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St. Joseph Cemetery, Roxbury

Like many 18th and 19th century parishes, St. Joseph in Roxbury had a cemetery on its property for its parishioners. Most, if not all, members of the Parish were refugees from Ireland. A lot of them came here to escape the devastating potato famine in their own land.

The Parish was established in 1845 and the Church was built in that same year. Before either of the two schools were built, a cemetery was blessed beside the Church in 1850. It was a relatively small piece of land similar to those found in many rural areas around country Churches. It should be noted that also urban Churches such as the historic King’s Chapel in Boston had its own private cemetery beside the Church.

By 1868 the St. Joseph cemetery was closed because it was filled. From the most recent estimate, about 600 people were buried there. Not surprisingly, many were young adults and children. From the few gravestones found, it seems that most came from County Donegal in Ireland. This is also true of a small cemetery, called Toll Gate in Hyde Park.

From 1868 on little is known about this cemetery. It’s markings on city maps were no longer listed after 1882.

For maybe well over one hundred years the history of the cemetery is shrouded in mystery. No gravestones are seen in pictures. The Grammar School was built in 1887 right beside the cemetery and there is no indication of a cemetery. For many decades the area of the cemetery was a peaceful green space with two trees.

It was rumored and believed that the bodies of the deceased had been transferred to another cemetery, though no records could be found.

In the 1990s a company was digging a trench near the green space and found a gravestone. The digging was stopped. No other material was found which indicated that the cemetery no longer existed.

A great change came in 2006. The St. Joseph property was in the process of being sold. St. Patrick Parish, which now owned the St. Joseph property, hired the Public Archaeological Laboratory (PAL) to test the soil. A bone was found. All digging stopped as was required by law. Everything was referred to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

In a short period of time it was realized by all parties that the cemetery was indeed a final resting place for those Irish Catholics buried in the 19th century.

Since then every step has been taken by the Archdiocese, St. Patrick Parish and PAL to treat the remains with dignity and due respect as they are transferred to Calvary Cemetery in Waltham, MA for re-interment.

Every item found in a grave from glass to coins to rings to buttons to crosses to vials to whatever people left in the graves of their loved ones from almost 150 years ago or more are going with them to their new final resting place.

It is with all concern and respect and often prayer that every skeleton remainder is handled and treated as a human being who once was one of us.


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