Moving to preserve our roots

It would be considered one of the South County’s secret treasures for those who value history. Hidden along an alley near St. Mary Roman Catholic Church is Gilroy’s first cemetery, once almost forgotten amid neglect
Old St. Mary Cemetery was established with the founding of the parish in 1865 and is the site of the graves of many figures important in local history including John Gilroy, for whom the city is named; Jose Maria Amador; namesake of Amador County in the
Sierra foothills; Catherine O’Toole Murphy Dunne, benefactress of St. Mary Parish, whose property stretched from Morgan Hill to Hollister; Father Thomas Joseph Hudson, founder of
the parish; and many other local pioneers, including 22 bodies transferred from an old chapel cemetery in San Martin with dates of death reaching back to 1853.
In 2012, an ad hoc committee was formed to reclaim the cemetery and treat it in a manner appropriate to its role in the community. Explaining their concern, the committee wrote, “Cemeteries reflect the cultural values and practices of the past, help us understand who we are as a society and from where we come.” Time, weather, theft, and vandalism had turned this sacred place into one of blight. Goals were set to instill pride in the cemetery as part of the community’s heritage, recognizing it as a historic place worthy of respect, and Improve the neighborhood’s quality of life by deterring vandalism, dumping, and other antisocial activity
Many improvements have already been accomplished. The parish had the heritage oaks professionally trimmed and removed privet bushes, which had been growing wild. The city installed new LED lights around the perimeter and patched potholes in the alley. Graffiti and litter have been removed and the perimeter fence
was repaired.
The parish has also donated two large pieces of marble from its former altar, which was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. These will be engraved to become two important signs marking John Gilroy’s grave and identifying the cemetery at its entrance.
Friends of Old St. Mary Cemetery is soliciting funds to complete these important tasks. They hope to be able to finish this project in time to celebrate St. Mary’s 105th Anniversary this fall.
Tax-deductible contributions can be marked “Friends of Old St. Mary Cemetery” and sent to St. Mary Church, 11 First St., Gilroy, CA, 95020 before June 30. For information call (408) 847-5151 and ask for Debbie Pellicone.

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