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©2011 Janet Maher, Bishops' Stone, Tyler and O'Reilly, Saint Bernard Cemetery, New Haven, CT

©2011 Janet Maher, Bishops’ Stone, Saint Bernard Cemetery, New Haven, CT

Congratulations to the authors of a new book about the early New Haven Irish! Written, compiled and edited by Ellen Bohan, Patricia Heslin, Paul Keroack, and Bernard and Rosanne Singer, with contributions by Neil Hogan, Robert O. Larkin, and Jamie Longley, Early New Haven Irish and Their Final Resting Places: The Old Catholic and Saint Bernard Cemeteries was recently published by the Connecticut Irish American Historical Society.

It is eighty-seven pages, with valuable detailed transcriptions of five hundred and sixy-nine burials, with a focus upon those that cite a location in Ireland. Included are lists from the first Catholic Cemetery 1834 – 1850, gleaned from New Haven Vital Records 1649- 1850; ones transcribed from Vital Records, August 1849 – August 1851; deaths and interments March 1, 1850 – September 30, 1851; headstones removed to Saint Bernard Cemetery; Saint Bernard Cemetery headstones with Irish birthplaces; Civil War headstones in Saint Bernard Cemetery; and an index of names. It begins with an excellent essay about early New Haven Irish Catholic beginnings.

For those interested in this topic and seeking to make connections between their ancestors in Ireland and those who emigrated to New Haven, Connecticut, this publication is an imperative addition to your library. Transcriptions are included from among these Irish counties:

Antrim; Armagh; Carlow; Cavan; Clare; Cork; Derry/Londonderry; Donegal; Down; Dublin; Fermanagh; Galway; Kerry; Kildare; Kilkenny; Leitrim (the majority); Leix/Queens; Limerick; Longford; Louth; Mayo; Meath; Monaghan; Offaly/Kings; Roscommon; Waterford; Westmeath; Sligo; Tipperary; Tyrone; Wexford; Wicklow.

A limited quantity of this book has been published at $17.  Contact the group by email at ctiahs@gmail.com, by phone at 203-392-6435, or by mail P.O. Box 185833, Hamden, CT, 06518, to order a copy. Also see their library page for other available publications.

[It should be noted that recently deceased Howard Eckels also did much work and made important discoveries in relation to the first Catholic cemetery on the grounds of Christ Church that been hidden through subsequent decades of expansion by Yale New Haven Hospital. Forensic science study may still be underway in relation to this.]

©2011 Janet Maher, Bishop Bernard O'Reilly, from O'Donnell's 1890 publication, History of the Diocese of Hartford

©2011 Janet Maher, Bishop Bernard O’Reilly, from O’Donnell’s 1890 publication, History of the Diocese of Hartford

Reverend James H. O’Donnell, in his History of the Diocese of Hartford (1900) explained that Mr. Bernard O’Reilly purchased the land that was to become Saint Bernard’s Cemetery, blessed on September 1, 1851. The second Bishop of Hartford (which at the time included Rhode Island), was Right Reverend Bernard O’Reilly, succeeding Bishop William Tyler, who died in 1849. Bishop O’Reilly was a very active and engaged bishop in the history of the diocese. In September 1851, he “established a theological seminary,” teaching there in its first week. He sailed to visit the Irish missions in 1852 to encourage priests to work with him in America, thus becoming largely responsible for the majority of Irish priests that figured into the early history of Catholic Connecticut. It was he who ordained Thomas Hendricken, the revered future pastor of Waterbury’s Immaculate Conception Church and eventual first bishop of Rhode Island. Bishop O’Reilly also “introduced into the diocese the Sisters of Mercy in May, 1851. The mother-house was at Providence, and the first Superioress was Mother Xavier.” (See my previous post about Fanny Warde, aka Mother Mary Francis Xavier.)

Returning from another work-related European trip in 1856 the steamer ship on which Bishop O’Reilly sailed, Pacific, was lost at sea. O’Donnell noted that the Catholic population in the diocese of Hartford at the beginning of his term was 20,000 and included twelve churches. At the time of the bishop’s death the Catholic population had grown to 60,000, with forty-six churches, nine schools and three orphan asylums.

In my text I made the assumption that it was the bishop himself who made the deal for the purchase of the land which became Saint Bernard Cemetery, using “Mr.” instead of his official title. The seller, ardently anti-Catholic, had no inkling that the land which was intended to be sold in small lots would actually be “lots” of Catholic cemetery plots! I liked imagining the wiley nature of this undertaking by a high-ranking clergyman acting without his garb, albeit in service of a perceived greater good. The CIAHS authors, however, discovered that there was another person in New Haven similarly named, Mr. Bernard Reilly, “a local businessman, civic leader, and active layman,” who made the transaction. Good to note the clarification on their part, which still makes for an amusing story!

Wishing CIAHS well on continuing to add to documentation about an important, long forgotten, group of people.

©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ní Mheachair

All Rights Reserved


Bohan, Ellen, Patricia Heslin, Paul Keroack, Bernard Singer, Rosanne Singer, with Neil Hogan, Robert O. Larkin, and Jamie Longley, Early New Haven Irish and Their Final Resting Places: The Old Catholic and Saint Bernard Cemeteries, Hamden, CT: Connecticut Irish American Historical Society, 2013

O’Donnell, Rev. James H., History of the Dioceses of Hartford, Boston, MA: The D.H. Hurd Co., 1900