Sacramento diocese buys Land Park funeral home

Published: Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Jun. 21, 2013 - 8:36 am

The Catholic diocese of Sacramento has purchased a funeral home in Land Park, making it only the fifth diocese in the nation to offer mortuary services.

The local Catholic Church's purchase of the George Klumpp Chapel of Flowers on Riverside Boulevard followed more than 18 months of discussion and inquiries by the diocese, according to diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery.

Eckery said that the purchase was spurred by the requests of local Catholics who wanted "forms of assurance or were just sort of looking for ways to reduce their own stress levels."

Though the purchase price was not disclosed, county records indicate that the property recently was assessed at more than $900,000.

While Catholic churches have traditionally maintained cemeteries for Catholics and their families, the Sacramento diocese's purchase of the Klumpp mortuary makes Sacramento the third in California to offer mortuary services.

In a controversial move, Los Angeles' archdiocese began leasing cemetery space to a for-profit funeral home company in 1999, and the diocese of Oakland bought its first mortuary in 2006.

Though rare, funeral homes operated by a church or particular religious order are "not unique to the Catholic faith," said Bob Achermann, the executive director of the California Funeral Directors Association.

Eckery emphasized that the Sacramento mortuary was not purchased to provide the diocese with a source of revenue.

"This isn't an investment," said Eckery. "This is about responding to parishioners."

Robert Seelig, an Oakland diocese consultant on funeral and burial services, has advised the Sacramento diocese on the purchase. He explained that while the cemeteries owned by the Sacramento diocese are registered as nonprofit, IRS regulations require funeral homes to file as for-profit businesses.

Seelig said that the diocese did not anticipate drawing any significant revenue from the mortuary. He also said that its primary purpose would be to guide Sacramento's Catholic community. "Sometimes Catholics are confused about where to go," said Seelig.

The sale of the Klumpp mortuary by CEO Marlene Oehler was completed in the first week of June.

She and her husband, Robert Oehler, joined with another employee, Arthur L. Barnard Jr., in buying the funeral home in 1971 from the estate of George L. Klumpp, a former Sacramento mayor, who opened the mortuary in 1921. The Oehlers became sole owners after Barnard retired in 1989. Robert Oehler died in November 2008.

Until the sale to the Sacramento diocese, it had served as one of the last family-owned mortuaries in Sacramento.

Achermann said that "half or more" of California's 900 to 1,000 funeral homes are owned by corporate chains.

"There were shared values here," said Eckery. "(Oehler) didn't have anyone in her family who wanted to carry on the business."

The diocese noted that it would not be changing the services offered by the home and that it would be retaining all of its staff.

"She didn't want to do anything that would make life harder on her employees because they had a formula that works," Eckery said.

Though the Oakland diocese began offering lower-cost funeral and burial options when it bought its mortuary, Seelig said that no such move is planned here, though the diocese will continue to provide charitable services to poor families.

"The Klumpp funeral home is already in the lower- to middle-average, pricing-wise," Seelig said.

The funeral home also will continue to offer services to non-Catholics.

Though Eckery stated that the diocese had no immediate plans for the purchase or creation of other funeral homes, Seelig said that the diocese is "open to discussions."

Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.

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