Archdiocese Local

Catholic Cemeteries restores monument of pioneer priest

Before and after photos show Father W.F. Fitzgerald’s monument in the priests’ section of Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Lansing. Catholic Cemeteries restored the monument of the priest who played an important part in the early history of the church in northeast Kansas. PHOTOS COURTESY OF CATHOLIC CEMETERIES

by The Leaven

LANSING — Earlier this year, in tribute to a pioneer priest and at its own expense, Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas coordinated restoration of the monument of Father W.F. Fitzgerald in the priests’ section of Mt. Calvary Cemetery here.

Cemetery officials believe the tall marble memorial, located close to a road within the cemetery, may have been the victim of a hit-and-run accident that toppled a good portion of the large cross from the gravestone. In addition, the monument showed signs of over a century of weathering. Father Fitzgerald was born in 1842 and died in 1881. According to the engraving on the gravestone, Father Fitzgerald’s ordination date was March 25, 1865. 

Two histories of the archdiocese reference a Father William Fitzgerald and a Father Fitzgerald contemporary to the time listed on the monument. In “The Church in Kansas 1850-1905,” Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker wrote that in 1865, Father Fitzgerald became the first resident pastor of Irish Creek, north of St. Marys, earlier served by a Jesuit priest.

Father Fitzgerald was from County Limerick, Ireland. Archbishop Strecker describes the priest this way: “He rode the prairies, dying before he reached 40 years of age. He is remembered for his genial character and kindly disposition.”

In the 1977 commemorative edition of the archdiocesan newspaper marking the centennial of the diocese in northeast Kansas, there is another reference to Father Fitzgerald. Sometime during the years of the Civil War, he was pastor of St. Bridget Parish, Axtell. In addition to his sacramental duties, Father Fitzgerald was a mediator — settling disputes among parishioners.

Johnson Granite Supply Inc. in  North Kansas City, Missouri, completed the restoration of Father Fitzgerald’s monument. Workers removed the natural lichen that covered the marble and sanded the surface to achieve consistency of color and texture. 

They then drilled the top and bottom of the cross and epoxied a stainless steel rod in place to set the cross in its original position. Finishing touches included application of epoxy in a matching color to fill cracks and voids. A final sanding evened up the surfaces and allowed for the hand tooling of the lettering, which had worn.

Catholic Cemeteries operates and manages nine cemeteries in Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, and in Topeka. For more information, call (913) 371-4040; send an email to: information@cathcemks.org; or visit the website here.

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The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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