Tag Archives: Catholic cemeteries

Sisters of Charity Cemetery

The Sisters of Charity Cemetery at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.
The Sisters of Charity Cemetery at the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

The Sisters of Charity Cemetery, located on the grounds of the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, is the final resting place for many women who were pioneers in New York City education, health care, and social services. In 1817, Elizabeth Ann Seton sent three Sisters of Charity from Maryland to New York City to staff an orphanage at Prince and Mott Streets. Beginning at that location, the Sisters established schools throughout the diocese, which was the foundation of the parochial school system of New York.

In 1847, the Sisters of Charity of New York became an independent congregation and created the Academy of Mount Saint Vincent—the first institution to offer higher learning for women in New York. The Academy and Motherhouse, which were originally located near today’s Central Park, moved to their present-day site along the Hudson River in the North Riverdale area of the Bronx in 1859. The Academy was renamed the College of Mount Saint Vincent in 1911.

The small Sisters’ Cemetery lies along a hill just west of the Cardinal Hayes auditorium building on the Mount Saint Vincent campus. Well kept and peaceful, the site contains about 200 gravestones dating from the 1850s to the present. At the top of the hill and overlooking the cemetery is a path with a row of Stations of the Cross plaques mounted in wooden shrines. Most of the gravestones are simple, horizontal slabs; small vertical markers identify some of the Sisters who served as nurses during the Civil War. Larger monuments honor the presidents and mothers general of the order. A five-foot stone cross marks the grave of Mother Elizabeth Boyle, one of the original three Sisters sent from Maryland to New York in 1817 and the first Mother Superior of the New York community.

Other early members of the New York Sisters of Charity community also rest in the cemetery, including Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon, who began the The New York Foundling in 1869 as a home for abandoned children. Today, The Foundling is one of New York City’s oldest and largest child welfare agencies, providing foster care, adoptions, and other services for families.

The Sisters of Charity Cemetery at the Academy of Mount Saint Vincent, ca. 1911.
The Sisters of Charity Cemetery at the Academy of Mount Saint Vincent, ca. 1911.
The Sisters’ Cemetery at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, 2015.
The Sisters’ Cemetery at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, 2015.
Gravesite of Mother Elizabeth Boyle, the first Mother Superior of the Sisters of Charity of New York.
Gravesite of Mother Elizabeth Boyle, the first Mother Superior of the Sisters of Charity of New York.

View more photos of the Sisters of Charity Cemetery.

Sources: Bromley’s 1921 Atlas of Borough of the Bronx, Sect. 13, Pl. 80; College of Mount Saint Vincent—Campus Map; College of Mount Saint Vincent—History; “History in Stone on Mount Hilltop,” Sr. Regina Bechtle, Visions 12(1), 2008, p. 14.

St. Raymond’s Churchyard

The small yard in front of the Church of St. Raymond, with it’s handful of gravestones, is a vestige of a much larger burial ground that was the first Catholic cemetery in the Bronx.  Located at the corner of Castle Hill Avenue and East Tremont Avenue, the parish was founded in 1842 when an acre of land was obtained by Reverend John Hughes to create a Catholic church and cemetery in what was then the village of Westchester.  In 1847 the cemetery was enlarged by the purchase of another acre and this site was in constant use as the parish burial ground until a new, larger St. Raymond’s Cemetery was established about two miles southeast of the church, in 1875.  Most of the graves from the churchyard, which extended along the west side of the church as well as to the rear, likely were transferred to St. Raymond’s Cemetery as the parish complex grew throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Location of St. Raymond’s Catholic parish complex at East Tremont Ave and Castle Hill Ave in the Bronx.
Location of St. Raymond’s Catholic parish complex at East Tremont Ave and Castle Hill Ave in the Bronx.
St. Raymond’s Catholic Church and burial ground in 1868.
St. Raymond’s Catholic Church and burial ground in 1868.
A view of St. Raymond’s Catholic Church and burial ground in 1905 (NYPL)
A view of St. Raymond’s Catholic Church and burial ground in 1905 (NYPL)
St. Raymond’s Catholic Church and burial ground in 1913.
St. Raymond’s Catholic Church and burial ground in 1913.
View of gravestones in St. Raymond’s churchyard, October 2010.
View of gravestones in St. Raymond’s churchyard, October 2010.

View more photos of St. Raymond’s Churchyard.

Sources:  History of Westchester County. . . (J. Scharf 1886), 814; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 377; St. Raymond’s Cemetery; NYCityMap; Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 16; Bromley’s 1913 Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of the Bronx, Vol 3, Pl 26.

Most Holy Trinity Cemetery

A landscape dotted with rusted metal markers and wooden crosses, Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in Brooklyn is one of the city’s most unique and visually arresting graveyards.  Nestled at the end of Central Avenue in Bushwick and bounded by Evergreen Cemetery and the tracks of the NYC Subway’s L train, the 23-acre cemetery was established in 1851 as a new cemetery for Most Holy Trinity Church, the first German Catholic church in Williamsburg.  The parish cemetery was originally located behind the church at Montrose Avenue in East Williamsburg; when a new church building and schools were planned for that site, a four-acre parcel of land was purchased from Evergreen Cemetery to serve as a church cemetery.  The remains from the Montrose Avenue site were transferred to the new Most Holy Trinity Cemetery and, as the need for burial space grew over the years to accommodate an estimated 25,000 graves, the church purchased additional parcels from Evergreen until the parish cemetery reached its present size.

Location of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.
Location of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.
Holy Trinity Cemetery in 1880.
Holy Trinity Cemetery in 1880.

When Most Holy Trinity Cemetery was created, the church resolved that no distinctions were permitted to be made between the rich and the poor, and the rule was established that no stone monuments could be erected. Until very recent times, when flat gravestones have been permitted, only simple wooden and metal markers indicated the resting places of the dead.  This “democratic equality of the grave” set the graveyard apart from others in the area and the markers created a remarkable visual spectacle.  An 1890 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described it:

The monuments that surmount [the graves] present a curious picture and one that has not a parallel in any other cemetery in the neighborhood of these two cities . . . the monuments are now all of wood, or, especially the later ones, of galvanized iron, dressed in imitation of gray granite.  Nearly all of them have crosses rising above them, but the peculiar feature of nearly every one of them is that it is decorated with highly gilded figures of the crucifix, the winged head of a cherub and lamb.  Some stones contain all of these three figures, some only one.  They sparkle everywhere among the thickly strewn white and gray monuments and give the peculiar aspect to the cemetery that distinguishes it decidedly from all others.

Today, few of the numerous wooden crosses that once filled the cemetery are still present and the weatherworn crucifixes have lost their gilding.  Large grassy areas, probably once filled with wooden crosses, now have only a few markers scattered here and there.  The rusted metal markers, many strangely crumpled and peeling with paint, add to the peculiar atmosphere of this most interesting site.

A profusion of crosses mark the gravesites in Holy Trinity Cemetery, 1929 (NYPL).
Metal grave markers in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.
Metal grave markers in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.
Wooden grave marker in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.
Wooden grave marker in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.

View more photos of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.

Sources: OpenStreetMap; Hopkins’ 1880 Detailed Estate and Old Farm Line Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2, Pl. R; The History of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery; “Crosses Gone from Hundreds of Graves in the Trinity Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 24 1890, p.6; “Holy Trinity Cemetery. A Unique Burial Ground Which Is a Multiplied Golgotha,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 26 1899, p.18; “A Village Churchyard,” Thomas F. Meehan, Historical Records and Studies 7, 1914, p.183-194.

St. James Churchyard

The graveyard surrounding the Cathedral Basilica of St. James in downtown Brooklyn is believed to be the oldest Catholic cemetery on Long Island.  St. James was founded in 1822 when a group of about 70 Brooklyn Catholics purchased property on the corner of Chapel and Jay Streets to establish a church and a place of interment. It was the first Catholic church built in Brooklyn and the first on Long Island.  Shortly after the church was erected, the yard around it began to be used as a burial ground for clergy and laity. When the original ground was filled, more property was procured until the cemetery extended in a tongue back to about 100 feet of Bridge Street.  Some 7,000 adults and children are said to have been interred in the graveyard between 1823 and 1849, when burials there were prohibited by law.

In 1900, about 200 tombstones were still standing in the graveyard at St. James, including a number of old wooden crosses and boards among the marble and red sandstone slabs; by 1914, all the wooden markers had disappeared and only about 100 tombstones were left.  Many graves reportedly are beneath the rear of the church, covered over when the church was rebuilt and enlarged in 1902.  Most of the markers that are still present in the churchyard today lie flat in the ground, preserved but hidden from passersby by the wall that surrounds the parish grounds.

St. James Church and graveyard in 1880. When the Brooklyn Diocese was created in 1853, St. James was selected as the cathedral church; it was designated a basilica in 1982.
A view of St. James and the burial grounds on the north and south sides of the church, 1948.
St. James Church and graveyard, 2010.
Tombstones in St. James Churchyard, Aug. 2011.

Sources:  “The Cathedral Ground,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 9, 1888; “The Catholic Church in the United States of America (Catholic Editing Co. 1914), 532-535; “A Village Churchyard,” Historical Records and Studies 7 (June 1914), 183-194; The Cathedral Basilica of St. James; Hopkins’ 1880 Detailed Estate and Old Farm Line Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2, Pl. H; NYCityMap

St. Fidelis Graveyard

St. Fidelis Parish was founded in 1856 to serve the Catholic community of Strattonport village, which later became part of College Point, Queens.  Originally consisting of a small congregation of German and English-speaking families, the parish’s first church was a small wooden building on 124th Street, between 14th and 15th Avenues.  Next to the church on its south side was a small churchyard where members of the congregation were buried. In 1894, the bodies from St. Fidelis churchyard were disinterred and removed to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing to make room for the new brick church building that still stands at the site today.  St. Fidelis has no records of their old church graveyard, but remnants of the cemetery have been found on several occasions.

When local historian Robert Friedrich compiled information about St. Fidelis cemetery in the 1960s, the church’s pastor, Msgr. William Osborne, recalled that coffin handles and bones where unearthed during construction along the church’s south façade in the 1930s.  Later, a human skull was found during landscaping in the same vicinity.   In 1965, a tombstone inscribed “JOHANN ADAM WILLMANN GEB. [born] 12 OCT 1860, GEST [died] 12 APRIL 1863” was unearthed in the backyard of a house a block south of St. Fidelis.  When the homeowners moved into the house in the 1940s, they found priests’ pictures and church pews in the attic, evidence that the home had previously been associated with St. Fidelis’ vestry or clergy.  The gravestone is thought to have been from either the old St. Fidelis graveyard or the Strattonport Village Cemetery that was located nearby.

St. Fidelis Church and the adjoining cemetery in 1873.
A ca. 1875 view of the original St. Fidelis Church, showing the wooden fence and gateway that surrounded the church graveyard. (Poppenhusen Institute Archives)
The grave of Rev. Joseph Huber, St. Fidelis’ founding pastor who died in 1889, is the only burial in St. Fidelis’ small churchyard today. (Mark W. DelValle)

Sources: Beers 1873 Atlas of Long Island, Pl. 66; 1894 Brooklyn Citizen Almanac, 440; “Find Tombstone in Backyard,” North Shore News, July 27, 1965; “Cemeteries: St. Fidelis,” Robert Friedrich Collection, Poppenhusen Institute Archives.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral Cemetery

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1836, with cemetery grounds located north and south of the church.

When officials of the newly established Diocese of New York decided to build the city’s first cathedral in 1809, they selected a site at Mott and Prince Streets that was within the burying ground of St. Peter’s Church. St. Peter’s, the city’s first Catholic church, created the cemetery at the beginning of the 19th century when the graveyard around their church on Barclay Street became full. In 1801, they purchased several lots on the northwest corner of Prince and Mott streets, in the area that is now known as NoLita; an 1803 purchase of additional lots on the northeast corner of Prince and Mulberry streets enlarged the new burial ground.

When a portion of the cemetery was chosen as the cathedral site, provisions were made for the relocation of any graves within the building site to other areas of the cemetery.  Construction on St. Patrick’s Cathedral began in 1809 and was completed in 1815. Between 1811 and 1824, the church’s property was expanded further by the acquisition of adjacent lots, and the cemetery grew to its present dimensions, flanking the church on its north and south sides.  Additionally, a network of family crypts was built beneath the church. In ca. 1830, a 10-foot-tall brick wall was constructed around the boundary of the property to protect the church and cemetery from anti-Catholic violence that was prevalent during that period.

A depiction of the 69th regiment, part of New York’s Irish Brigade, marching down Prince  and Mott Streets next to St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in 1861. The southern portion of the cemetery, where some members of the regiment are buried, is shown. (NYPL)

Over 32,000 burials were recorded in St. Patrick’s Cemetery between the time that interments began to be registered in 1813 until the Catholic Cemetery on 11th Street opened in 1833. The 11th Street cemetery replaced St. Patrick’s Cemetery as the main burial ground for the city’s Catholic community, but occasional interments continued in the graveyard and crypts at St. Patrick’s into the early 20th century.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral became a parish church when the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan was completed in 1879. The Old Cathedral was recently designated a basilica due to its historical and spiritual significance.  Its cemetery and vaults hold the remains of many of the city’s early Catholics, including those transferred from the graveyard at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in 1836.  Most of those buried at Old St. Patrick’s are Irish, including several members of the 69th New York regiment, part of the “Irish Brigade” that fought in the Civil War.  The cemetery is also the original burial site of Pierre Toussaint, a former Haitian slave who is a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church; his remains were moved to a crypt at the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1990.

View of graveyard on the north side of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
View of graveyard on the south side of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

Virtual tour of the cemetery and crypts at Museum Planet.

Sources: Colton’s 1836 Map Of The City and County Of New-York; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 371-373; History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral;Centennial at Old St. Patrick’s,” New York Times, May 19, 1909; “Politely, A Cathedral Battles to Keep Modern Scrawling Off a Wall’s Historic Bricks,” New York Times, July 6, 2003; “Cathedral With a Past; Basilica With a Future,” New York Times, Dec. 5, 2010.

St. Peter’s Catholic Graveyard

The first Catholic cemetery in New York City, and in the State of New York, was around the original St. Peter’s Catholic Church in lower Manhattan.  In 1785, a group of Catholics in New York acquired an 110 x 125 foot plot on the southeast corner of Barclay and Church streets.  The first St. Peter’s church, a brick building of 48 x 81 feet, was erected on the site and the remainder of the property was reserved for a burial ground.

St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and the surrounding graveyard in 1807.

The churchyard had become inadequate by the end of the 18th century, and in 1801 St. Peter’s purchased land at the corner of Prince and Mott streets to serve as a new burial ground.  Subsequent acquisitions expanded this property, which became the site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1809.  In 1836, St Peter’s began construction of a new, larger church on the same site as the old church and graveyard on Barclay Street.  The graves in the churchyard were removed at that time, and were reinterred in the graveyard adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Prince and Mott streets.  Some remains were reburied under the new church building, which still stands today. According to a statement made by Vicar General William Quinn in 1883, remains that had been buried beneath the present church were disturbed during excavation work in the mid-1800s and were reburied at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

An 1831 view of the original St. Peter’s Church (Bourne Views of New York).
A present-day view of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. (Beyond My Ken)
A present-day view of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church at 22 Barclay St. (Beyond My Ken)

Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 370; The Catholic Churches of New York City, 586-624; A Brief Sketch of the Early History of the Catholic Church on the Island of New York (copy of Bourne engraving); “Excited Roman Catholics: The Proposed Removal of Dead Bodies from a Cemetery,” New York Times Jan 4, 1883; “St Peter’s 108 Years Old,” New York Times Nov 27, 1893; “St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church 22 Barclay Street” by Beyond My Ken.