His body was laid to rest in the cemetery at Fordham, which holds the dust of many of the most intimate friends of his religious life. This, his first American home, from which he had gone forth in the early dawn of his priesthood with the new glory of sacerdotal dignity still shining on his brow, now opens her arms to receive him back, worn out in the service to which he had been sent. (excerpt from eulogy of Father Theodore Thiry, 1889)
Hidden behind a hedge on the campus at Fordham University in the Bronx is a small cemetery that stands as a symbol of the Jesuit history and tradition on which the university was founded. It is the final resting place for a group of men with a deep spirituality and an outstanding record of devotion and scholarship, many of whom left behind family and country to follow God’s call.
Shortly after the Catholic archdiocese of New York established Fordham in 1841 (originally named St. John’s College) as a seminary and a college for the general public, the scholastic functions were given to the Jesuit order, a religious group with a great deal of experience in higher education. Five Jesuit priests from St. Mary’s College in Kentucky were recruited in 1846 to staff the institution. Other Jesuits soon joined them, and St. John’s continued as a small liberal arts college for men until it expanded and was renamed Fordham University in 1907.
As was typical of many religious institutions of the time, the Jesuits set aside a plot of land at Fordham for burial purposes. The cemetery was a burial ground for the deceased from Fordham as well as from other Jesuit institutions in the region. The site of this “original” cemetery at Fordham was a hillside near Southern Boulevard, on property that is now part of the New York Botanical Garden. The first burial took place there in July 1847 when Brother Joseph Creeden, a 26-year-old Irish-born novice, died two months after entering the Jesuit novitiate. Over the next four decades, another 60 Jesuits were interred near him, as well as nine students, three seminarians, and three college workmen. One of the Jesuits buried in the old cemetery was Father Eugene Maguire, who died at St. Mary’s College, Kentucky, in 1833 and whose remains were transferred to Fordham in 1850.
The loss of the property on which the old cemetery was located created a crisis among the Jesuits regarding their past burials and future ones. Although they considered transferring their burials to St. Raymond’s Cemetery, members of the Jesuit community requested that the graves be retained on college property to respect the dead by having them “apud nos” (among us). A suitable site in the campus vineyard was found and the graves from the original cemetery were relocated there in January 1890. The new gravesites were marked with marble tombstones, replacing the wooden crosses that had been used as markers in the old cemetery.
Between 1890 and 1909, 64 more Jesuits were buried in the new cemetery. Father William O’Brien Pardow, a prominent speaker and retreat master whose funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, was the last person buried in the cemetery at Fordham, in January 1909. Thereafter, the graveyard was largely forgotten although not completely neglected – in the 1950s, a stone and brick wall surmounted by a symbol of blessing was erected on the south side of the cemetery and a number of burials were relocated within the site to facilitate the building of Faber Hall.
By 1998, the cemetery was a campus eyesore and curiosity; many of the tombstones were disintegrating or vandalized and it was widely believed that the site was a “phantom cemetery” containing monuments but no human remains. Archival records proved otherwise, and a committee was appointed to preserve the cemetery’s sacred character. The site was renovated and beautified, and low granite markers replaced the deteriorated tombstones. Now well kept and orderly, the graveyard recognizes a community created by a common history and shared vision.
Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 11; “The Old Cemetery in Fordham University,” (Falco 1971), Bronx County Historical Society Journal 8(1):20-25; How the Jesuits Settled in New York: A Documentary Account (Hennessy 2003); “Who’s Buried at Fordham?,” The Ram, Nov 4, 1976 p. 2; “Thousands Mourn for Father Pardow,” New York Times Jan 27, 1909; Fordham University: History & Mission; Fordham University: Rose Hill Campus Map; Fordham University: Cemetery Chronology.