Saint Vincent Basilica Parish...
was formed on April 16, 1790 when Father Theodore Brouwers, O.F.M. purchased the 300 acres of land called “Sportsman’s Hall Tract” and thus founded Sportsman’s Hall Parish. The parish was later placed under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul and so was called Saint Vincent Parish.
With the formation of the parish came, obviously, a need for a cemetery; thus, Saint Vincent Cemetery dates to those early days when Saint Vincent was the first Catholic parish in Pennsylvania west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Unfortunately, Father Brouwers died on October 29 1790, and his remains were laid to rest in the cemetery that overlooked his modest dwelling.
Father Warren Murrman, O.S.B., in an unpublished history of the cemetery, notes that “it is not clear how the cemetery fared during the early years of the Sportsman’s Hall parish. Father Brouwer’s grave was presumably the first grave. And over the years the parishioners must have brought their deceased loved ones and laid them to rest, clustered around the parish’s founder.
But of the two priests who claimed to succeed him, one stayed for a very brief time and the other left little evidence of pastoral care except for some indication in oral tradition that the parishioners were at least content to have a priest among them. If any sacramental register was kept that recorded information about the deaths and burials of the parishioners during the 1970s, it has been lost.”
The parish finally received a steady and faithful pastor, Father Peter Helbron, who served from 1799 until his death in 1816. A new log church was constructed during his tenure, around 1810.
The parish had a series of other faithful pastors, including Father Terrence M’Girr and Father James Stillinger, who was there from 1830 until the arrival of the Benedictines and their founder, Boniface Wimmer, in 1846.
More on the history of the parish can be founded in an appendix to the book Saint Vincent Basilica: One Hundred Years.
Father Warren notes that “Father Brouwers had determined the location of the cemetery by indicating in his will where he wished his last resting place to be. This location was further west along the top of the little ridge on whose easternmost slope had been erected the little building which was both residence an chapel and any other structures which may have served as outbuildings. The monument which marks the site of the original building of Sportsman’s Hall stands on the slope perhaps 100 feet to the north of the front doors of the current Basilica. … At the time of preparing for the construction of the 1835 church, any graves were located within its intended walls likely were removed, perhaps a bit more to the slops on the north or south, but more likely a short distance to the west along the top of the little ridge, to the site where the library was constructed in 1958. The few references to the site of the old parish cemetery indicate that it was to the south of the 1835 church.”
As the campus of Saint Vincent expanded, there was a nee for more buildings, and the cemetery was in a prime location. Thus, the cemetery was moved again in the 1860s, to the present site, including those of Father Brouwers.
“The new cemetery grounds,” writes Father Warren, “measured about 350 feet wide, that is north to south, by the same amount deep, that is east to west. There was also space for a road to encircle it and some room on its western edge … for a modest future expansion.”
“The original cemetery most probably had grown with little organization,” writes Father Warren. “It is not known if the graves were arranged in family plots or how the sites were chosen. The only stable element was the grave of the first pastor, Father Theodore Brouwers . . . In any event, the new cemetery was established as a rather neat square or perhaps oblong piece of land, with rows of graves stretching in lines which ran north and south.
“. . . The first row, that is the easternmost one, was for the deceased monks. After every two rows, there was space for a walkway. Located centrally in the cemetery was the site, which oral tradition firmly states was chosen by Abbot Boniface, where a large stone cross later was to be erected. It would be the central cross of the cemetery and it would also mark the grave of Abbot Boniface Wimmer and his successors.”
The first burial in the new cemetery was A.M. Rachor, who died June 9, 1860, at the age of 86. The next is that of Maria Folk, aged 2 days, who died on August 27, 1860. Then follow Ottilia Maria Obermeyer and eight further names.
“Tradition states,” writes Father Warren, “that Boniface Wimmer determined the exact spot for the placement of the tall sandstone cross in the current cemetery. And it is impossible to imagine that he would not have been involved in the final decisions about moving the cemetery, the location, and the site for his own future grave. The core of the new cemetery is what was later designated as section B, centered on the tall stone cross. The graves of this section, as well as those of sections A, C, and (old) D face east, the traditional orientation of Christian graves, awaiting the resurrection of the dead, when Christ will come as the rising sun.”
At first glance, Father Warren notes, “the sequence of grave markers for the monks’ graves in the new cemetery presents a somewhat confusing picture. A more careful analysis however reveals what must have happened in the first decades, a combination of limited initial planning and subsequent adjustment. The oldest graves are in the center of the top line, that is the westernmost row of graves, at the front of section B of the cemetery. The iron cross grave markers of the monks who died from 1851, when Brother Gregory Keck was the first to die, through to early 1860, are found in one stretch of this line but arranged in no perceptible order. Six of the plots are double graves. North of this group in the same line of crosses is a series of graves, with remains of those who died 1861 to 1866, running chronologically from north to south. These two series of graves are, first, graves holding the remains transferred from the monks’ cemetery which had been in front (east) of the 1835 church and, second, the graves of those monks who were buried after June 1860 after the new cemetery was opened. Hence the first monks buried in the new cemetery were those who died after 1860. And to this number were added, in 1867, the remains transferred from the cemetery in front of the church.
“From this row of grave markers, with the deceased from mid 1860 to mid 1867 on the north and with the deceased from 1851 to mid 1860 on the south, additions were made from mid 1867 going in each direction, north and south, towards the extremes of section B.” As the cemetery expanded, a second row was begun, starting from the southern extreme of section B and heading north. The monks rows, Father Warren notes, “were extended northward as the front two rows of Section A with graves beginning in 1896 and running through 1911, generally filling up the second row (1896-1904) and then the first or easternmost row (1904-1911). In 1912 through 1914 graves sites were found in available spaces among the monks’ graves in section B. The sequence then skips back to resume at the other side of the double row of crosses where it left off on the extreme south, so that the remaining double row continues along in front of Section C and then of Section D. This time however the graves are placed ever southward, alternating between front and back row. At the far end of Section D, a third row commences, to the front or east of the other two, running from south to north.”
Over time, it was necessary to expand the cemetery. The most obvious direction was to the west; however, due to a property boundary before the campus was expanded, expansion was also to the north. Section C was added in the twentieth century and after World War II, Section D was added. In the 1950s this was expanded further by New D or D Annex.
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Saint Vincent Archabbey dedicated the Mary, Mother of Mercy Mausoleum Chapel November 8, 2014. The mausoleum chapel offers a place for quiet meditation to remember and to pray for departed loved ones. An arched entryway leads to a vaulted rotunda with a replica of Michaelangelo’s Pieta at its center. Skylights offer soft, natural light. Chapels dedicated to Saints Benedict and Scholastica provide a place for the rite of committal and daily prayer. The chapel corridors pay honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels.
Father Vincent de Paul Crosby, O.S.B., designed and supervised creation of the artwork in the Mausoleum Chapel, including the stained glass window behind the altar, which depicts the Risen Christ ascending in glory; the tables and benches in the wing corridors; the altar itself, made from marble that was in the Archabbey Basilica; and the processional cross. The marble was imported from Italy.
The mausoleum chapel also contains a Memorial Cross made from metal of the World Trade Center, destroyed in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, and donated by Mrs. Mary Lou Curry. The stations of the cross were originally used in a German parish in Covington, Kentucky staffed by Saint Vincent monks and later brought to Saint Vincent.
The Mausoleum houses 1,582 full body crypts and 904 cremation niches. The Mausoleum offers both single and companion crypts.
The cemetery offices are now located in the Mausoleum Chapel.