A final resting place for Missouri’s founding settlers

Mount Calvary Cemetery, Nevada (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

KANSAS CITY — Religious faith and Missouri’s settlement went hand in hand. The first Europeans to arrive in what is now Missouri were French trappers and traders, followed soon by French military units. In what would become the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, a French military fort, Fort Orleans, was established in 1723 to safeguard the Missouri River against Spanish exploration. Canadian Foreign Mission Society Father Jean Baptiste Mercier served as chaplain at the fort, offering Masses and other religious services at the fort during the year it was in existence. While it isn’t known if Father Mercier officiated at any Catholic funerals while at the fort, historically, Catholics have chosen to bury their loved ones in consecrated ground, with a priest blessing the deceased and leading family and friends in prayer for the repose of his or her soul. Old Catholic cemeteries can tell the story of the founding of many of the communities they serve. An article in The Catholic Key of Oct. 17, 2008, told the histories of many of the cemeteries in the diocese. The following tells of several cemeteries that were only mentioned in the original article, and provides new information on others.

Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery, Kansas City, (816) 241-7663

In Kaw’s Mouth (Kansas City), the first Catholic cemetery, St. Francis Regis Church Cemetery, was located near what is now the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, at 11th and Jefferson streets. Father Benedict Roux, the first priest assigned to the Kansas City area, purchased in April 1834 a tract of 40 acres to be used as church, school and cemetery, from Pierre LaLiberte and his wife, Eleonore. That summer, construction was started on a log building, which may have served as a chapel or church. Father Roux returned to St. Louis in 1835 and, three years later sold 30 acres to a Kaw’s Mouth Catholic, Francis Mumbleau, who in turn sold them to Bereniece Chouteau. Title to the remaining 10 acres was transferred to Bishop Rosati in St. Louis in 1839, and on those acres Father Bernard Donnelly built a brick church in 1857. A few dirt and rock roadways north, he established a cemetery for Catholics in the area. He wrote in 1873 that “The original graveyard was but a small one fenced by oak pickets, dressed by the axe, sharpened at the upper end and stuck close together uprightly in the ground and enclosing less than half an acre.” He remembered an earlier cemetery, however.

Father Donnelly considered the first Christian cemetery in the diocese to be close to the Missouri River at the foot of what is now Grand Avenue. Years later the priest wrote in his memoirs, “There is a reason to believe that the first Christian who died in the vacinity (sic) of Kansas City were (sic) buried at the summit angle of the bluff, just east of the foot of Grand Avenue. I saw the rude cross there in 1848.”

Toward the end of his life, Father Donnelly sold nine of the 10 original acres. He used part of the proceeds (and borrowed the rest) to purchase approximately 40 acres of land for the establishment of a large Catholic cemetery on the outskirts of town. He wrote, “The extension of the city limits in the direction of the 10 acres (where the church and cemetery were) … began to alarm me. I began to foresee the danger of having our cemetery within the city bounds. Impelled by this idea I bought a tract of 40 acres from Mr. Levi Owings … which has cost me up to this date (July 1, 1873) $8,175, principal, interest, taxes, fencing and roadmaking …The kind citizens of Kansas City have generously tolerated our graveyard up to the present although it has been in the power of the authorities to interdict interments. For this tolerant forbearance I feel exceedingly grateful.”

Mount St. Mary’s, on 22nd Street between Cleveland and Elmwood, was dedicated in 1877. St. Francis Regis Cemetery was closed the same year, and the burials were moved to Mount St. Mary’s, including Pierre and Eleonore LaLiberte, Doctor Benoist Troost and pioneer J. Pino Fournaise, who died in 1871 at the age of 124. The remains of Gabriel Prudhomme, a pioneer landowner who died in a barroom fight in 1831 were not moved to Mount St. Mary’s because they were not found until 1985, more than a century after the cemetery’s establishment. Prudhomme’s 257 acre farm was purchased in 1838 by 14 investors with the intention of developing what later became Kansas City.

Father Donnelly was named pastor of the Kansas City congregation in 1849, a year before the city was incorporated. He remained pastor of St. Francis Regis, which was renamed Immaculate Conception in 1857, until his retirement in 1880.

A priest whom today might be called a “workaholic,” Father Donnelly wrote frequently about how tired he was, although when Christ, his archbishop or a person in need called upon him, he would “not refuse the task.” He wrote on June 29, 1873, his 63rd birthday, “I have not an entire day of rest for 30 years. I am very tired — weary with watching, loaded with cares … desiring to be dissolved and to be with Christ …” He died Dec. 14, 1880 and was first buried in the Cathedral, then under construction. His body was moved to Mount St. Mary’s in 1927. There in Priest’s Circle, Father Donnelly hopes “to sleep for all time.”

During the years he was the resident pastor in Kansas City, he kept the record books of St. Francis Regis and then of Mount St. Mary’s cemeteries, “in his own handwriting.” The first book recorded Catholic deaths from 1846-1859.

The first death and burial recorded, in Latin,* was Edward Petelle, 40, who died Jan. 1, 1846. Some of the records were detailed: “Elizabeth Vertfeuille, died July 20, 1851, age: 27 years. Her child, died: July 21, 1851, age: 1 year, 11 months;” “Sara Roy, died Aug. 22, 1851, age 30 years, relict (widow) of Peter Roy;” Others were simple notations: “Howard, died: March 24, 1858.”

Many of the deaths and burials he recorded were children under the age of 12. Of 250 deaths between 1846 and 1859, 127 were children. Cholera and childhood illnesses caused some of the children’s deaths, many were still births and still others lived but a few days. One family lost four children in as many years.

Familiar founding families appear. “Teresa Jarboe, died Nov. 6, 1848, age 8 years, moved from Platte County 14 years after death;” “Lydia Ann Jarboe, died Aug. 6, 1851, age 49 years, wife of Joseph Jarboe;” “Edward Geseau Chouteau, died Feb. 9, 1853,” other members of the Chouteau family are also listed; “Pierre LaLiberte, died Sept. 28, 1853, age: 61 years, of Kansas;” “Dr. Benoist Troost, died Feb. 11, 1859, age 72 years.”

The first police officer and firefighter who died in the line of duty rest in Mount St. Mary’s as do William Grooms, the Kansas City police officer killed during the Union Station Massacre in 1933, and Johnny Lazia, the northside crime boss with links to the massacre. Ragtime band leader and composer Edward Harry Kelly and Mafia crime boss Nick Civella are buried at Mount St. Mary’s. Mount St. Mary’s is the final resting place for more than 45,000 Catholics.

Mount Olivet- Kansas City, (816) 353-1900

The 160-acre cemetery in southeast Kansas City was opened and dedicated in 1948 by Archbishop Edwin V. O’Hara.

Archbishop O’Hara died in Italy in 1956, shortly after becoming the first bishop of the combined Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He was originally buried in the Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration in Kansas City, but when it closed in 1984, the archbishop was moved to Mount Olivet.

A memorial marker honors the discovery of remains found in 1985 near the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that may possibly include those of Gabriel Prudhomme.

Other burials of interest include Carl J. “Cork” Civella, 1910-1994. He was a brother of Mafia crime boss Nick Civella (who lies in Mount St. Mary’s).  When Nick died in prison Carl became boss of the family. In 1984 he was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for his role in skimming more than $280,000 from the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and another $2 million from Argent Corporation-run casinos. The scheme and its aftermath became the basis for the Martin Scorcese film, “Casino.”

Betty Peterson, 1918-2006, born in Spurgeon, Mo., was a songwriter. Betty was best known for her song, “My Happiness,” which won the 1948 Song of the Year Award. The song was recorded by a number of singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, The Pied Pipers, Jon and Sondra Steele, Frank Sinatra, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Pat Boone and Connie Francis. An aspiring singer, a truck driver from Memphis named Elvis Presley, paid $2.75 to make a demo of the song in 1953. Peterson was married to Louis O. Blanco, a songwriter and music publisher. She died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87.

A monument marks the burial of Paul F. Riordan, 1920-1944, a World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. A Second Lieutenant in the US Army’s 34th Infantry Division, he was posthumously awarded for his actions near Cassino, Italy (Feb. 3-8, 1944). The citation reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty … 2d Lt. Riordan’s bravery and extraordinary heroism in the face of almost certain death were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.” 

James William Earp, 1888-1958, Americana author. In addition to a career with the railroad, he wrote a number of short stories during his life. James’ career as a published author began when Railroad Man’s Magazine accepted a short story in 1916, which then developed into a series. He was especially successful in writing stories based on railroad themes. His short stories also appeared in such magazines as Railroad Stories, Top Notch, Smart Set, American Boy, War Stories, Railroad Man’s/Argosy/Railroad Magazine and Wayside Tales, none of which are now in publication.

More than 1, 950 Catholics are buried in Mount Olivet-Kansas City.

During the mid-to-late 19th century, a number of Catholic parishes and missions were established in Northwest Missouri, in rural areas and towns from Nevada to Parnell that Father Donnelly visited on horseback. Quite a few of the parishes set aside land for cemeteries, and 26 of those cemeteries are still owned and administered by the parishes. Records are still maintained, although not all the cemeteries are still in use.

Mount Calvary Cemetery, Nevada, (417) 667-5604

Louis Benz, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church, which was renamed St. Mary in 1958, purchased a tract of land in 1910 from the Sisters of St. Francis of Nevada and donated it to the parish for a cemetery. Joseph Karhoff was the first burial, July 17, 1910.

Franciscan Sister Connie Boulch, Vicar General of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, told The Key that the community, which came to Independence in 1982, had “no record of selling the property to Mr. Benz but we had a fire in 1915 which destroyed the entire complex: convent, (St. Francis) orphanage, chapel and all the contents. Almost all the records before that time are gone. The property was purchased by the sisters in 1892 when Mother John Hau and four companions came to the United States.”

A section of Mount Calvary is bordered by tall, pruned shrubbery setting apart the resting places of the Sisters of St. Francis and priests who served as convent chaplains or as pastor of St. Mary Parish.

“Mount Calvary is the resting place of all the Sisters of St. Francis from 1892 to this time,” Sister Connie said, “except Novice Louise Waldvogl, our first novice, who died in 1896, and Sister Basilia Kueng, one of the founding sisters, who died in 1897. These two sisters are buried in the convent cemetery of the Benedictine Sisters at Clyde because the fledgling community at Nevada was not sure they would survive there (the Sisters of St. Francis were Swiss and had spent 10 months in Clyde with the Benedictine Sisters, learning English before venturing to Nevada).The first sister buried at Nevada was Sister Elizabeth Young, who was our first American vocation. Mother Hau was buried there in 1948. Sister Mary Hildegarde Heiss, who died in 2004 at the age of 101, and Sister Bernadine Bellm were the last two sisters buried there. We will continue to bury the sisters there until there is no more room.”

The cemetery, about a mile from the parish church, is the last resting place of many St. Mary’s parishioners.

St. Mary's Cemetery, Montrose (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

St. Mary Cemetery, Montrose (660) 639-4651

Tradition has it that St. Ludger, the parish church in Germantown, a once-thriving town about four miles from Montrose, was founded in 1833, and a cemetery established by Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis about 20 years later. Montrose was founded in 1871, when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad laid its right of way from Nevada to Sedalia, missing Germantown. As a result many of Germantown’s residents moved the four miles to Montrose, bringing their strong Catholicism with them.

The Catholic cemetery was there before a parish was. John Noel and his wife Rachael donated one and a half acres of land in Oct. 1871, to Archbishop Kenrick, trustee of the Catholic church for Montrose, for a cemetery to be called St. Mary’s. Immaculate Conception parish was founded in 1879, and a frame church built. The first brick church was built in 1887 and the current church in 1912.

Located on a gravel road within a mile of the church, surrounded by farmland, the cemetery is enclosed by a wrought iron fence. St. Mary Cemetery was expanded in 1965 and again in 1975 through donations of land from George and Helen Gengler and later the Peabody Coal Company.

A six foot, white Italian marble statue of Christ stands on one side of the cemetery, a memorial donated in 1975 in memory of Anne Hopfinger.

Peter J. Lennartz, a resident of Germantown who moved to Montrose in 1873, to live with his son, Joseph, is one of several members of an extended Lennartz family buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. He died in 1887. His obituary, published in the local newspaper, said “he was found dead by the side of his bed at the residence of his son, Joseph, where he had made his home for the last fourteen years.” Lennartz’s wife, Frau Von Peter, died in 1875, and was buried in the Germantown parish cemetery, where the couple had first lived after arriving in America about 1870. Lennartz was survived by six children.

Another headstone in St. Mary’s honors Appalonia “Abbie” Arens, born April 19, 1900, in Iowa, and died March 25, 1907. Her obituary, published in the Clinton, Mo., newspaper, said “Abbie Arens, about seven years old, daughter of Nick F. Arens and wife, died at 6 a.m., Tuesday, March 25, and was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Montrose. Mrs. Arens has also been in poor health and the family has the heartfelt sympathy of the entire community.”

St. Mary’s Cemetery, Higginsville, (660) 584-3038

Higginsville was founded by Harvey J. Higgins in 1869, when the Lexington and Sedalia

Railroad, later a link in the main line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, was built through Lafayette County. St. Mary/Immaculate Conception Parish was founded in 1879.

In 1910, the parish purchased two acres of land east of the church on St. Mary’s Road from Martin Mayta and his wife, Maria, for a cemetery.

Father Robert B. Byrne, named pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in 1977, is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

St. Mary Catholic Cemetery was established about 1917. The hilltop cemetery is crowned by a white crucifix mounted on a pedestal, which can be seen from a distance.

Old Catholic Cemetery, Lexington, (660) 259-3043

Immaculate Conception Parish was founded in 1845, and after three years as a mission of the Irish Settlement in Shackelford, its charge reverted to Father Bernard Donnelly, who served the fledgling parish from 1848-1852. A year later, under the direction of Father James Murphy, a small brick church was built in a part of town not far from the Missouri River. On Aug. 6, 1860, the parish purchased five acres of land from John and Mary Dougherty to use for a cemetery.

By the early 1870s, the parish had grown enough to require a new, larger church. The new building, nearer the site of the Civil War battlefield, was completed in 1873. A disastrous windstorm in 1880 destroyed the church. Again Immaculate Conception Church moved, this time to its present location, and the church was completed in 1897.

A few years later in 1905, ten acres of land were purchased by the parish to use as a cemetery, but in 1906, 1908 and 1909, parcels of land totaling eight and one fourth acres were sold to get the cemetery out of debt.

In 1930, the government was building highways throughout Missouri. One of the cemeteries purchased by Immaculate Conception Parish was possibly located where the cloverleaf interchange of State Highways 13 and 24 is now and moved to a new location. Perhaps in response to the disruption of the cemetery, Bishop Thomas Lillis of the Diocese of Kansas City contracted with Alvena Sandring on Jan. 25, 1930, for a section in Lexington’s Memorial Park Cemetery to be named Calvary.

It is not clear which of the two parish cemeteries is the one that is located about a mile and a half from the parish off Roncelli Road, which becomes Old Cemetery Road. Situated on the crown of a hill, surrounded by residences and farmland, and framed by trees, the cemetery entrance is marked by two brick columns. A marker on one column says “Old Catholic Cemetery, founded 1860, in memory of Boyle and Morris families.” The marker on the other column is “In Memory of Sir Knights Harold F. McLaughlin, 1928-1998, James W. Grechus, Sr., 1919-2009.”

At first glance the headstones and monuments seem grouped haphazardly, but there is a lovely casualness about it that draws a visitor in to explore.

A triplex of mossy headstones honor Patrick Stewart, his son Mark and nephew Thomas Hastings. Patrick Stewart was born in 1820 and came from County Mayo in Ireland about 1840. His first wife died sometime after the birth of their son Mark in 1845. Patrick and sons Charles and Mark lived for a while in Iowa, then Patrick remarried June 24, 1851, in Montreal, Canada. He and his family settled in Lexington by 1860. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Patrick joined up, serving along with his son Charles and nephew Thomas Hastings in Company E, 1st Kansas Infantry. Mark was 15 at the time. He joined Company F, 10th Mo. Cavalry, as a musician and mustered out in 1864. His brother, Charles, finished his first enlistment over at the 1st Kansas Infantry, then joined up with Mark in the 10th Mo. Calvary, Company F, possibly to look out for him.  Thomas served in the cavalry, and managed to survive to come home to Lexington. He married in 1867. The day after his wedding, Thomas fell from his horse and was dragged to death. Mark died in 1870, Patrick in 1892.

Although there have been no recent burials in the Old Catholic Cemetery, it is still maintained and administered by Immaculate Conception Parish.

Old cemetery records can be confusing — often names are misspelled or incorrectly translated from Latin or European languages. Informants and record keepers may have recorded birth or death dates wrongly. Whatever the reason, mistakes could and did occur, resulting in mysteries years later.

Jacob Reinhart was born in Manheim, Germany, in 1824, and immigrated to America as a young man. He and his wife Elizabeth eventually settled in Lafayette County, Mo., and raised three children, John (1850-1932), Margaret Reinhart Hotmer (1854-1940) and Mary Barbara Reinhart Kopman (1861-1951). Elizabeth died in 1896 and Jacob in 1903.

Here’s the mystery. The online cemetery resource, Find A Grave, searches through thousands of records to find where people are buried. Its information is obtained from genealogists, family members and members of organizations including veterans groups, the Daughters of the American Revolution and others.

According to Find A Grave, Jacob and Elizabeth Reinhart, and their two older children and their spouses, are all buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Higginsville, and in Old Catholic Cemetery in Lexington, about 10 miles from Higginsville.

Both records state that Mary Barbara Kopman is buried with her husband in Lexington’s Memorial Park’s Calvary section.

Jacob and Elizabeth both died in Wellington, a town a few miles north of Lexington, which implies that he and his family are buried in the Old Catholic Cemetery.

The venerable Catholic cemeteries seem to reflect the faith of those at rest there, whether under mossy headstones or marble monuments. Peace and a sense of holiness are found in the old graveyards, keeping them viable, no matter their age.

*Father Donnelly’s records were translated by Father John Doyle and transcribed by Dorothy E. Busby in the 1940s.


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September 27, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph