St. Mary Cemetery Purchased and ‘Blessed’ in 1871
The land for Saint Mary Roman Catholic Cemetery on Nantucket was acquired in January 1871 and consecrated in the summer of 1871 under the direction of the then Bishop of Boston, John Joseph Williams. (Boston was not to become an archdiocese until 1875.) Land records indicate the property was acquired from the Patrick Collins family, which, ostensibly, belonged to Henry Coffin prior to the Collins’s. Bishop Williams sent the Reverend Peter Bertoldi of Sandwich who “blessed” the land as “the Catholic Burying Grounds at Nantucket.” Burials at this Catholic cemetery date to the 1880s.
In the 1800s, the island had a substantial Catholic community, primarily from the Azores and Cape Verde, and proceeded to grow dramatically with the immigration of the Irish in the mid-80s due their country’s potato famine. Prior to 1871, the Catholic residents of the island were without a burial ground of their own and were interred in other burial grounds throughout the island, including the Old North Cemetery, Prospect Hill and others. The need for a dedicated cemetery was evident, and, hence, the local Catholic community petitioned for a sacred ground. With the help of the Reverend Cornelius O’Connor of Harwich, who was then serving as a long-distance pastor of the church, the Boston diocese approved the acquisition and blessing.
The property is located mid-island, bounded by Vestal Street, Cato Lane, and Hummock Pond Road and lies adjacent to Prospect Hill Cemetery. The original land was expanded in 1907 on land acquired from the Clark family.
Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church Cemetery predates the establishment of the current physical church structure on Federal Street as construction of that edifice did not begin until 1896 and was completed in July 1897. The first Mass was celebrated on August 8, 1897. Earlier, Catholic settlers relied on periodic visits of New Bedford-based clergy for Mass and other services; in early 1871, responsibility moved from New Bedford to the Cape. In 1849, the Reverend Thomas McNulty - often considered the island’s first pastor - paid visits to Nantucket, stayed in various homes and said Mass.
In 1962, the Marks family donated and erected the statue seen above.
With thanks to the following sources: Google Books; Nantucket Places & People 4, Underground, by Frances Ruley, Karttunen, 2010; Nantucket: A History, R. A. Douglas-Lithgow, 1914; The Church of St. Mary, A Chronicle in Celebration of Its First Century, Robert F, Mooney, 1997.
Special Ceremonies are held at St. Mary's Cemetery for All Soul's Day and Memorial Day. Please see the bulletin for more information.