By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 2, 2017
CANTON—As William Schollian prays at the flower-lined grave site of his beloved wife, over his shoulder is an empty grassy lawn he hopes will be her legacy.
Families going through heartbreak will find comfort in the Macedonia Memorial Park.
Honoring his wife, Schollian started a foundation to pay burial costs for families who cannot afford to put loved ones to rest. Some 50 grave sites in the 26-acre cemetery sit between white marble statues of Our Lady of Fatima and the Divine Mercy of Jesus. The foundation purchased this parcel of land, surrounded by white encore Azaleas and flowering rose of Sharon bushes.
“I’m going to do this. I need to do this,” said Schollian.
Joining the faith he’s known since childhood
Schollian grew up outside Mobile, Alabama. His family was Protestant. As a youngster many of his friends were Catholic, so he’d play in CYO sports leagues. He attended Spring Hill College, a Jesuit college. While at college, he met his future wife, Wanda, who attended a university in Florida. Their paths crossed when she visited family in Alabama.
“We met in late January of 1973. And we were married by May,” he said.
Their marriage lasted 43 years until Wanda died in February from cancer.
“She was a very, very compassionate lady,” said William, who is 63 and whose voice thickened with emotion as he spoke of his wife. She would be quick to write a check for a charity, especially those that served children.
“I thought it’d be fitting to do this in her honor,” said Schollian, whose radio in his fire engine red sports car is tuned to EWTN Catholic radio. He is semi-retired from his manufacturing company.
Schollian is the only adult member of the RCIA program this year at Our Lady of La Salette Church, Canton. He is fulfilling an attraction to the faith he traces back to childhood but never acted on.
“It took me a long time to make the leap,” he said.
He said the writings of St. Augustine, St. John Paul II, other church intellectual heavyweights and the Catechism of the Catholic Church offer clarity of the faith.
“I’ll sit and read for hours,” said Schollian.
It was an enthusiasm for the faith shared with his wife. She was baptized while in the hospital before her death. Wanda’s memorial service was held at Our Lady of La Salette Church in Canton.
“We were on the same path. Our plan was to do it together,” he said.
Deacon Charlie Carignan is assisting Schollian on his faith journey.
“He’s on fire. He doesn’t hesitate to present the Catholic Church in a positive light as soon as a door opens in a conversation,” said the deacon.
Schollian knows as much about the church as any lifelong Catholic, leaning on his reading and education by the Jesuits, he said.
Taking care of burial costs for families in need
Macedonia Memorial Park, with its rolling hills, sits in Cherokee County, about a 20-minute drive from the nearest parish.
“He wants people to go there who are healing, who are grieving, to at least find solace,” said cemetery owner Joseph Hickey about the swath of land purchased for the foundation.
In Georgia, about 16 percent of people live in poverty, including about 23 percent of children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And many of these families do not have the ability to purchase life insurance, which could defray the cost of a burial.
Since complete funeral services typically cost between $8,000 and $10,000, it isn’t uncommon to field phone calls for assistance, said Hickey.
“He wants to bury the indigent,” said Hickey about Schollian’s vision for the foundation.
The Wanda Schollian Foundation was formed in May 2017. The purpose is to assist those most in need, particularly children, at end of life. His inspiration is to build a nonprofit organization, serving people to cover all burial costs.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, spiritual leaders from Our Lady of La Salette Church held a blessing and dedication of the statue and fountain of Our Lady of Fatima. Schollian designed and paid for the construction.
The large site is designed to draw in visitors. People can visit this peaceful place with a separate flower-lined path without feeling they are visiting a private grave. The white marble benches in front of the statue will soon have rosaries.
Schollian said he is prepared to help families now, even as the foundation initially comes together.
“We’re absolutely ready,” he said.
In fact, he has already touched one family’s life. During his daily visit to the cemetery, he noticed a woman with children kneeling in the grass. He asked at the cemetery office about them. He was told the visitors were praying at an unmarked grave.
Schollian later learned the deceased was a faithful member of his own parish. The man, Diego Bernabe, was an immigrant from Guatemala. Bernabe visited the church a few times a week. He died walking to church when he was struck by a truck. Workers will soon install a marker, featuring hands cradling the rosary.
“We need to get a marker so people know it’s him,” said Schollian, who purchased it. “When people come to visit him, it’s dignified.”
For more information or do donate, visit www.thewandaschollianfoundation.org/funeral-home-service.html.