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April 25, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
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Accepting a symbolic check to aid seminarian education are from left, Rev. Neal Clemens, vocations director; Very Rev. George E. Mockel, vicar general; presenter Robert Seelig, chief executive officer of Catholic Management Services; and Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ.

$350,000 gives boost to seminarian education

The company that manages Catholic cemeteries in the Oakland diocese has donated $350,000 to aid seminarian education.

The April 7 contribution from Catholic Management Services of Pleasanton brings to $600,000 the total donations to the seminary endowment since 2012, said Megan Folkman, client communications manager for CMS.

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Catholic Management Services

Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services
Separately, Oakland's Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services and the Bishop's Vineyard winery, also managed by CMS, donated $25,000 to help with Catholic school tuition assistance. Bishop's Vineyard has donated a total of $35,000 in Catholic school tuition aid, Folkman said.

The annual cost of supporting a seminarian, including tuition, room and board, insurance and other expenses, is about $46,600, said Rev. Neal Clemens, vocations director. The diocese has 18 men currently attending seminaries.

CMS had its genesis in 2002 when Bishop Allen H. Vigneron asked business executive Robert Seelig to revitalize the money-losing cemeteries owned by the Oakland diocese.

The cemeteries were renovated and a complete set of funeral services were added, Seelig said.

At a time of grief, Seelig said, people don't know what they want, and it's sometimes hard for a secular competitor to know how to present those services to Catholics.

"At the moment of death, we confront our faith," Seelig said. "Who better to talk about faith than the Catholic Church?"

"It's reassuring to a Catholic family," he said, to be able to have funeral and mortuary or cremation services and the burial through one provider.

Historically, he said, the funeral business had become fragmented. "The Church is able to put it back together from a faith perspective so the funeral home, cemetery and Church are connected at the time of death."

Fewer people have a religious connection than they did two decades ago, he explained; younger people feel a discomfort with death and are less educated about what to do for a funeral, arranging a vigil, Mass and burial. Having the one-stop shop and packages at different price points allows families to bypass some of the discomfort.

"A lot of bishops are losing money on their cemeteries," Seelig said. And as more people choose lower-cost cremation — 55 percent in California — funeral companies' operating expenses have increased as revenue has declined.

The one-stop shop plan worked so well that in 2011, Seelig asked Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone if he could branch out. With five other executives, Seelig started CMS, which now manages or consults on funeral operations in 16 dioceses, including Sacramento, Detroit, Spokane, Puerto Rico and Monterey.

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