Neglected cemeteries make my head spin, and when they happen to be under the care of the Catholic Archdiocese, who should know better, it makes me want to raise hell.
Northern California graver Louise Gaffney discovered the sorrowful condition of Holy Cross Cemetery in Menlo Park, when she ventured to the property to gather a list of all Irish families buried there for the Irish Genealogy Society.
"I was absolutely horrified at the condition of the cemetery," she told me. "Broken tombstones and plots buried in years of leaves...terrible," she told me. On top of that, she said that apparently Holy Cross does not have a proper map of the old section, so she has started one herself.
Sadly, that's not even the upsetting part of her story.
"I contact the number listed at the cemetery to see if I could arrange to get some volunteers in to clean up," she explained.
No good deed goes unpunished.
"I was told that it is private property, I was trespassing and breaking the law, and then asked 'Why do you even care, you don't know anyone buried there?'"
Say what? That doesn't sound very Christian.
Louise, naturally, was disheartened. "I have put in hours of work cleaning the graves before I was told I was trespassing. I would put my headphones on, turn up my ipod and the hours would fly by. I feel so relaxed, and peaceful and.....good when I work there," she told me.
Undaunted, Louise contacted the priest at the The Church of the Nativity for
help and he passed the buck back to the people in charge of the
grounds. "I explained that I did do that and was told flat out that I
am not allowed to clean any of the graves, that it would be
trespassing. The priest said that he was sorry about that and 'God
Bless' me," she said.
On May 14, she was told by the caretakers that they would be going in before Memorial Day "to rake leaves and any broken headstones would be thrown away," Louise added.
The caretaking office Louise originally contact, by the way, was that of Katherine E. Atkinson, Director of Cemeteries Archdiocese of San Francisco. Here's a snippet from Atkinson's page on the San Francisco Archdiocese site:
Apparently Atkinson hasn't been to Menlo Park in a while, because it seems to me that theses photos that Louise snapped recently at Holy Cross clearly do not match the church's marketing vision:
Louise told me today that after another follow up email to Atkinson's office, she received a response from an assistant, which read:
Any non-menacing non-eff-off response is a good one, so at least there is some progress. I'll be staying in touch with Louise to report on this story as it unfolds. Here's hoping the cemetery will get at least as much care and attention from church officials as they give it's pretty website.