By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Planning a funeral for a loved one is no fun! There’s something comforting about working with a funeral home and cemetery that has served Catholics for generations, as well as Christians of other denominations. Whether independently owned and operated or run by a corporation, care is given to the deceased and to their families in ways that comfort and relieve families and build trust.
There are two independently owned Catholic funeral homes and three diocesan Catholic cemeteries in Kansas City, and one diocesan Catholic cemetery in St. Joseph.
Muehlebach Funeral Home, 6800 Troost Ave., Kansas City, has been serving Catholic families since 1954. The areas now known as Brookside and Southtown, were home to very few businesses at the time, but James V. “Bud” Harrington saw the need for a Catholic funeral home, and founded Muehlebach, honoring his mother, whose maiden name was Muehlebach. The doors opened in June 1954, across the street from Forest Hills and Calvary cemeteries, and now serve families from all over the city.
Muehlebach was the first in Kansas City to offer the public pre-arranged funeral plans. The comfort and convenience afforded by the plans, the knowing that families would not be pressed into making arrangements for a loved one during the stress-filled time following their death, and the convenience of paying over time for the plan, caught on. Pre-need plans are now offered at many funeral homes.
James Harrington, who joined his father Bud in 1963, was named president of the funeral home in 1977. He bought the funeral home form Bud in 1995. Bud Harrington died in 2002.
The funeral home is owned by Steve Pierce and his wife Nicole. Pierce has been a funeral director for more than 25 years, and joined Harrington at Muehlebach in 2001. Pierce and his wife took over the funeral home’s operation in 2003. James Harrington is still actively connected and serves as president of Pre-Need Muehlebach.
“As an independent, Catholic funeral home,” Pierce said, “we understand Catholic Church teaching on funeral rites and how they are comforting to families. We know that the rite of Christian burial is very important, and we work closely with the clergy. Whether an individual or a family wants a traditional funeral service or cremation, we serve them. If a person or family decides on cremation, we have the capability of doing that here. Families are comforted by knowing that the deceased and the cremains never leave our care in our care until they are buried or inurned in a cemetery or mausoleum.”
It is a full-service funeral home, serving all faiths, with a trained staff committed to helping and getting to know and serve each person and family.
“Funerals are an opportunity to paint a picture of a life and a way to capture the essence of someone you love,” Pierce said. “Funerals help you acknowledge, remember and begin to heal.” He added that to him, and to the other licensed funeral directors and apprentice director, “this is not a job. I truly believe it’s a vocation.”
Passantino Brothers Funeral Home, 2117 Independence Boulevard, was founded by brothers Charles, George and Rosario Passantino in 1930, beginning a tradition of professional, personal and compassionate service to each family they served. Being family owned enabled them to honor the traditions of each family. That standard passed to Leonard and his cousin Buddy and from Leonard to his son Charlie Passantino. The funeral home is still at the original location.
Passantino Bros. Funeral Home is domiciled in a turn of the century mansion, one of the many that in the early 20th century lined Independence Boulevard. James Kellog Burnham (1843-1907) founder and president of the Burnham, Hanna, Munger Dry Goods Co., wholesalers of uniforms, overalls and other clothing built the house in the late 1880s. Mr. Burnham also was a Kansas City parks commissioner. After his death, the house was split into apartments and remained that way until the Passantino family acquired it in 1929, intending to open a funeral home in the house. For more than 85 years, the Passantinos have operated the funeral home, comforting families of all faiths.
Over the years, there have been additions and remodeling, and several years ago an extensive redecorating renovation project was completed to keep the funeral home’s high standards.
“As a family-owned Catholic funeral home,” Passantino said, “we hire Catholic funeral directors. They know church teaching and believe in the same doctrines. People need to take the time to compare, not just price, but where they feel comfortable. After all, a funeral director will spend at least a week with a family, and even after, offering support” during the grieving process. “It’s important that the family feels comforted and comfortable with the funeral director, and can trust him or her.”
Passantino Brothers offers traditional funerals and cremation services, serving all faiths. Pre-arrangements are available.
Muehlebach and Passantino’s funeral homes also offer grief counseling and a counselor on hand to assist with notifications to creditors, insurance companies, utility companies and banks.
With the approval of the diocesan cemetery board, Steve Pierce and Charlie Passantino last year expanded into cemetery management when former manager Joe Harris retired. Under their leadership are Mt. Olivet, Resurrection and Mount St. Mary’s cemetery, all in Kansas City and Mt. Olivet Cemetery in St. Joseph. Day to day operations are managed by Steve Reyes.
“Catholic cemeteries are special places in our faith,” Reyes said. “They are holy places where we visit our loved ones, pray and meditate. It is important to us and to the families we serve that our cemeteries are well maintained and beautiful. It’s an almost tangible feeling of caring.”
The two Mt. Olivet cemeteries and Resurrection Cemetery have gardens where upright memorials are allowed, like in old cemeteries including Mt. St. Mary’s and older sections of other cemeteries. At Mt. Olivet-KC, Good Shepherd Garden allows upright memorials, and at Resurrection, the garden of the Old Rugged Cross allows them. Mt. Olivet-St. Joseph has several gardens where upright memorials are permitted, including St. John, St. Paul, St. Ann, St. Joseph and Christ the King.
The Legacy Gardens at Mt. Olivet-KC and Resurrection cemeteries are resting places dedicated to armed forces veterans and first responders. Many of the structures, including benches purchased by families honoring particular veterans or first responders, are in place. Near the Legacy Garden at Mt. Olivet, is a gravesite dedicated to flag retirement and disposal, and the flag burning ceremony has been held there for several years. A flag retirement ceremony is being planned; the date will be announced soon.
When individuals or families are planning funerals for themselves or loved ones, usually cemetery plots or mausoleum niches are purchased. When asked about pre-arrangements, Reyes said the advantage of pre-purchasing cemetery space is that is allows children and spouses to grieve without having to worry about “where” during one of the worst times of life.
He added that children may only visit grandparents or great-grandparents with their parents, but as we grow older, each time we visit our relatives at rest in a Catholic cemetery, “we see more people we know: other relatives, friends, priests, possibly teachers if we attended Catholic schools. It’s nice to know that the cemeteries are taking care of all the families and friends.”
Charlie Passantino said it is also comforting to know that Catholic cemeteries will be around a long while and be taken care of. In many cases, cemeteries are forever, and with Catholic cemeteries, the owners are local, in this case the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. As a result the money spent on cemetery property stays in the community.
There is still space available at Mt. Olivet-KC, Resurrection and Mt. Olivet-St. Joseph cemeteries. Mt. St. Mary’s, founded in 1877 by Father Bernard Donnelly, has no more space available at this time.
There are many funeral homes in the diocese that serve Catholic families, including McGilley Memorial Chapels, Speaks and Carson-Speaks Memorial Chapels. McGilley Chapels are locally operated, offering compassionate care, as well as value from Dignity Memorial Network, the largest network of funeral, cremation and cemetery services in the country.
Speaks chapels are located in the Independence Mo., area, owned and operated by the Speaks family since 1936. McGilley and Speaks offer pre-need plans, funeral planning, cremation services, counseling and notification services. People of all faiths are served.
As part of the Dignity Memorial® network, McGilley Memorial Chapels will ensure you not only receive the compassionate care you expect from a locally operated establishment, but also the value you deserve from North America’s largest network of funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers.
Catholics should be able to sleep in peace knowing that their loved ones and someday they themselves will requiescat in pace, with services from Catholic funeral homes and cemeteries.
For additional information on Muehlebach Funeral Home, see www.MuehlebachChapel.com or call (816) 444-2060.
For additional information on Passantino Brothers Funeral Home, www.passantinobros.com or call (816) 471-2844.
For information on diocesan cemeteries, see www.cemeterieskcsj.org; Mt. Olivet-KC, 7601 Blue Ridge Blvd., Kansas City (816) 353-1900. Mt. St. Mary’s, 2201 Cleveland Avenue, Kansas City, (816) 241-7665, Resurrection Cemetery, 5001 NE Cookingham Drive, Kansas City, (816) 734-2356, Mt. Olivet-St. Joseph, 26th and Lovers Lane, St. Joseph, (817) 279-5005.