Located just across the street from Greenwood Cemetery is Old Calvary Cemetery. Some call it Old Calvary Hill Cemetery. But because there’s also a Calvary Hill Cemetery that came later, I’m staying with Old Calvary Cemetery.
I will tell you that we visited Old Calvary after spending over an hour at Greenwood when it was approaching 100 degrees. When it’s that hot, even a seasoned cemetery hopper like me starts to wilt. So I spent less time here than I normally would. Chris was in the car trying to cool off and re-hydrate.
Calvary Cemetery has two entrances. Because of construction taking place near the Hall Street gate (which was obscured by some orange cones), I entered through the Campbell Street gate.
Whereas Greenwood Cemetery was limited to Protestant burials, Calvary Cemetery was established for Catholic burials. It wasn’t the first cemetery for Dallas-area Catholics, however. That was La Reunion (also known as Fishtrap) Cemetery in West Dallas, a burial ground for French and Belgian immigrants who were part of the utopian La Reunion Colony founded in 1855. That cemetery is still intact and maintained by the City of Dallas.
Old Calvary Cemetery was established around 1878. It was the burial ground for immigrants mostly from France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, the European origins of settlers of that period. There are about 2,000 burials recorded for Old Calvary on Find a Grave.
By 1926, the Dallas Diocese had established the much larger Calvary Hill Cemetery north of the current Love Field Airport. As a result, there have been few burials at Old Calvary since 1945.
Birth of the Dallas Diocese
Because of the influx of immigrants coming into North Texas in the latter part of the 1800s, the statewide Diocese of Galveston was split and the Diocese of Dallas was created. The first bishop of Dallas, the Right Reverend Thomas Brennan, was consecrated in 1891. That’s the same year the unmarked cross (pictured below) at the center of Old Calvary’s Religious Circle was placed.
In the 1880s, St. Mary’s Orphanage was established in Oakcliff for needy orphans. Father John Moore was one of its first chaplains. He died of heart failure at the age of 61 in 1895.
The Heart of Father Hartnett
Father Jeffrey A. Hartnett was a native of Ireland but came to America at age four with his family. He attended St. Mary’s College in Kansas and St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio where he received a master of arts degree in 1891. He returned to Texas and was ordained at the procathedral in Dallas by Rev. Brennan the same year.
In late 1897, he was appointed rector of the procathedral in Dallas and immediately applied his building skills to the construction of the present cathedral. In early 1899, a smallpox epidemic broke out in Dallas, and Father Jeffrey tended to the spiritual needs of the disease victims at the “pest house” (quarantine hospital) six miles away.
On the night of February 11, 1899, an blizzard hit Dallas. Answering the call for help, Hartnett walked to the pest house at the peak of the blizzard to administer last rites to a dying woman. He contracted smallpox and on March 7, 1899, he died. He was only 36 years old.
The Dallas Morning News remarked: “No death which has occurred in Dallas for many years, has occasioned more general regret than that of Rev. Father Hartnett.”
Also located within the Religious Circle at Old Calvary are the graves of four Catholic nuns. They all are thought to have died under the age of 25. The Sisters of Mary of Nahum came to Fort Worth in 1885 and opened an academy. In 1902, the Sisters purchased the former James Dargan mansion in Oakcliff and opened Our Lady of Good Counsel School. In 1912, they began building a school in East Dallas at St. Edward’s Church.
The nun who I found the most information on was Sister Conlon. A native of Ireland born in 1889, Sister Antonia Conlon came to America in 1907 to teach at schools in Fort Worth and Wichita Falls before coming to Dallas. She died following an appendectomy on Jan. 22, 1913 at the age of 23. Her grave marker and death certificate have her first name as “Antonio” for reasons I don’t know.
Death of a Humble Clerk
One of the first markers I saw near the front was this one for young Stephen S. Marino. I suspect there might have been a cross on top of it originally. He was only 15 when he died. Because he passed away in 1917, I wondered if it was Spanish Flu. But I was wrong.
Born in 1901, Stephen was the son of Italian immigrants Joseph Marino and Jennie La Barbara Marino. Joe was a fruit and vegetable peddler in Dallas and Stephens was the Marinos’ oldest son.
At the time of his death, Stephen was working as a clerk for Butler Brothers, a Chicago-based wholesaler whose building was constructed around 1910. It was a massive structure at the time and employed many.
Stephen was only a few months shy of his 16th birthday when he fell ill and went to the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium for treatment. This facility would go on to become Baylor University Medical Center.
Stephen died at the Sanitarium on March 19, 1917. His death certificate lists “chronic olitis media” as the main cause of death, a middle ear infection. A step infection is listed as a secondary contributor. His four younger siblings all lived well into adulthood and his parents also lived long lives. But they are buried at other cemeteries.
Tracking a Family Tree
The Dessaint tree monument is a puzzling piece of history and it took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on with it. Initially, I thought that the children whose names are on it were not actually buried there because the cemetery was not established until 1878 and the deaths occurred in the early 1860s. Also, the parents lived in Iowa when these children died.
A native of Quebec, Canada, Louis Cyriac Dessaint married Marie Claire Duroshier in St. Louis, Mo. in 1839. Their first four children, Marie, Louis A., Emilie, and Clara were born there. Sometime after Clara’s birth in 1857, they moved to Davenport, Iowa where Cora, Eugene, and Adella were born. Louis made his mark in Davenport, accumulating wealth through his hardware store and lumber business. He built a number of homes that include the Palmer Mansion, which still stands today.
Louis and Marie Dessaint left Iowa for Dallas in 1885 after youngest daughter Adella married real estate agent Frank Irvine of Virginia and had moved there.
Children’s Remains Moved
It was finding the 1907 death notice for Marie Claire, Louis’ wife, that solved the mystery of the Dessaint children’s final resting place. Louis C., their father, had the remains of Eugene, Cora, and Clara disinterred from a Davenport, Iowa cemetery and moved to Calvary Cemetery in Dallas when they moved to Texas. It really is a testament to how valuable old newspaper clippings can be!
Sadly, daughter Adella died on Aug. 25, 1894 at the age of 31. You can see her name/dates near the foot of the tree marker. Placed nearby is a marker to a baby named Addie, who was born on April 14, 1894 and died 10 months later in March 1895. I think she must be the daughter of Adella and Frank Irvine since Adella died only nine days after little Addie was born.
The names of Adella’s siblings who died in the 1860s are inscribed on other parts of the tree. Lying at the base is part of the “tree” that has since broken off for Eugene, who was born in 1859. I cannot make out exactly when he died.
There there is Claire or “Clara” (as she was called) who died in January 1862 at the age of 10.
Then there is sister Corinne “Cora” who was born on July 12, 1857 and died in December 1862, almost a year after her older sister Clara.
Marie, the family matriarch, died on Jan. 26, 1907. Patriarch Louis C. Dessaint followed on Dec. 20 of the same year. They are buried beside each other next to the Dessaint tree. Adella’s husband, Frank, died in 1908 at a sanitarium in Colorado from consumption. His body was brought back to Dallas for burial beside his wife and in-laws at Old Calvary.
Next time, I’ll be next door at Temple Emanu-El Cemetery.