaces.

Biskup said the glass fronts for urns are a new feature for the cemetery. Along with the urn or urns, approved personal mementos may be allowed to be placed inside as well.

Like a traditional cemetery burial, families can choose to have a service of committal in the mausoleum.

Biskup pointed out that the new mausoleum has a smaller environmental footprint than traditional cemetery burial plots. That is, the cemetery has greater capacity using less land.

Mausoleums have been used for centuries in various forms, with ancient mausoleums found across Asia, Africa, South America and the Mediterranean. Often preferred to an interment as a way to make a statement about a deceased person’s stature and wealth, above-ground entombments are also common in areas where it is not practical to have an in-ground burial due to soil conditions or the level of the water table.

Even though it may feel odd or unpleasant, Biskup and diocesan Communications Director Jen Mele encourage families to talk about final wishes and plans so family members are not caught off-guard or left with no idea what to do.

“It doesn’t have to be this negative thing,” Mele said.

“It brings peace of mind,” Biskup added.

So far, 97 crypts and 33 niches have been reserved.

The building was designed by Karl Griffith of Schenectady-based Griffith Dardanelli Architects PC and was built by Coldspring Memorial of Coldspring, Minnesota.