Major improvements to the historic Holy Rood Cemetery on Wisconsin Avenue have now been completed by Georgetown University and Holy Trinity Church.
Improvements include a new entrance and visitor plaza, an ornamental gate and fence, major re-landscaping, restoration of the hillside crypt and the resetting of fallen headstones.
Holy Trinity also has built a 645-niche columbarium at the cemetery on an easement the university granted to the church.
In 2002, the university rebuilt the stone retaining wall along Wisconsin Avenue. Georgetown also erected an entrance sign in early 2015.
Named after the Scottish term haly ruid, meaning “holy cross,” the cemetery sits on six-and-a-half acres of land owned by Georgetown and located a quarter-mile northeast of the parish.
There have been more than 7,000 burials at Holy Rood since it was established as Holy Trinity Church’s parish cemetery in 1832. Among the burials are Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Nevitt and European immigrants who came to America in the 19th century.
Future memorialization efforts and historical study at Holy Rood will be done in collaboration with a diverse set of stakeholders, including local descendants of enslaved people.
“Georgetown University has appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with Holy Trinity Church on this important work,” said Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., the university’s vice president for mission and ministry. “The cemetery links our rich history not only with the Jesuit parish, but with the entire Georgetown community.
A Restoration Plan
Holy Trinity sold the last cemetery lot at Holy Rood in 1915, and the cemetery was closed to further burials in 1985. Without revenue from lot sales to finance cemetery maintenance, conditions at Holy Rood deteriorated.
Headstones toppled or were vandalized, invasive trees and shrubs grew and the asphalt roadway became cracked and unsightly.
In 2010, a small group of Holy Trinity parishioners began working with Georgetown and the Archdiocese of Washington on a plan to restore the cemetery.
The plan allowed the church to build a columbarium at the cemetery on an easement the university granted to Holy Trinity and establish a Perpetual Care Endowment to fund cemetery maintenance and improvement.
With the approval of the Archdiocese, work at Holy Rood began in the spring of 2019 and was completed in the spring of 2020.
Entombment of cremated remains in the columbarium is available to Holy Trinity parishioners, Georgetown University alumni, faculty, staff and others, and is open to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Since completing the columbarium in the fall of 2019, Holy Trinity has already sold entombment rights in a substantial number of niches. Niches in both the wall and the crypt are still available to the public via the Holy Trinity Columbarium website.
Geier Brown Renfro Architects and Jack Brady Architect designed the columbarium, while Crowther Landscape Architects designed the landscaping. Flaherty Iron Works, Inc. fabricated the ornamental fence and gate and Associated Builders Inc. was the general contractor.
Renowned sculptor John Dreyfuss designed the cross atop the crypt and the bronze ceremonial stands.
As part of the restoration project, Georgetown has resurfaced the asphalt roadway, is removing invasive trees and shrubs, continues to reset fallen headstones and performs regular maintenance at the cemetery.
Holy Trinity Pastor C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J., said he is “grateful to the university and to the Archdiocese, and especially to our Holy Trinity parishioner-volunteers, for their commitment to this project over these many years. It is a beautiful and blessed gift to us all.”
“Through our joint efforts, Holy Rood has become a Holy Garden where parishioners and others can pray for their deceased loved ones,” he added, “and where current and future members of our community can have a final resting place in this beautiful sacred space overlooking the city.”