Famous Catholic author Nouwen moved to Anglican cemetery

  • November 25, 2010
Fr. Henri NouwenRICHMOND HILL, ONT. - World famous Catholic author Fr. Henri Nouwen has a new resting place, in an Anglican cemetery.

In July Nouwen’s remains were moved from the Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery in King City north of Toronto to St. John’s Anglican Cemetery in Richmond Hill. The author of The Wounded Healer, The Inner Voice and The Return of the Prodigal Son had been buried at Sacred Heart in 1996 after his sudden death while visiting his native Holland.

In his books and in private conversations, Nouwen had always expressed a desire to be buried with the friends he lived with at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill, Ont.

In 1996 a plot at Sacred Heart was donated by the Augustinian Fathers. With plans then hatching to expand Sacred Heart Cemetery, the L’Arche community had hoped to make Sacred Heart the usual graveyard for L’Arche core members.

As it turned out however, plans to expand Sacred Heart were scrapped and there were no more plots available after Nouwen was buried.

That left Nouwen stranded alone at Sacred Heart while the friends he had known and written about were buried in St. John’s — which is closer to L’Arche Daybreak and where the community had been able to buy 20 plots to accommodate the needs of an aging group.

“Actually it was his family who requested (the move),” said Sr. Sue Mosteller, executor of Nouwen’s estate. “They knew his desire, and so his brother was here in the summer and went up to the (Sacred Heart) cemetery. He said, ‘I just feel badly because we haven’t really done what Henri asked.’ ”

About 100 L’Arche members and friends gathered at the new grave to pray, sprinkle holy water and remember Nouwen. He is buried among four of his friends.

“It would be wonderful if it could have been a Catholic cemetery,” said Mosteller. “That would be good.”

But it was Henri’s desires, and his family’s wish to honour those desires, that made St. John’s the right final resting place, said Mosteller.

Canon law requires Catholics be buried in consecrated ground, blessed by a priest in communion with a Catholic bishop. The Anglican diocese of Toronto said it has not received any request to reconsecrate the ground where Nouwen is now buried. The cemetery ground was consecrated by an Anglican bishop when it was established. The church at 12125 Yonge St. has been serving Richmond Hill since 1848.

There are Catholics around the world buried in public and Protestant cemeteries. Burial in an Anglican cemetery should not be an issue, said Fr. Damian MacPherson, the archdiocese of Toronto office of ecumenism and interfaith affairs director.

“I just think it’s not an issue,” MacPherson said. “Whether he’s in a public cemetery or a Protestant cemetery, his salvation is assured.”

There are Nouwen admirers who come to visit the grave, though the numbers aren’t great, said Mosteller. L’Arche’s woodworking shop restored an old wooden bench and placed it next to the plot for visitors.

Nouwen’s 40 books seem to have as large an audience today as they ever had, said Mosteller. His books are translated into 22 languages and published in 52 countries around the world.

“The books are selling. The translations are flying,” said Mosteller. “He continues to be a well-loved author. He has touched a chord in certain people.”

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