As part of the Diocese of Buffalo, Catholic Cemeteries serves as a means for members of the community to mourn, bury and pay their respects to their departed loved ones. In serving the same clientele, Catholic Cemeteries has formed a strong bond with Stone Art Memorial Company Inc., the 160-year-old business that specializes in unique stonework to be put in cemeteries, mausoleums and other locations.
Since the Catholic cemeteries in Buffalo contain much of Stone Art Memorial's work, leadership of the two entities have also come to know each other well over the years. Thomas Koch, president of Stone Art Memorial, has frequently worked with the employees of Catholic Cemeteries, and Koch and his own team have donated time, stone and other materials to help out families in their most difficult times.
Via its showrooms, Stone Art Memorial shows families potential designs, and its artisans then compose custom, personalized designs that memorialize the deceased and his or her passions in life. In many cases, Catholic Cemeteries fulfills its orders for markers and memorials via Stone Art Memorial, which has locations in Lackawanna and the Town of Tonawanda, letting it serve much of Western New York.
"Tom has been a great friend of Catholic Cemeteries," said Carmen Colao, diocesan director of Catholic Cemeteries, of the organizations' partnership. "His understanding of our ministry is reflected in the quality and artistry that goes into the design of every memorial that is placed in our sacred grounds. His generosity over the years is a testament to his belief in helping others, especially when they are most vulnerable."
"We do quite a lot for the Catholic cemeteries," Koch said. "Mount Olivet in Kenmore, Holy Cross in Lackawanna, and (in summer 2017) Gate of Heaven in Lewiston have a burial section for unborn fetuses. In all of those areas in each of their cemeteries, we've donated and provided custom design memorials."
According to Koch, when he came to town in 1986, Catholic Cemeteries was having a Cleveland-based company do its work. He noted that although Stone Art Memorial had long since done individual projects for customers to be put in the Catholic cemeteries, the diocese had not requested them.
This changed in the late '80s with a change of management, when Catholic Cemeteries approached Stone Art Memorial to do work for them. Koch recalled, "They came to us, we worked it out and we started doing their flush markers. Then, it just evolved from there and we've been working with them pretty closely for 27 years."
Koch has worked specifically with Colao since 1990, offering plenty of time to establish rapport. "The two of us kind of oversee the entire connection between their company and our company," Koch commented. "We've been doing all of their columbariums, usually their center features where there are niches for the cremated remains. We do a fair amount of their statuary. We do a number of large features for different sections. Recently, we took a bell and stained glass windows out of a church that was being taken down here in Lackawanna, and incorporated them into a bell tower for Holy Cross Cemetery."
Stone Art Memorial was responsible for placing another bell in Mount Olivet. The company designs and builds the granite structure from where the bell hangs. It is also in the process of completing a feature memorial at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Lockport for a new burial section that will be placed there in the near future. Making an ideal memorial for a loved one is not something that will necessarily give a family closure, but rather something physical, etched in granite, representing what that life was about, Koch said.
In addition to its collaboration with Catholic Cemeteries, Stone Art Memorial has also partnered with the Rock of Ages Corporation in Vermont, which is known for the superior granite it supplies to many cemetery-related businesses, since 2000. Stone Art Memorial is the only Rock of Ages partner in all of Erie County. "It's the big, prestigious memorial manufacturer in the country," Koch said.