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A history of Holy Cross Cemetery

Holy Cross Cemetery began in 1874 as the parochial cemetery of the original St. Mary’s Catholic Church (located on East Marshall Street between 3rd and 4th streets). St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1851 by the large number of German immigrants to the city who had formed their own congregation in 1843 to have services conducted in their native language.

In March of 1874, the Benedictine Society of Westmorland County Pennsylvania, which held the patronage of St. Mary’s Church, purchased ten and one half acres of land which became the northern section of the present Holy Cross Cemetery. It was the nearest possible land to the church at the time.

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The area was divided into four sections of about 50 plots. Roads and walkways were laid off, the land was sanctified by the church and rules for the burial of deceased were established. A separate plot was reserved for Catholic priests as well as one for the Benedictine nuns who staffed St. Mary’s parish schools.

Sales for the burial plots were almost all made to the parishioners with proceeds going into the parish treasury. A superintendant saw to the maintenance of the grounds and interment of the deceased.

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The first burial in St. Mary’s cemetery was of a Mr. Joseph Stukenberg on March 29, 1874, 25 days after the land was acquired. Over the next two years, the remains of 76 deceased parishioners (including 32 infants and children of from St. Mary’s) who had been buried in the City’s nearby Shockoe Cemetery where exhumed and transferred to St. Mary’s Cemetery. Six burials were also transferred from St. Joseph’s or Bishop’s Cemetery.

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A section was retained by the cemetery and made available for no charge to parishioners who could not afford to buy a grave site. The name and date of the burials in this section (Section F) were recorded in the cemeteries chronological record.

For the next twenty-five years burials averaged 48 each year. Virtually all burials were of first- and second-generation German immigrants with funerals from St. Mary’s Church. Elaborate monuments and copings were placed on many of these plots. Three more sections E, G, and H had been opened to the east of the first four sections by about the year 1890.

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Around the turn of the twentieth century, the members of the parish of St. Mary’s Church began a slow decline as parishioners began moving to the suburbs of the time and joined new parishes in those locations. Burials in St. Mary’s Cemetery began to decline.

By the year 1920, the parish cemetery committee, presided by Mr. Fredrick Sitterding, saw that the parish, due to its declining membership, could no longer support the cemetery financially. Mr. Sitterding offered to buy and donate another 12 acres of land adjoining the cemetery to the south, if the Bishop would approve to convert the cemetery into a non-profit diocesan corporation serving the Catholics of all parishes. The offer was accepted and St. Mary’s Cemetery became Holy Cross Cemetery in November, 1924.

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In 1931, three years after the death of her father Fredrick, Miss Angee Sitterding donated to the cemetery the brick wall and iron gates which surround it. At the same time, the superintendants house was moved from its location where the chapel now stands to an area south of the wall across the street.

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After the incorporation of St. Mary’s to Holy Cross Cemetery, the number of burials began a constant increase from 18 per year in the 1920s to 39 in the 1960s.

In 1965, the cobble stone roads were converted to asphalt. In 1972, 137 remains were transferred from St. Joseph’s or Bishops Cemetery, on Mechanicsville Pike, to the new section L, located on the south facing hillside in the original half of the Cemetery, when the Richmond Housing Authority bought the Bishop’s Cemetery to build Whitcomb Court.

The Chapel building, which also has space for a records office and bathroom facilities, was built and dedicated in 1988.

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A memorial service and more lately mass, has been held each year since the founding of the cemetery, on the first Sunday of November, which is regularly attended by almost 125 people. Burials continue at a rate of 25-30 each year, along with 5-10 urn interments.

Perhaps the most famous internment at Holy Cross is John Joseph Boehling, a former Major League Baseball player who pitched for the Washington Senators from 1912-1916 and later the Cleveland Indians.

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This is an edited version of the history provided by Holy Cross Cemetery. Photos by John Murden.