GARDNER — More than 20 people gathered on the grounds of St. Joseph Cemetery on All Souls Day, Nov. 2, to pray for those buried in the small graveyard in Door County.
The cemetery has not seen a burial in decades and had been neglected. When Fr. Edward Looney was appointed administrator of St. Francis and St. Mary Parish in Brussels in July 2017, he visited the eight cemeteries under his parish’s care, including St. Joseph, located on Fox Lane and surrounded by farmland.
A sign identifying the cemetery was lying in a ditch, he said, and that began a months-long challenge of restoring and identifying the unmarked graves. Existing cemetery gravestones identify 22 people buried there, but Fr. Looney was told by parishioners that many others graves were not marked. In some cases, wooden grave markers had rotted away.
With the assistance of Linda Jonet, a volunteer at St. Peter and St. Hubert Parish in Lincoln/Rosiere, where the priest also serves, Fr. Looney was able to comb through sacramental books and death records from surrounding parishes dating back to the 1800s, he said.
“This search yielded the discovery of 25 additional names to the 22 names already known by the gravestones,” he said.
During the All Souls Day cemetery visit, a litany was sung and the names of all those known buried in the cemetery were recited by Fr. Looney and Sue Havel of St. Peter and St. Hubert Parish. Those in attendance responded, “Eternal rest grant unto them.”
Before the litany, Fr. Looney reminded those in attendance why praying for the dead is important. During the month of November, he said that the church prays for the dead, offering indulgences “applicable only to the holy souls in purgatory, when a person visits cemeteries during the first eight days of November.”
“You look at this cemetery and it doesn’t look like much,” he said. “Why make a big deal about it? The fact that there are people buried here, (whose graves) aren’t marked, who have really been forgotten, it is important to really bring that to light and to help people never to forget those who have died.”
Fr. Looney referred to a ballad by the Dropkick Murphys, “The Green Fields of France.” In the ballad, the singer describes sitting next to the graveside of a man named Willy McBride who died in 1916, wondering what his life was like.
“I think that’s what we can do, as we visit this cemetery, as we visit other cemeteries,” said Fr. Looney. “As we see their names, as we see when they died, maybe to imagine their own life. Some of these people lived during the Peshtigo Fire, some of these people experienced many great historical tragedies and we can really imagine what their life was like here in our little community.”
The cemetery service ended with a blessing of a statue of St. Joseph that was recently acquired and placed next to the cemetery sign. Fr. Looney said more research will continue to identify other unmarked graves at the cemetery, which includes at least three Civil War veterans, he said.