By Mike Gabriele
Jesuit parish, Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez in Woodstock, Maryland, founded in 1869 as Holy Ghost Parish and dedicated as Saint Alphonsus in 1889 after the saint’s canonization, sits directly next to an even older Jesuit landmark. The Woodstock Jesuit Cemetery just to the South of the church, dates to 1866. It is the final resting place of Jesuits spanning nearly 150 years, from the founder of Woodstock College, Fr. Angelo Paresce, SJ, who died in 1879, to missionary and teacher, Fr. Edgar Graham, SJ, who was laid to rest just this past February.
Fr. Paresce founded Woodstock College in 1869, establishing the oldest Jesuit seminary in the United States less than five years after the end of the Civil War. As an Italian Jesuit expelled from Italy under the reign of General Garibaldi during his suppression of the Jesuits, Fr. Paresce sought refuge in the United States during a very volatile time for our country. He became provincial of the Society of Jesus on April 19, 1861, just as early fighting in the Civil War erupted less than a mile away in Baltimore. Contingency plans were already in effect to divide the province along sectional lines, creating both a northern and southern province.
After the war, and with the help of other Italian Jesuits, Fr. Paresce founded Woodstock College, building it along the Patapsco River in Woodstock, Maryland where it remained for a hundred years. The last ordinations were in 1970. The original campus buildings remain in use today as a government Job Corps Center. However, as you turn off Route 125 onto the old college access road, the Woodstock Jesuit Cemetery still sits off to the right, cut into the trees, surrounded by an iron fence and centered with a large, stately columbarium that was fully renovated in 2007. Nearly 300 Jesuit priests, brothers and seminarians are buried here, making it a true Jesuit shrine.
Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez Church has been the neighbor to this cemetery for more than a century. The current church was erected in 1971 after a lightning strike and fire destroyed the original building. Some of the parishioners still remember a few of the Jesuits who worked at Woodstock College back in the 60’s. “This cemetery is more than just a final resting place for Jesuits,” says Pastor Fr. Joseph Lacey, SJ. “It embodies so many great stories of our history. From the early Jesuits who settled here under Bishop John Carroll, to many who served in the missions of Jamshedpur, India, this cemetery lies in tribute to many of the great Jesuits who served the Maryland Province.”
In honor of the feast day for Saint Ignatius Loyola, which falls on July 31, Saint Alphonsus church celebrates an annual Mass in the cemetery on the prior weekend. “What better way to honor these past Jesuits than to celebrate a Mass right here for St. Ignatius,” Fr. Lacey adds. He presided over this year’s Mass on Saturday, July 25.
While Jesuits may no longer pass by each day to and from Woodstock College as they did for so many years, the Woodstock Cemetery remains a hallowed burial ground for Jesuits who dedicated their lives in service to the Maryland Province. The countless stories of self-sacrifice, ministry and advocacy that are buried with these men would easily fill the old library at the college that once shared the cemetery’s name.