The Cemetery Links the Past to Today

The church cemetery is indeed a very visual representation of our heritage as a parish. To some, a cemetery may be a discomforting place. But to others, it can be a place that links the past to the present. One non-parishioner, who frequently visited St. Mary's cemetery, describes the value of the cemetery as a place that reinforces a feeling of faith and posterity.

The visitor was Michael McElwee, whose parents, grandparents and great grandparents are all buried in our parish cemetery. His great grandfather, William Henry McElwee, was buried in 1907; his great grandmother, Katherine Merrity McElwee, in 1909. In the 1940s, his grandfather and grandmother, W. H. P. McElwee and Agnes Volmer McElwee, were buried. Michael's father, Gregory McElwee, was buried in the cemetery in 1952. His mother, Helen McPhail, was the last McElwee to be buried in the cemetery — in March 1991.

Michael, who recalled visiting the cemetery frequently with his parents when he was a child, brought his own three children to visit the gravesites of the McElwee clan. "We get a feeling of peace and comfort when we visit," he said. He said his parents always made the cemetery visit a joyous one, as well as prayerful. And so, Michael McElwee and his wife, Peg, are passing along a rich tradition. "After each visit, I am always struck by the continuity of faith in our family," McElwee said.

Another visitor was Dan King, whose great-great-great grandfather Patrick McGowan was the first person to be buried in the cemetery in August 1842. According to family records, Patrick McGowan was born in Ireland and migrated to the United States in the early 1830s. He first lived in Ohio but soon after arrived in the Hales Corners area, and established a farm on Janesville Road. Today, the farm is a subdivision. Patrick McGowan was among the first parishion-ers of St. Mary's and is credited with helping build the first church. Dan King, who lives on Milwaukee's east side, continued to visit the cemetery, bringing his mother, Margaret McGowan King, whose parents Leo and Inez McGowan are also buried there.

Another family with long ties to the parish is the Rausch family, which now marks five generations in the parish. Parishioner Nellie Rausch (88 years old in 1992), was a parish member for 78 years. Her husband, Joseph H. Rausch, was a parish member for 90 years when he died in September 1987.

Nellie Rausch is the daughter of James and Anna Shebel and the granddaughter of Peter and Petronella Shebel, who are all buried in the cemetery. Her parents came to Hales Corners in 1914 when Nellie was 10 years old and set up a dairy farm near Grange and Forest Home Avenues.

Joseph H. Rausch, who was born in 1893, the same year that the "brick church" was built, is buried in the parish cemetery, as are his parents, Joseph and Catherine Rausch. The elder Rausch was one of the parish pioneers. Catherine's family — the Lannons — also were pioneers.

Thomas Lannon was an early settler in Muskego. He came to the area in 1842, after emigrating from Ireland in 1818. He married Mary Ann Carroll in 1855 at St. Mary's church. They had six children. One daughter, Catherine, married Joseph Rausch, as noted above. Thomas, Mary Ann and all of their children are buried in the cemetery.

There are many other parish families whose heritage can be traced in the quiet space of the cemetery. Towering headstones, many now weather-worn and leaning at odd angles, reveal glimpses into the hard times encountered by early parishioners. Several parishioners died as infants or young children. Some headstones indicate that many early parishioners, like Patrick McGowan, were born in Ireland or other European countries.

The cemetery site was donated by one of the earliest parishioners, John Furlong, who was also one of the early parish trustees. The burial plots were laid out by two other parish men, Philip Riley and Thomas Lannon.

In 1981, St. Mary's cemetery was named a county landmark. Newspaper accounts in June of 1981 recapped the historical significance of the cemetery.

The Rausch, McElwee, Lannon and McGowan stories are just four of many that can be told today that bear testimony to the continuity of faith in many St. Mary's families, as witnessed in the quiet resting place known as St. Mary's Cemetery.

The great grandfather of Father Daniel Pakenham, rector of St. Francis Seminary since 1980, is also buried in St. Mary's cemetery. Father Pakenham was a classmate of St. Mary's pastor Father Leonard Barbian, and was an occasional weekend presider at St. Mary's. Father Pakenham notes that he is named after his great grandfather and is proud to have his great grandfather's framed naturalization papers as a keepsake.

St. Mary’s Cemetery became a county landmark in 1981.