It’s getting easier to figure out where a relative who died in the last 150 years is buried. The larger cemeteries often publish Internet lists of who was interred there, and they may even post a map to help you find a grave when you visit. But sometimes, if you are fortunate, a volunteer has taken a picture of the headstone or marker and added it to a searchable database.
When I visited St. Johnsbury, Vermont, looking for the grave of Isaie Gingris (1812-1887), my third great-grandfather, I didn’t have the benefit of a headstone picture. But the Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetary, located at 6 St. Johns St., did publish a map. Isaie and his wife, Rose Deveau (1823-1900), were buried in plot FF 1A of the town’s Catholic cemetery, the Mount Cavalry Cemetery.
The disconnect was that the cemetery wasn’t very well marked. It wasn’t clear where the F section was located, much less the front of the F section, the reason for the double F. I walked all over the graveyard, trying to imagine where the F section might be. Suddenly the gravestone appeared. Several generations of Gingras were buried here, including the couple’s son, Louis, and his wife, Petronille Asselin. More research will be needed to identify others listed on the headstone.
Mt. Cavalry was established in 1876 after it was determined that the previous Catholic cemetery, Mt. Saint Joseph, wasn’t big enough. Several graves were relocated to the new cemetery. The decision to establish a new cemetery was made by Father Boissonnault, who came to the Catholic parish in 1874. There were 221 Catholic families in his parish at the time.
Boissonnault, who also covered 13 other towns, left quite a legacy in St. Johnsbury. He finished constructing a school for boys and built the convent of Mount St. Joseph, where a girls’ school, Mt. St. Joseph, was run by the Sisters of Notre Dame. This structure still stands behind the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, though it’s now used for other purposes.
The priest also decided to build a new church after discovering the foundation of the previous one on Cherry Street wasn’t solid. Notre Dame des Victories, located on Prospect Street, was a massive architectural wonder with granite walls, a tower, and a spire. It was completed in 1889. After Boissonnault died in 1909, he was buried in the Mount Cavalry Cemetery.
For nearly 100 years, French and Irish Catholics in St. Johnsbury attended separate churches. That ended in 1966 when a former alter boy lit Notre Dame des Victories on fire. The French and Irish came together to renovate St. Aloysius Church. It became St. John the Evangelist, which operates to this day.