Pioneer priests honored with new grave markers

| May 22, 2013 | 0 Comments
Several markers in the pioneer priest section of Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul, like the one above, are being replaced with granite ones because they have deteriorated so much they are unreadable. The new markers will look like the markers in the background, which were made of more durable granite and have not deteriorated. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Several markers in the pioneer priest section of Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul, like the one above, are being replaced with granite ones because they have deteriorated so much they are unreadable. The new markers will look like the markers in the background, which were made of more durable granite and have not deteriorated. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

64 new markers to be blessed at Memorial Day Masses

Phil Jungwirth has been visiting his uncle’s grave in Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul regularly throughout his life.

Father Charles Jungwirth died of influenza in 1918 while serving as an assistant pastor in Sleepy Eye, Minn. And growing up in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, it was a Jungwirth family tradition to visit his grave on special occasions.

Buried in the pioneer priest section of the cemetery, his grave should be easy to locate. But over the years his marker and the markers of other priests who served the archdiocese in its earliest years have deteriorated so much that the names and inscriptions are unreadable.

“You just couldn’t read the names anymore,” Phil Jungwirth said.

The markers — dating back to the first priest to die in 1855 in what was then the Diocese of St. Paul — were made of limestone and sandstone, both of which are not as durable as the granite that is used today.

These priests — mostly born in Europe and Canada — ministered to the early immigrants coming to Minnesota, Jungwirth said.

“They ministered to these new Americans, developed churches and parishes associated with and catering to their ethnicity, and built the foundation and framework of what today is the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese,” he said.

Raising funds

Two years ago, Jungwirth decided the markers needed to be restored, and he approached Father Kevin McDonough at Calvary Cemetery after a Memorial Day Mass at which the priest presided.

“Phil Jungwirth helped me to see that we were in danger of losing more than 40 priests’ names from headstones — and more than 20 at St. Mary’s in Minneapolis — and I realized it would soon be impossible for people to pray for them by name,” said Father McDonough, pastor of St. Peter Claver and former vicar general of the archdiocese. “Of course, the day will come when we will all be known only to God, but I hoped to sustain our prayer for these priests for another century or two.”

A few weeks later, Father McDonough and Jungwirth met with John Cherek, director of The Catholic Cemeteries, and fundraising began. “We connected with the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s and raised some early dollars,” Cherek said.

The “adopt-a-marker” program was very successful, with several individuals and parishes donating $350 for a single marker. The University of St. Thomas also adopted the markers of two past presidents.

Additional donations came from a free-will offering at last year’s Memorial Day Mass.

Grateful for response

A total of 64 new granite markers have been created at a discounted rate by Monumental Sales, a granite company in St. Cloud — 42 will be replaced at Calvary Cemetery and 22 at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

“I am so happy to see that our Twin Cities Catholic community responded enthusiastically to this devotion,” Father McDonough said. “It gives me great hope that we will continue to support one another — living and dead — in prayer.”

Jungwirth is grateful to everyone who responded to the adopt-a-marker project.

“It is exciting the markers will be blessed and will replace the existing ones, allowing people to locate these visionary priests and pay them the respect they so rightfully deserve,” he said.

The markers will be on display during the Memorial Day Masses at 10 a.m. at Calvary and St. Mary’s Cemeteries. They will be installed by cemetery staff over the next few weeks.

Category: Memorial Day