During the Christmas season of 2018, we visited Knoxville, Tenn. to spend time with my husband’s family. On the days between Christmas and New Year’s, I made time to do a bit of cemetery hopping. I visited four cemeteries, each a bit different from the other.
My first jaunt was to Knoxville’s only Catholic cemetery, Calvary Catholic Cemetery (CCC). Consecrated on Feb. 3, 1869, the cemetery is cared for by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church. Founded in 1855, the church is located downtown while the cemetery, about two miles away, is in the residential Morningside Park neighborhood. According to Find a Grave, Calvary covers about six acres with about 2,300 memorials recorded.
Coincidentally, Bethel Confederate Cemetery is located next to Calvary. It is fenced and locked but visits can be made by appointment. Bethel contains more than 1,600 Confederate dead, including roughly 100 killed in the battle of Fort Sanders. In addition, around 50 Union soldiers who died as prisoners of war, 40 Civil War veterans, and several widows are interred there. It’s been privately owned since 1873. One of CCC’s residents has a tie to Bethel that I’ll share in a moment.
According to a 2017 article, Calvary is one of only two Catholic cemeteries that serve the Diocese of Knoxville. The other, Mount Olivet Cemetery, is located in Chattanooga and opened 20 years after Calvary. Together, these two cemeteries serve the 65,000-plus members of the diocese.
Immaculate Conception Parish pastor Father Ron Franco, CSP, said there are only about 50 gravesites remaining in Calvary. While Calvary is near capacity, Mount Olivet has a lot more room for future burials.
The article also pointed out that a major grounds improvement project had occurred at Calvary, including refurbishing the Stations of the Cross. I saw evidence of that myself. The Stations of the Cross are a series of 14 pictures or carvings portraying events in the Passion of Christ, from his condemnation by Pontius Pilate to his entombment.
Every Memorial Day, the priests of Immaculate Conception and Holy Ghost parishes celebrate an outdoor Mass at CCC to remember the Catholics who have died. In addition, on the first Sunday of November, the priests lead a rosary service and blessing of the graves. A number of priests dating to the earliest days of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee are laid to rest in both Calvary and Mount Olivet.
A Beloved Priest
One of those priests was Father John Joseph Graham (1855-1916). A native of Ireland, Graham came to America when he was about 14. He studied with the Holy Cross Brotherhood at Notre Dame, Ind., becoming a member and teacher of the order. He answered the call to the priesthood in 1884 and studied at a few different seminaries. He was ordained in the cathedral at Nashville in 1891.
It was in 1902 that Father Graham came to Knoxville to become parish priest of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. He became a much beloved member of the community, and his congregants held him in great affection and respect. His death notice in the Knoxville Sentinel expounded on this.
In February 1915, Father Graham’s health began to fail. He suffered from heart issues and was also diagnosed with Bright’s Disease, a kidney disorder that was often fatal in those days. He sought treatment in Nashville and rallied for a time. He returned to Knoxville in May 1915 and tried to resume his duties. He was eventually confined to bed and died on April 11, 1916. He was 61.
Father Graham does have a separate marker but I did not get a photo of it, unfortunately.
From Stone Cutter to Railroad Builder and Banker
Two monuments standing side by side got my attention early into my stroll. I noticed a tall monument topped by a female statue and was surprised to find that it was for an infant. The one beside it was for his two sisters, twins, who died on the day of their birth. I wanted to know how their story.
The children were born to George Washington Callahan and his wife, Carrie. A native of Penn., George was born to James and Susan Evey Callahan in 1862 and came with his parents to Knoxville as a child. One of his first jobs was working as an apprentice stone cutter for George Fenton, president of Fenton Construction Co. and vice president of the Gray Knox Marble Co. The two Georges went into the monument business together in 1880.
Around 1890, Fenton sold his half and it became Geo. W. Callahan & Brothers with his siblings John and Simon. The firm actually provided the Confederate monument that still stands next door in the Bethel Cemetery, placed in 1892. Their work can be found throughout the Southeast,
From there, George eased into railroad construction and found success quickly. His obituary would note that he “had the distinction of building more railroad mileage than any other man in Knoxville, or probably in East Tennessee.”
In 1892, George (by then an alderman for the city) married another Pennsylvania native, Caroline “Carrie” Grau. Her father was a railroad engineer. Their first child, Agnes, was born in 1892, followed by Lauretta in 1894. Both would grow up, marry, and live long lives.
A Double Tragedy
When I looked up the family’s past on Newspapers.com for 1898 concerning the twins, I noticed that amid their birth and death on Aug. 15, 1898, George was embroiled in a major civil court case that year concerning $4,000 owed to him by the Ohio-based Knight Bridge Company. While he won the case in July, the death of the twins a month later must have dimmed any joy he felt at that victory.
The monument of two little angels playing around a flower-laden cross is a fitting tribute for the children, perhaps echoing a belief that they are together in Heaven enjoying each other’s company.
George and Carrie’s son, George Francis, was born on Dec. 29, 1899. But a bout of scarlet fever ended his life on Nov. 11, 1901. By this time, his father and Simon had retired from the monument business and brother John was in charge. I am sure it was he who placed the lovely monument for little George on behalf of the firm.
George continued to build his fortunes in the railroad business, expanding into banking as well. He and Carrie had another daughter, Katherine, in 1902. She eventually became a nun, dying in 1987 at age 84. Youngest daughter Alberta, born in 1904, died in 1965. George died in 1927 at age 65, spending the last five years of his life in retirement as a gentleman farmer. Wife Carrie died in 1956 at age 84. George, Carrie, and Alberta are all buried at Calvary, along with George F., Margaret, and Mary.
George’s parents, James and Susan Callahan, are also buried at CCC. I suspect their sons provided the two handsome monuments for them. It is curious, I noted, that the death year for James is incorrect on his monument. He died in 1890. Not 1889. Susan Callahan died in 1917.
A Soldier’s Story
I’ll close with the story of Richard A. McGuire, a soldier who spent most of his life in Knoxville. Like the Callahans, the McGuires were a close family. But unlike many of the men I write about, Richard never married or had children. Sadly, I believe his war years injured him in a way both physically and emotionally that he never recovered from.
Born in 1881 to Irish immigrants John and Mary McGuire, Richard was one of five siblings. His father and two of his brothers were saloon keepers when he was growing up. He worked as a salesman at one point but also as a bartender, most likely for his father or one of his brothers. He must have been close with his sister, Annie McGuire Gallagher, because he always listed her as his primary contact on his military records.
Richard enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private on June 29, 1917 in Knoxville, serving with the 120th Infantry, 30th Division. With the 30th Division, the 120th fought in the Somme Offensive, the Ypres-Lys Offensive, and the Flanders campaign during the war.
An item in the Dec. 15, 1918 Journal and Tribune describes a letter that Richard sent to Annie while overseas in France:
Richard mustered out of service on April 21, 1919. He struggled to find his place out of the military and his health was poor. More than once, he lived at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Johnson City, Tenn. called Mountain Branch. His last home was at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Hampton, Va. It was there that he died on Sept. 20, 1923. His records indicated he died of bronchial pneumonia and alcoholism.
His remains were sent home to Knoxville and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery with his parents, and brothers John and Cornelius. His beloved sister, Annie, died in 1934 and joined him in the family plot.
Want more stories from Calvary Catholic Cemetery? I’ll have more for you soon.