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Last updated: November 17, 2010

St. Joseph's Cemetery (circa 1844 or 1847?)

The source of this information, a booklet titled Sharpsburg, PA / 1826 - 1993 (produced by the Sharpsburg Historical Commission Book Committee), contains pieces (clues) of conflicting information about St. Joseph's Church and Cemetery dating.

Quoting from the History of Sharpsburg, Part 2, prepared and presented by The Herald newspaper, the subject matter turns to the first Catholic settlers, predominantly German and Irish:

The first Catholic settlers in Sharpsburg attended mass at St. Patrick's church in Pittsburgh (probably the Irish) and St. Mary's in Pine Creek (probably the Germans). As Catholic population in Sharpsburg grew, so did the need for a community Catholic church.

(Editor's Note: Both of these churches were a considerable distance from Sharpsburg, and this certainly was a hardship on them.)

The recording goes on to say:

James Sharp donated an acre of ground for the first Catholic Church in Sharpsburg erected in 1847. He also gave another acre for the Catholic cemetery. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day in the church dedicated to St. Joseph. Two years later it was replaced with a large brick structure, that served the community until 1960 when it was sold to Madonna of Jerusalem parish. A new St. Joseph Church was built on Dorseyville Road, O'Hara Township.

(Editor's Note: In 1954 the Diocese purchased seven and one-half acres of the MEINERT farm for future use. The new St. Joseph Church now occupies that property).

Later, the history booklet describes St. Joseph Church. The lead paragraph states:

The first recorded mass for St. Joseph's was offered by Father Francis Seelos, a Redemptorist in 1844.

In 1847 the Redemptorist Fathers withdrew their charge of the church in Sharpsburg and Father Andrew P. Gibbs came to Sharpsburg to live. Father Gibbs in 1847 was making preparations for a church.

(Editor's Note: We have conflicting dates. The former quote from the history section indicated the first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day in 1847. This latter quote implies 1844.).

Mary Lou Green (list contributor) Memories

My childhood memories of St. Joseph Cemetery were that the place looked like a jungle. It was overgrown with weeds, filled with debris, and the dead were treated with the ultimate disrespect.

My father's cousin, Ray Woods...who passed away this year (1998) at age 81...also remembered visiting St. Joseph Cemetery with his father. They took care of the Woods lot that was situated under a tree. Ray could describe the lot well--the lot as it was--but he was not able to identify it in recent years. The grave markers are gone now; the tree probably died and was cut down years ago.

I think you might like to caution people not to get overly excited. The cemetery inscriptions are all that remain of St. Joseph Cemetery's early records.

Those searching for ancestors who died in the Sharpsburg area in the early years should realize that St. Joseph's death records were destroyed by the floods. All death records are in the possession of St. Joseph Church, Dorseyville Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15215. The church does have death records for selective years, but researchers should contact the church for information.

Thomas Eichner, owner of Eichner Memorials on Sharpshill Road, and a parishioner of St. Joseph Church, told me that he and some others at the church tried to reconstruct a diagram of the cemetery lots in the 1960s. They asked parishioners to show them their cemetery deeds so they could determine who was buried on the lots. This project was not successful.

The destruction of the records is a true genealogical loss to those who have ancestors buried in St. Joseph Cemetery.


From: M.J. Goli
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2002 9:32 PM
Subject: Sharpsburg and St. Joseph's Church

I have been researching my father's family history (Kelly)(Kelley) in the Sharpsburg area.

I noticed the story about the founding of St. Joseph's Church, (my father and his parents' and siblings' parish
and school), that the first Mass there was offered by a Redemptorist priest, Father Francis Seelos.

That name has been in the news especially this past year as Father Francis Xavier Seelos has been nominated for
canonization and was beatified by Pope John Paul in April of 2000. Some miraculous healings have been attributed to
him. My souce for information about him was mainly the Catholic magazine, Liguorian, April 2000 issue, pp. 14-16.
The "Ligourian" magazine has a website

...I also read just this past week about him in a magazine called "The Word Among Us", something new that just arrived
unsolicited at my home... they have an article of F. Seelos, on pp.59-64 of their January 2002 issue.

They invite readers to access further info and a time line on him at a website of:, which I have not done
yet. but probably will next. ...

Anyway I can give you some dates taken from these articles regarding him if that will help you resolve any dates in
the time line of the founding of St. Joseph Parish and Cemetery in Sharpsburg..... Francis Seelos was born
Jan 11, 1819 Germany, left from France on March 17, 1843, and arrived in New York 35 days later... He entered the
Redemptorist novitiate in Baltimore MD and was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 22, 1844 by the Archbishop of
Baltimore, MD.

Your info about St. Joseph's Sharpsburg says that the first Mass in their church was in 1844 so if Fr. Seelos had it at
that time it would have had to be between Dec. 23 and Dec 31 of that year as he had just been ordained a week or so.
At that time the newly ordained priests did not say their first Mass until the next day after ordination. And it appears
he was ordained in Baltimore..

He could have had some friends or family in Sharpsburg, or he just might have been sent there to help out... He
apparently spent his first several months at St. Joseph's parish in Baltimore MD. By 1845 he was at St. Philomena's
Parish in Pittsburgh where he spent nine years, and as assistant pastor, worked under John Neumann, (who was canonzied
a saint in 1977).

Seelos became a pastor there in 1851 for the next three of the nine years. Then he went back to MD, and in 1866 to
New Orleans. He died Oct. 4, 1867 of yellow fever in New Orleans.. The stories in these articles are interesting, and
when I first read about him last year I wondered if any of my ancestors would have known him.

I have been searching for 20 years for a death record of my grandmother from Sharpsburg but I have yet to find one.
It is likely that she is buried at St. Joseph's cemetery and the records lost in the floods as I was told when I contacted
the parish some years ago, but I have been able to develop a good family history, with that being one the few missing links.
She was a godparent to another baby at St. Joseph's Church as they have that record, and my Dad's baptism, but no cemetery
record. If the articles about Fr. Seelos are of interest to you and you would like copies I could sent them to you by
snail mail.

I do not know if you can access them on the web. Ligourian Magazine offers its subscribers an opportunity to send a copy
of an issue free to someone else if that would work for an old issue. I enjoy the website and look forward to browsing it
more. I was able to find one date of death that will now help me get a death certificate for my grandfather's brother,
which will lead me to info on my great grandfather and his middle name... maybe! By the way, do you know when they
stopped having burials at St. Joseph's Cemetery?

Was is the flood of 1938 or so that stopped the use of the cemetery, or just lost the records? Thanks for the work you
have done to help us amateur genealogists.... Is there a publication available that you referred to,
The History of Sharpsburg?

Mary G.

On To the cemetery List. . .