After Four Decades, Carol Giambalvo’s Service To the Rockford Diocese is Ending ... Gradually
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
April 23, 2021

Her work has never been just a job. For Carol Giambalvo, diocesan director of Catholic Cemeteries, her job has always been about the ministry.

And even though she retired from the position of diocesan director Feb. 11, she will continue her service to the cemeteries working on a special project until Sept. 8. Kenneth Giambalvo, her son and assistant director for many years, has succeeded her as director.

Twenty-one years of service is a milestone in and of itself, but Giambalvo’s passion for ministry in the Rockford Diocese began long before ,,, 46 years ago in fact.

On Sept. 8, 1974, Giambalvo began work for the newly formed Office of Divine Worship at the request of the late Father John Slampak.

She began working in the new office because “learning all about liturgy, sacraments, theology was very appealing to me.”

When Father Slampak went to Rome in 1983 to study and the Office of Divine Worship was moved to the Seton Center in Rockord, Giambalvo worked as the secretary for the Marriage and Life Office,  and for the Phoenix Office, a ministry for divorced Catholics headed by Father Robert Balog.

Then when Father Slampak became the pastor of St. Laurence Parish in Elgin “he asked me to be business manager in 1985. St. Laurence cared for Mt. Hope Cemetery and I took care of those records and finances. When the sexton at Mt. Hope retired in 1995, I took over,” Giambalvo explained.

She worked as the business manager at Mt. Hope Cemetery, as assistant director of diocesan cemeteries and then finally as director of all Catholic cemeteries in 2000.

Giambalvo may have enjoyed the ministry aspect of her job, but the day-to-day work of diocesan cemeteries benefited from her business skills.

During her tenure,  she worked to bring the cemeteries together using the same software for data and finances.

“I went back to school and got my associate degree in business, my bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral science and master’s in theology with emphasis on death and dying,” she said.

“Knowing that we (cemeterians) are ministers to the grieving, I studied grief and bereavement and became a grief counselor,” she explained.

Giambalvo also earned her designation as a Certified Catholic Cemetery Executive.

She not only learned to listen to the grieving as she served them but also helped others beyond the Rockford Diocese to do so. 

She became a teacher for the Catholic Cemetery Conference (CCC) School of Leadership Excellence for many years and taught at the Smaller Cemetery Seminar.

She served the CCC on its board of directors and held the offices of treasurer, secretary, vice president and president and eventually was awarded Cemeterian of the Year from that group.

She has overseen many projects over the years, including the installation of cemetery prayer gardens, columbaria, mausoleums and memorial gardens to babies lost in abortion and miscarriage.

She also secured the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the diocesan prayer garden dedicated to that saint on the campus of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rockford.

She has organized public Masses for holidays and holydays in the cemeteries — one of the late Bishop Thomas G. Doran’s favorite events she said.  

Along with those physical changes to the cemeteries, Giambalvo has also navigated the diocese through the legal changes.

“Legally, it is more challenging today than in 1974. And it should be,” she said. “When you bury someone’s loved one, you have to be aware of all the laws and the ministry. You don’t get a second chance to do it right.”

And even though after three bishops, many pastors and 46 years of working for the Diocese of Rockford Giambalvo is retiring, she still is working to see several projects to completion. She said she is currently working to “get all parish cemeteries’ data entered into the cloud.

“Burial records in our cemeteries go back to the 1800s,” she explained. “Some have been lost due to fires, etc. The diocesan cemeteries records are now in a database and stored in the cloud (storage available any time through our database).

“Several parishes have completed their entries and I am working with others to get them set up for entry,” she added.

“The diocesan cemeteries will also be able to search the databases of the parish cemeteries also. This will protect these vital records in perpetuity,” Giambalvo explained.

Her final “dream project” she said, is the construction of the Rosary Cremation Garden at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Aurora. That garden is scheduled to be blessed on the day she officially retires, Sept. 8.

Giambalvo has always believed and still believes Catholic Cemeteries are important and they matter and not just because it’s a job.

“Canon Law names two spaces as sacred — the Church and the Catholic cemetery. The Communion of Saints consists of the faithful in heaven, the faithful on earth and the deceased who are waiting for the coming of Christ. As community, we pray for those who have died, and their graves witness their lives in Christ. Here we will rise again on the last day, with our community of saints,” she said.



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