A Catholic retreat center is seeking to add a columbarium — a place to inter cremains — to its 20-acre complex on Riverside Drive in Sandy Springs.

The Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center at 6700 Riverside Drive held a community meeting about the proposal on Oct. 19. Officials said the columbarium is a request from people who attend the silent, meditative retreats.

A crowd listens to the blessing of the Ignatius House’s new 4,000- square-foot resource center on Oct. 25, 2011.

“One of the things we thought would be a wonderful addition to the retreat is, as you’re thinking through your own mortality, you’d be with the ashes of people who have already transitioned,” said Cathi Spornick, the center’s development director.

The Ignatius House has been open for more than 50 years and has hosted retreats for the last 20 years. More than 3,000 people come to stay at the retreat center throughout the course of a year, with nearly every weekend being booked with retreats, officials said.

The center does not have a graveyard or a columbarium, both of which are common at many churches around the area.

The center did not have information on the size of the proposed columbarium. Representatives said it would create room for 360 spots for urns to be stored. The plan is to build the columbarium so that it doesn’t stand out, but rather blends in with the rest of the retreat property and follows the contour of the ground.

“It’s not very intrusive to what we’re doing here,” said Executive Director Maria Cressler.

The Oct. 19 pre-application zoning meeting was a requirement by the city of Sandy Springs to make sure the center’s neighbors don’t have an issue with a columbarium. No community members attended. The center can now apply to get a use permit to begin the plans and specifications to get a building permit.

If the use permit is received in February, former Ignatius long-time board member Hal Lamp said he expects all the construction to be completed on the columbarium about a year from then, in February 2018.

“It’s not big, but it’s going to have quite a bit of structure to it,” Lamp said.

The center has carried out a large expansion and renovation in recent years and first mentioned the columbarium in 2010 as part of those plans.

The center’s spiritual retreats are open to people of all faiths, and the columbarium would be as well.

–Justin Fedich