A man sits and enjoys a new memorial greenspace at Mt. Olivet cemetery following the June 8, 2019 dedication ceremony.
Sacred Places A man sits and enjoys a new memorial greenspace at Mt. Olivet cemetery following the June 8, 2019 dedication ceremony. © Matt Kane / TNC


The Nature Conservancy and Nature Sacred Partner to Create New Green Space at Washington DC’s Mount Olivet Cemetery

Newly installed green infrastructure, rain garden and bench to provide place for rest, shade, native habitat in Catholic cemetery.

Washington, DC

The Nature Conservancy and Nature Sacred—an organization focused on the creation of urban green spaces founded by the TKF Foundation—have announced the completion of a new green space at Mount Olivet Cemetery.  The new memorial green space will address multiple urban conservation needs while also providing visitors with a place to rest and connect with nature.

The project was constructed on a large open hill where many men, women, and children, including those who were enslaved, were buried over the cemetery’s 160-year history, some without memorial markers.  The newly created green space consists of over 100 new trees planted by community volunteers, a unique Nature Sacred bench, and a native plant garden. The space was designed with direct input from the community through a series of meetings facilitated by The Nature Conservancy where community members offered thoughts and feedback during the design process. 

Both Nature Sacred and The Nature Conservancy have a vested interest in connecting people with nature and work under the shared belief that caring for nature is vital to human health and well-being.  The new site also fulfills Nature Sacred’s mission to create urban sanctuaries, what the organization calls “Sacred Places,” that provide communities with access to nature and a place for rest and reflection. The specially designed Nature Sacred bench at Mount Olivet Cemetery includes a journal that visitors are encouraged to read and contribute to.

“We celebrate every time a new Sacred Place opens as we know, from the thousands of journal entries we have collected over the past two decades, that these spaces can change lives,” said Tom Stoner, co-founder of the TKF Foundation.

The over 100 new trees planted at the site by partner organization Casey Trees and The Nature Conservancy will not only provide shade for visitors as they grow, but also provide habitat for native species, filter rainwater through their roots, and help to reduce the urban heat island effect that occurs in areas with little to no tree canopy.  The new garden spaces will also support native species and capture stormwater, which complement the extensive green infrastructure that the Nature Conservancy has already installed across Mount Olivet Cemetery to capture millions of gallons of stormwater runoff that would otherwise flow into the Anacostia River.

“Our work at Mount Olivet cemetery started as a way to address stormwater runoff in the Anacostia river, but has grown into so much more,” said Tim Purinton, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Washington DC and Maryland. “With incredible partners like Nature Sacred and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, we’re able to tackle a range of conservation goals while finding new ways to connect communities and nature.”

The new green space was installed with the assistance of the staff of Mount Olivet Cemetery and the Archdiocese of Washington, who also provided extensive input during the design process.  It was important to cemetery management and others that the garden include space for a future Catholic feature to be installed recognizing the four local founding parishes of the cemetery with space for names to be inscribed on a memorial wall. Additionally, two small commemorative benches will be installed facing the Nature Sacred bench that will allow a family or a small group to gather for reflection or prayer.

 “Catholic cemeteries are sacred burial grounds for the earthly remains of the deceased, but they also serve the living. As people visit the grounds of the cemetery to remember and to pray for their deceased loved ones, they can do so in peaceful, serene surroundings. This green space provides an additional sanctuary for people to pray and reflect, and we are happy for the collaboration of our partners to make this happen,” said Michael Mazzuca, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington.

In 2018, the Archdiocese recognized the importance of this area of the cemetery by installing a bronze memorial plaque to commemorate and honor the many enslaved people who are buried on the grounds.  Founded in 1858, Mount Olivet Cemetery was the first racially-integrated cemetery in Washington, DC.

On June 8, 2019, the new memorial green space was formally opened to visitors with a dedication ceremony, which included a blessing of the site by Rev. Michael J. Murray who is Priest Director of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Our work at Mount Olivet cemetery started as a way to address stormwater runoff in the Anacostia river, but has grown into so much more.

Executive Director, Maryland/DC chapter

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.