Category Archives: Staten Island

Polish National Catholic Cemetery

A view of the Polish National Catholic Cemetery, Apr 2017 (Mary French)

The Polish National Catholic Cemetery on Willowbrook Road in the Graniteville section of Staten Island is the parish cemetery of Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church of Bayonne, New Jersey. Other than its location, this cemetery’s Staten Island/New York City associations are limited—most of those laid to rest here lived and worked in New Jersey—but it is of interest due to its connection to an important period in Polish American history.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Polish National Church, Bayonne, New Jersey, ca 1914 (Bayonne Public Library)

During the late 19th century, many Polish immigrants were unhappy with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States for several reasons, including an absence of a bishop of Polish birth or descent, lack of services in the Polish language, and disputes over ownership of church properties. These resentments smoldered into open revolt in many parishes, mainly in the Eastern states, and led to the founding of the Polish National Catholic Church in 1897. This independent Catholic denomination, headquartered in Scranton, Pennsylvania, comprised about 20,000 Poles who left the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Polish National Catholic Cemetery on Willowbrook Road was established during this time of conflict. In 1898, Bayonne Poles founded the Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; shortly after it was incorporated, a schism in the parish resulted in a group breaking off to incorporate as St. Mary Carmelite Roman Catholic Polish Church. A dramatic struggle over church property ensued between the two corporations, including several church raids and a lawsuit that was decided in favor of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel delegation. In the aftermath, St. Mary Carmelite  became a parish of the Polish National Catholic Church and reorganized under the name Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This snippet from a 1907 map shows the Polish National Catholic Cemetery—identified here as St. Mary’s R.C. Church property—on Willowbrook Road

On March 14, 1902, the parish—still incorporated at that time as St. Mary Carmelite Roman Catholic Polish Church—paid $1,200 for the tract of land on Willowbrook Road for “its successors and assigns forever for cemetery purposes.”  Today the half-acre burial ground is enclosed by a chain-link fence that separates it from Lake Cemetery and Rehoboth Pentecostal Church on its north side and a housing development on its south side. The well-kept site is still an active parish cemetery of Heart of Jesus Polish National Catholic Church.

The Polish National Catholic Cemetery and surrounding properties in 1951
2012 aerial view of the Polish National Catholic Church Cemetery

View more photos of Polish National Catholic Cemetery

Sources: Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Richmond Pl 6; 1951 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Staten Island (Borough Of Richmond), Richmond County, New York; Richmond County Conveyances, Liber 289, p469-470, Richmond County Clerks Office; Bayonne Old and New (Sinclair 1940); Handbook of Denominations in the United States (Mead 1995); “Polish National Catholic Church,” Encyclopedia Britannica; “Church in Court,” The Jersey City News, Nov 19, 1901; “Parishioners Raid Church,” Passaic Daily News, Oct 23, 1903; “Louis Kubizna,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), Nov 23, 1926; “Joseph Jaworoski,” The News (Paterson, New Jersey), May 19 1954; “Michael Archdeacon,” The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), Nov 18, 1968; “Stanley Senkoski,” The Central New Jersey Home News, Feb 7, 1974; “Adolph S. Mager,” Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghampton NY), Nov 28, 1992; “Julia Obarowski,” Asbury Park Press, Apr 4, 2002; “Helen Bilinski,” The Jersey Journal, Nov 15, 2010; “Florence Vila,” The Jersey Journal , Dec 21, 2017; “Our Memorial Day Observance,” Heart of Jesus PNCC, June 2011

St. Joseph’s Cemetery

A view of monuments in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)

Each spring and fall, about 150 people from the parish of St. Joseph-St. Thomas participate in clean-up operations at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in the Rossville section of Staten Island. Including members of the Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, parish sports teams, and other groups, the crew clears graves of underbrush and ivy, pours fresh dirt on old graves that have sunken in, and spreads grass seeds to fight erosion. Putting belief into action, the people of St. Joseph-St. Thomas volunteer their time and energy to maintain a safe and respectful burial place where family and friends can visit the graves of their loved ones.

This snippet from an 1874 map shows St. Joseph’s Church on Washington St (now Poplar Ave) and their parish cemetery one block away on Glen Ave (now Barry St)

In keeping their cemetery in good condition, the people of St. Joseph-St. Thomas are also preserving the legacy of their parish. St. Joseph’s Church was founded in 1848, by Father Mark Murphy, pastor of St. Peter’s Church (the first Catholic church on Staten Island), when he celebrated Mass for 58 Catholics in a house on Rossville Avenue as a mission of St. Peter’s. In 1851, a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph was completed on what is now Poplar Avenue. In 1855, St. Joseph’s became an official parish—the third oldest of Staten Island’s parishes after St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s. In 1862, St. Joseph’s purchased land for a cemetery about one block away from their church, on the south side of today’s Barry Street. Now comprising 2.5 acres, St. Joseph’s Cemetery is the final resting place of over 1,000 Catholics, including many veterans of the American Civil War, Spanish-American War, First World War, Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam era.

A 1903 newspaper clipping about the death of Thomas R. Murphy, who is interred at St. Joseph’s Cemetery

In 1959, the parish of St. Joseph merged with St. Thomas the Apostle in Pleasant Plains to become the parish of St. Joseph-St. Thomas. Both St. Joseph and St. Thomas continue to offer services and their combined parish is one of the largest and most active on Staten Island. And burials are still made at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, which is operated by the parish and cared for by its community. Cardinal John O’Connor commented on the community’s dynamism at the parish’s 150th anniversary celebration in 1998. “This is truly a living parish,” he said. “It is so important that what you leave to those who will follow you is at least equal to what you have received from those who went before.”

These two Hungarian markers at St. Joseph’s Cemetery may mark the graves of immigrants who worked in brickyards that operated in the nearby Kreischerville section (now Charleston) of Staten Island during the 19th and early 20th centuries (Mary French)
2018 aerial view showing St. Joseph’s Church and parish cemetery in Rossville (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of St. Joseph Cemetery

Sources: Beers 1874 Atlas of Staten Island, Sec 23; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Killed at the Crossing,” Richmond County Advance, Dec 12, 1903; “‘150 Years New,’” Catholic New York, Jul 2, 1998; Denis P. McGowan, comment on “The Ruins of Rossville,” Forgotten New York, Nov. 15, 2015

Cherry Lane African Church Cemetery

Cherry Lane African Church Cemetery in 1907

In 1893, the Richmond County Advance published the obituary of 70-year-old John Keys, “a colored man of Elm Street, Port Richmond,” encapsulating his epic life story in the following summary: 

Mr. Keys was born a slave in Virginia, and ran away from a hard master, and hid himself in the Dismal Swamp, where he dwelt for a year, food being supplied to him by friends from outside. Learning that his master had sold him to a better man, he came out of the Swamp and entered again into bondage. He went with his new master to Arkansas. Afterward with Mitchell Allen, now of West Brighton, and other colored people, he came to New York to take passage to Liberia. A resident of West Brighton seeing him in the city, suggested Staten Island as a better place to live in than Liberia, and so quite a number of them came to the Island. Mr. Keys was an intelligent man, quite a good carpenter and mason, and was much employed by Capt. Anderson of Port Richmond in jobs about the various buildings which he erected.

The obituary also notes that Keys was interred “in the cemetery in Cherry Lane,” the main burial ground for African Americans on the north shore of Staten Island from the 1850s through the early 20th century. This cemetery, which was situated near the intersection of present-day Forest Avenue (formerly Cherry Lane) and Livermore Avenue, can be traced back to 1850 when the Second Asbury African Methodist Episcopal Church acquired the land. Here they erected a house of worship and established a burial ground for their members. But, lacking a strong membership, the congregation’s small church building soon fell into disrepair and had been destroyed by the time Staten Island historian William T. Davis visited the site in the late 1880s.

An 1859 map shows the Second Asbury AME Church, denoted simply as “African Ch.,” on Cherry Lane

After the church was gone, the property was still used as a cemetery for the local black community. A painted board and broken headstone were the only monuments Davis found during his visit, and he observed that most of the graves were marked by stakes. The board, placed near the road, was inscribed with the names of Aaron Bush, who died in 1889 at age 46, and Augustin Jones, who died in 1873, aged 33. In concluding his description of the site, Davis prophetically remarked: “The existence of these graves will probably soon be forgotten. The painted board cannot last long; the plot is unprotected by a fence, and only a clump of particularly high weeds and tangle mark its site in the rest of the field.” 

Obituary of Benjamin Perine, interred in Cherry Lane Cemetery in 1900.

In the late 1920s, the Second Asbury A.M.E. (existing by that time only as an organization of trustees) transferred the Cherry Lane cemetery to a new corporation, the African Methodist Church Cemetery of Staten Island, Inc. At that time, a list was made of about 40 known individuals interred in the half-acre burial ground. The most well-known of those buried there was Benjamin Perine, reportedly the oldest former slave on Staten Island when he died in 1900. In 1950, the cemetery property was seized by the City of New York for non-payment of taxes, although the church claimed the land should have had tax-exempt status. An out-of-court settlement was reached in 1953, whereby the cemetery property was sold to Sidelle Mann of the Bronx. By late 1950s-early 1960s, a gas station existed at the site; today it is beneath a shopping plaza. 

No one knows for sure what happened to the bodies interred in the Cherry Lane African Church Cemetery. Former borough historian Richard B. Dickenson researched the site in the 1980s-1990s and concluded that some of the bodies may have been removed to Moravian Cemetery or other local burial grounds between the 1920s and 1950s. However, he also discovered there were periodic reports of bones being found on the property when it was redeveloped. Dickenson’s work suggests that it is very likely that remains—of former slaves, freedmen, and members of some of Staten Island’s most prominent black families—may still exist beneath the shopping center.

2018 aerial view of the shopping plaza that covers the site of the Cherry Lane African Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Walling’s 1859 Map of Staten Island; Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of RichmondPl 6; Richmond County Conveyances, Vol 20 p438-440, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “Obituary,” Richmond County Advance, Apr 5, 1890; “Obituary,” Richmond County Advance, Apr 8, 1893; “Death of an Old Resident,” Richmond County Advance, Oct 6, 1900; “Homestead Graves,” Proceedings of the Natural Science Association of Staten Island, Special No. 9, 1889; “The Old Slaves Burying Ground and Benjamin Perine,” Afro-American Vital Records and 20th Century Abstracts: Richmond County, Staten Island, 1915 and 1925, New York State Census Records (Dickenson 1985); “Black Burial Grounds a Window to the Past,” Staten Island Advance, Feb 28, 1993; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); Second Asbury (Zion) African Methodist Episcopoal (AME) Church and Cemetery—History; Second Asbury (Zion) African Methodist Episcopoal (AME) Church and Cemetery—Burials

Presentation Sisters Cemetery

Presentation Sisters Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)

A long driveway off Arthur Kill Road in Greenridge leads to the small cemetery belonging to the Sisters of the Presentation of Staten Island, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that has its origins in the Irish city of Cork. Hemmed in today by residential development, the hilltop burial ground once offered views of sloping hillsides and ridges dotted with fields, orchards, and barnyards. This bucolic environment is what led the Presentation Sisters, assigned to teaching positions at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, to open a retreat on what had been the Frost farm in the western part of Staten Island. Shortly after opening their 80-acre retreat in 1884, the nuns began hosting needy children from their Manhattan parish; within a few years, the retreat had evolved into St. Michael’s Home for destitute children. In 1921, St Michael’s Home and Convent housed 33 Presentation Sisters and 400 children.

This snippet from a 1917 map shows the St. Michael’s Home complex and the Presentation Sisters Cemetery (arrow)

The Presentation Sisters left St. Michael’s Home in the 1940s, relocating their convent to another area of Staten Island and relinquishing operation of the children’s home to the Sisters of Mercy. Over the years, the Presentation Sisters worked at local churches, taught at local schools, and became an indelible part of Staten Island’s Catholic community. In the 1960s, nearly 120 nuns were members of the order. As of 2020, the Staten Island Presentation Sisters congregation had only eight members at their present convent, built in 2010 on Woodrow Road in Annadale. 

St. Michael’s Home was closed by the Archdiocese of New York in 1978. At the time of closing, the substantial complex held 12 buildings—including a chapel, gymnasium, administration building, and dormitories—and the burial ground where the Presentation Sisters have interred members of their community for over 100 years. Most of the St. Michael’s Home complex was demolished and much of the property sold, except for about six acres reserved for St. John Neumann Church, a new parish that operated on the grounds until its 2017 closure.

Presentation Sisters Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)

Approximately 80 nuns are buried in the Presentation Sisters Cemetery, which is a short distance behind the St. John Neumann church building. Enclosed by a wrought-iron fence and gate bearing the words “My Jesus Mercy,” the tidy cemetery has rows of uniform headstones marking the nuns’ graves, the earliest dating to 1886. In the southern section of the cemetery is a monument inscribed “In Memory of the Children of St. Michael’s Home Buried on this Sacred Ground,” which marks a plot where about two dozen youngsters from the home, who died without relatives to claim them, are interred. Several other individuals associated with St. Michael’s Home are also interred in the cemetery.

The Presentation Sisters Cemetery is still active; the most recent burial is Sister Margaret Mary Quinn. Born in Manhattan, Sister Margaret Mary entered the Presentation Sisters of Staten Island in 1946. For 32 years, she served at St. Teresa parish and school in West New Brighton, where she was instrumental in starting a preschool program and food pantry. Sister Margaret Mary died at the Woodrow Road convent in August 2020 at age 90.

Two 2018 aerial views show the Presentation Sisters Cemetery in its modern surroundings, and in closer detail. St. John Neumann Church and its expansive front lawn can be seen directly northwest of the burial ground (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of the Presentation Sisters Cemetery

Sources: Bromley’s 1917 Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of Richmond, Staten Island, Pl 43; The Official Catholic Directory 1921; Staten Island and Its People, Vol. 2 (Davis & Leng 1930); Phase 1 Archaeological Sensitivity Evaluation, Arden Heights Watershed, South Richmond Drainage Plans, Staten Island, New York (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2001); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Many at Funeral of Father Byrnes,” Perth Amboy Evening News, Mar 6, 1908; “Elks to Honor Late Chaplain,” Perth Amboy Evening News, May 26, 1909; “Few in Number, Rich in Land, an Order Sells Some Holdings,” New York Times, Apr 17, 2005; “St. John Neumann Church to Close,” Staten Island Advance, May 1, 2017; “Sister Margaret Mary Quinn,” Catholic New York, Sep 24, 2020; Staten Island Presentation Sisters Congregational Story 

St. Peter’s Cemetery, West New Brighton

Tombstones in St. Peter’s Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)

St. Peter’s Cemetery is the oldest Catholic burial ground on Staten Island, founded in 1848 by its namesake parish. The first Catholic parish on Staten Island, St. Peter’s was established at New Brighton in 1839, and the congregation built their church on a plot of land overlooking the Upper New York Bay. Soon after completing their church, St. Peter’s parish bought about three acres of land on the west side of Clove Road, in West New Brighton, for burial purposes. As graves filled, St. Peter’s Cemetery expanded in 1878 with the acquisition of three additional acres and again in 1898, when the parish purchased five acres on the opposite side of Clove Road for new graves. The grounds on both sides of Clove Road were further enlarged during the 20th century to bring St. Peter’s Cemetery to a total of 25 acres of burial space, holding 50,000 graves.

At left is a detail from an 1853 map showing the original St. Peter’s Cemetery parcel on the west side of Clove Road; at right is a 1917 map depicting the enlarged St. Peter’s Cemetery, with sections on both side of the road
Father Capodanno’s grave at St. Peter’s Cemetery, May 2020 (Larry Gertner/HMdb.org)

Some prominent figures are laid to rest at St. Peter’s Cemetery, including Civil War general Patrick Henry Jones, early baseball player Matty McIntyre, champion boxer Frankie Genaro, World War II Medal of Honor recipient Joseph F. Merrell, and three Staten Island borough presidents. Most notably, there is the grave of Father Vincent Capodanno, currently a candidate for sainthood. A U.S. Navy chaplain killed during the Vietnam War, Father Capodanno was struck down by a burst of machine-gun fire while attempting to aid and assist a mortally wounded Marine corpsman during heavy fighting on September 4, 1967. In 1969 he was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor, and in 2006 was declared a Servant of God, the first step in the canonization process. Father Capodanno’s resting place at St. Peter’s Cemetery is now a pilgrimage site for Staten Island’s Catholic community. Here believers pray at the modest granite headstone marking the Capodanno family plot, and ask for the help and protection of the fearless “grunt padre.”

A view of St. Peter’s Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of St. Peter’s Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of St. Peter’s Cemetery

Sources: Butler’s 1853 Map of Staten Island; Bromley’s 1917 Atlas of New York City, Borough of Richmond, Pl 26; The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,Historical Records and Studies 1; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); St. Peter’s Parish History (St. Peter, St. Paul & Assumption Parish); Patrick Henry Jones: Irish American, Civil War General, and Gilded Age Politician (Dunkelman 2015); “The Story of Matty McIntyre, Ty Cobb, and an Old-Time Baseball Feud,” Staten Island Advance, Jan 3, 2019; “50 Must-Dos for Boxing Fans,” Boxing News, May 23, 2019; “Obituary—Pfc. Joseph F. Merrell Jr.,” Daily News, Jul 23, 1948; “M’Cormack Pallbearers,”Brooklyn Times Union, Jul 13, 1915; “Staten Island Mourns as President Cahill is Buried,” Daily News, Jul 18, 1922; “Obituary—Cornelius A. Hall,” Daily News, Mar 10, 1953; “Obituary—Rev. Vincent Cappodano,” Daily News, Sep 16, 1967; “Remembering Father Vincent Capodanno,” Staten Island Advance, Sep 4, 2020; Father Capodanno Guild