Cloistered Dominican nuns

The Dominican nuns have had a private cemetery since 1979 when they received a zoning variance from Manheim Township. The graves will be moved now that the sisters have left. 

The Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary moved out of their Manheim Township monastery building Tuesday, but the effort to vacate the grounds is not done. Also moving are the remains of 24 sisters buried at the site’s private cemetery.

All 24 graves will be moved to St. Joseph’s New Roman Catholic Cemetery along Charles Road in Lancaster Township. The process is expected to begin later this month and take around a month to complete.

The sisters prefer arranging the transfer of the remains rather than having a buyer of the property do so, said Charles “Chip” Snyder of Charles F. Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory, which is overseeing the disinterments. “I just feel very honored to help them moved their beloved sisters.”

While Snyder said transferring so many graves in such a short time is unusual, the funeral home typically handles six to 12 such moves a year.

Snyder said the graves will first be probed to find the edges of the vaults, and then dirt will be removed with a backhoe. Hand tools will then be used to expose the top and sides of the vault. Cables are then secured around the vault, which will be lifted onto a vault truck with the coffin still inside.

Snyder said two vaults will likely be taken on one truck. Using two trucks will make it possible to move four sisters at a time. The old graves will be immediately filled, with the vaults reburied the same way a new one is handled. The whole process will take several weeks because of the coordination required to have equipment and personnel available, Snyder said.

It typically costs between $4,000 and $6,000 to move a grave, which includes equipment rental, cost of a new grave itself, cost to move the markers, and the funeral director’s fee for filing the necessary paperwork and overseeing the whole process, Snyder said. The cost to move all the sisters will be less since the new graves are being donated, and Snyder is waiving its typical fees.

Sister Denise Marie, the temporary vicaress of the monastery, said the total pricetag will likely be around $50,000.

The Dominican nuns have had a private cemetery since 1979 when they received a zoning variance from Manheim Township. Moving the graves had been a buyer’s condition of a planned sale of the property that fell through over the winter because of unrelated zoning reasons.

Now, the nuns are bearing the cost of the moving the cemetery to provide a secure resting place for the remains while also removing a possible roadblock for would-be buyers.

“How many people want to take a property where half an acre is a graveyard?” said Marilyn Berger, the real estate agent entertaining sale offers on behalf of the nuns. “It will absolutely help the property, and once they’re all out, I won’t even had to mention it.”