Jim Sheldon has served the Diocese of Wichita as director of Cemeteries for over a decade. (Advance photo)

Cemeteries director to retire at end of the year
Those who know Jim Sheldon know that he was a near-perfect fit for the job of director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Wichita.
Like his predecessor, the late Jerome Gerber, Sheldon is a gentle man who seems to have been born to comfort and assist those making decisions during an emotional time of their lives.
Sheldon will retire next month after having been director for over 11 years, and after 38 years in retail business.
“I’ll miss the interaction with people,” he said. “Helping people the way I do at the cemeteries has been a joy, a real joy.
Sheldon will leave his mark on all three of the Catholic cemeteries in Wichita.
Residence-locked Calvary Cemetery in central Wichita was enlarged under Sheldon’s direction, after an adjoining lot was acquired and two houses were purchased and razed.
“That was actually very good for Calvary. That extended the life of the cemetery,” he said.
A columbarium was also added there during Sheldon’s tenure.
Resurrection Cemetery on North Maize Road has also been expanded in the last few years.
“We built a new mausoleum there in response to people’s wishes. We were out of space in the old mausoleum,” he said. “And people were wanting upright tombstones, so we developed a section that would allow that at Resurrection. It was met with overwhelming success.”
Ascension Cemetery, located next to the Spiritual Life Center, has also undergone several changes in the last decade.
The Ascending Christ statue that overlooks the grounds was replaced as a result of the generosity of Jerome Gerber.
A natural burial area was also dedicated there, one of the first in the United States, after then-Bishop Michael O. Jackels asked Sheldon to look into the idea of a “green” burial area.
Because of the increasing popularity of cremation burials, Sheldon oversaw the installation of All Saints Cremation Garden, six columbaria arranged like spokes of a wheel around a covered-central area with benches.
Most recently the cemetery has contracted with a Trappist Abbey in northern Iowa to provide a variety of wooden caskets manufactured by the order.
“I’ve started selling Trappist caskets here at the cemetery that can be used really anywhere in our cemetery,” Sheldon said. “Initially it started as an idea of wanting an unfinished pine casket for our natural burial area, but then when I visited with the people at the Trappist factory, they suggested I sell all of their caskets. So we’ve gone ahead to do that.”
He added that he has taken his own advice regarding pre-planning for funerals. He and his wife, Mary, had already taken care of their burial plots, but have just recently completed their planning.
“When I started selling caskets, my wife said, ‘Well, you might as well buy two of those for us too.’ So we bought our simple pine caskets.”
Looking past his retirement date, he added: “I stand on the shoulders of giants in my ministry. Jerome Gerber, Father Vincent Eck, and Monsignor Joseph Gerstenkorn loved the cemeteries and set such a firm foundation that I couldn’t help but build on it.
“My wish for the future of the cemeteries is that I, in some way, have built on that foundation so that the next director can grow the ministry and continue to serve the people of the Diocese of Wichita with compassion, integrity and excellence.”

Jim Sheldon oversaw the installation of six columbaria at Ascension Cemetery in Wichita earlier this year. (Advance photo)