On Hallowed ground

Thursday 2 November 2017 — St. Joseph Cemetery, Falmouth — All Souls Day

General John Kelly, White House chief of staff, recently held a news conference. Although some of his remarks on that occasion proved controversial (what doesn’t in these contentious times?), I was touched by something he said. The general shared with the world that, weary of the brouhaha of Washington politics, he sought inner peace by taking a long walk through Arlington National Cemetery. The general gathered his thoughts amidst the graves of American women and men who had sacrificed their lives for the nation. The general’s own son is buried there. This is poignant imagery: a retired four-star general standing alone before the headstones of fallen heroes — including some who died obeying military orders he himself had issued. 

The graves of the dead are hallowed ground. This is embedded in the psyche of all peoples of all cultures and religions. More than that, our Christian faith is based on the belief that Jesus walked from His grave and so will all who follow Him. Burying the dead is a Corporal Act of Mercy and tending their graves, a Sacred task.

Seventeen priests assigned to parishes also serve as cemetery directors. November, being the Month of the Holy Dead, provides opportunity to highlight this quiet ministry.

“Catholic cemeteries in the Fall River Diocese carry out the Sacred duty of providing a dignified Christian burial for all of our beloved faithful departed. These cemeteries are extensions of our parishes. Just as the faithful have shared and celebrated in the community of the Church, so in death their bodies rest with other deceased members of this community, awaiting the day when God will raise their mortal bodies to glory. Our cemeteries are holy places of honor and respect for those who have died; they are places for prayer, reflection, hope and remembrance.”

There are 13 diocesan cemeteries: in Fall River — Notre Dame, St. Patrick, St. Mary and St. John cemeteries; in New Bedford — Sacred Heart (one and two), St. John the Baptist, and St. Mary cemeteries; and in Taunton — St. Francis, St. James, St. Joseph, St. Mary and Father Wilson cemeteries. 

My own name, dear readers, is already etched on a headstone at a diocesan cemetery — St. Mary Cemetery, Dartmouth — but, fortunately, only the date of birth is given.

There are also 18 parish cemeteries located throughout southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod, and the Islands for a total of 31 Catholic cemeteries, diocesan and parish.

In addition to the director of Diocesan Cemeteries, priests who oversee parish cemeteries include: Fathers Chris Peschel, Ray Cambra, Steve Avila, Rick Degagne, Michael Fitzpatrick, Michael McManus, John Ozug, Marcel Bouchard, Dave Costa, Mike Nagle,Hugh McCullough, Marc Tremblay, George Harrison, Paul Bernier, Antonio da Silva, and yours truly (St. Joseph Cemetery, Falmouth). 

In addition, Cape Cod is also the location of the Veterans Administration National Cemetery of Bourne. Priests and deacons assigned to Upper Cape parishes and retired priests living in the area share ministry there. They are frequently called to the National Cemetery to conduct the Rites of Committal of the Catholic Church. There have been approximately 90,000 interments in the Massachusetts National Cemetery since its dedication on Veterans Day in 1980.

St. Joseph Cemetery in Falmouth (which I oversee) dates back only to 1891 and cannot claim the oldest Catholic graves on Cape Cod.

The oldest graves in the former Ryder farm, now St. Peter Cemetery, Provincetown, are those of Edward and Experience Cook. The couple succumbed in 1801 within weeks of each other. Whether they were Catholic or not is questionable. Otherwise, the next burial there was 10-month-old John McCarthy in 1849.  His name sounds Catholic.

The first interment at St. Patrick Cemetery, Sandwich, was that of two-year-old Catherine Fagan in 1842.

St. Patrick Cemetery, Hyannis, saw its initial burial, that of the infant Timothy Buckley, in 1862.

Truro’s Sacred Heart Cemetery began with the interment of Maria de Gloria Amaral, 21-year-old wife of Manuel da Rosa, in 1868.

The following year, Holy Trinity Cemetery in Harwich was established. The first interment was Patrick Clarken, born in Ireland in 1799. 

I am aware of no celebrities buried in St. Joseph Cemetery, Falmouth. Our records do show an anonymous “John Doe.” I know not his name nor his story. It’s unlikely he was a celebrity, but his unmarked grave is in my care.

Among the priests buried here is Father Timothy Duff.  Father Duff, born and raised in Woods Hole, was the first native-born Cape Codder to be ordained a Catholic priest. He celebrated his First Mass at St. Joseph Church, Woods Hole, on Christmas Day in 1907. Seven years later, on Christmas Eve, Father Duff passed away. His grave is also in my care.

On All Souls Day, I go to St. Joseph Cemetery to bless the graves of priests, parishioners (young and old) and others (Catholic and Protestant) interred therein. I stand on hallowed ground. I pray that their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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