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Holy Sepulchre was founded in 1871, more than 140 years ago. Constantly evolving, yet never straying from the fundamental guidelines established in our Catholic tradition, we continue to maintain a presence in the community as a sacred place of respect, reflection and ultimately, of the celebration of life.
The Beginning of Holy Sepulchre
St. Patrick’s was the first Catholic parish in Rochester, and opened its small downtown graveyard in 1823. The space quickly filled up, and area Catholics had to buy burial space in common cemeteries until 1839. At that time, the second St. Patrick’s cemetery was built on the south side of the city at Pinnacle Hill, and all members of the local Irish parishes were buried there.
Four German Catholic parishes opened four separate cemeteries between 1844 and 1864: Sts. Peter & Paul’s on Maple Street, St. Joseph’s on East Main Street at Goodman, St. Boniface’s on South Clinton near the Pinnacle, and Holy Family on Maple Street.
Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid was named Rochester’s first bishop in 1868, and quickly realized the need for a single burial ground for all of Rochester’s Catholics, of all nationalities, for generations to come. In 1871, after much planning and research, he dedicated and solemnly consecrated Holy Sepulchre. Located just four miles from downtown Rochester, the bishop secured a 110-acre tract of farmland located along both sides of Charlotte Boulevard (now known as Lake Avenue). An estimated 10,000 people attended the consecration ceremony, a strong indication of the community support for the cemetery.
Just eight days after the dedication, the first burial took place: Claude Martin Duffy, the child of a prominent Rochester couple, Walter and Theresa O’Dea Duffy. Between 1871 and the 1950s, approximately 5,000 bodies were transferred to Holy Sepulchre from local Catholic graveyards.
The Landscaping and Architecture
Bishop McQuaid studied cemeteries in Massachusetts, New York City and Detroit while planning the construction of Holy Sepulchre. He chose a team of renowned gardeners, horticulturalists and landscape designers to establish Holy Sepulchre as a garden cemetery. This team included Pierre Meisch of Belgium; F.R. Elliott of Cleveland, OH; and Rochester’s premier nurseryman, Patrick Barry. Today, there are over 100 varieties of trees at Holy Sepulchre, thanks to the planning—and plantings—of these experts, and the contemporary horticultural experts who followed them.
In 1876, the cornerstone was laid for All Souls Chapel. It was designed by Andrew Jackson Warner, one of Rochester’s most outstanding architects, and constructed of mottled Medina sandstone. Early English Gothic in style, the chapel is an irreplaceable work of art, with its steep slate roof, hammer beams, intricately painted ceilings and stained glass windows produced in Holland.
In 1938, Archbishop Mooney authorized the building of a new crypt for the bishops of Rochester. Today it houses the remains of Bishop McQuaid (1868-1909), Bishop Thomas F. Hickey (1909-1928), Bishop John F. O'Hern (1929-1933) and Bishop James E. Kearney (1937-1966). A granite slab set up outside the crypt carries the coats of arms of these four bishops and of the three who were buried elsewhere: Cardinal Edward Mooney (1933-1937), interred in Plymouth, MI; Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1966-1969), interred in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City; and Bishop Joseph Hogan (1969-1978) interred in Lima, NY. Outside the chapel is a bronze statue of Bishop McQuaid, created by Joseph Sibbel Studios, and gifted by the priests of the diocese. It was originally unveiled at St. Bernard’s Seminary in 1930 and was re-erected at Holy Sepulchre in 1982, after the closing of St. Bernard’s.
As new trends have appeared over the last 50 years, we have expanded our grounds to include shrine sections, mausoleums and columbaria. Construction began on the Resurrection Garden Mausoleum in 1978 and on All Saints Mausoleum in 1993. The builder for both projects was the J.C. Milne Company of Portland, OR. Robert Monahan of Rochester was the consulting architect. The faceted glass windows and the mosaic cross are the work of Pike Stained Glass Studios of Rochester. The Resurrection Garden Mausoleum includes six crypts for bishops in the tower. The remains of John E. McCafferty, Auxiliary Bishop of Rochester from 1968-1980, and Dennis Hickey, Auxiliary Bishop of Rochester from 1968-1989, are interred there.
Bishop McQuaid was a visionary, a careful planner and an innovator. In 1871 he said, “The intention is to make the cemetery of the Holy Sepulchre such a one as the whole Catholic body of Rochester will be proud of as the last home of their deceased family and friends.” We believe that this vision of a timeless burial site for Rochester’s Catholics and their families continues today at Holy Sepulchre.