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Holy Rood Cemetery III

In 1984, Charles Meng, Georgetown University’s Vice President for Administration and Facilities, notified the remaining holders of burial rights that Holy Rood Cemetery would be closed to further burials. The Archdiocese of Washington, responding to numerous complaints and pleas to intercede that it received from its constituents, attempted to explain that Holy Rood was not part of their jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Archdiocesan files were searched for an explanation as to why the cemetery had not been kept united with its parish in the first place.

(Charles Meng, Vice President for Administration & Facilities, To Whom It May Concern (May 18, 1984); Stanton Kolb to James A. Hickey (October 5, 1984); Raymond J. Boland to James A. Hickey (January 7, 1985), Archives of the Archdiocese of Washington)

Many Catholics were unwilling to regard Holy Rood as unconnected to the Archdiocese. (One man, having learned that Archdiocesan masses for the dead did not include the cemetery where his parents and grandparents were buried, was assured that his family was probably remembered in whatever masses might be sponsored by Mr. Meng’s office!) Hickey found it necessary to remind President Healy that the Archdiocese had never granted its permission for the cemetery to close, and that the University was bound canonically to honor its contracts with lot-holders. “A unilateral closing [of Holy Rood] may very well result in unnecessary civil litigation which, in turn, could prove burdensome to other Catholic cemeteries.”

(Raymond J. Boland to Stanton Kolb (October 10, 1984; James A. Hickey to Timothy S. Healy (November 9, 1984), AAW)

The aggrieved holders of burial rights in Holy Rood went further, and took Georgetown University to court. The consent decree they obtained in 1984 has obliged Georgetown to keep the cemetery open ever since, and to honor all remaining contracts. This was a setback for Georgetown, but no more than that, as the University will surely outlive the plaintiffs: when the University has buried the last of them, it can close Holy Rood for good.

(Kolb et al vs. President and Trustees of Georgetown University, CA 14338-84, December, 1984)

Commercial development of the cemetery is another matter, as it would require the transfer of thousands of remains: the refusal of the Archdiocese to accept them pretty much kills the deal. Yet, curiously, there is no sign that the University has ever drawn this conclusion. In its public statements, it is true, Georgetown continues to have “no plans” for Holy Rood; addressing the Archdiocese, however, Georgetown’s president was not nearly so equivocal: “The University takes the position that someday, somehow, the University must be allowed to convert this property from cemetery property to some other use.”

(Julie Bataille, Assistant Vice President for Communications, quoted by Charles Bermpohl in The Current, October 30, 2002; Timothy S. Healy, quoted in Maurice T. Fox to James A. Hickey (December 21, 1984), AAW)

Carlton Fletcher

(This history originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Catholic Historical Society of Washington, Volume X, Number 3, July-September 2002; and in the Glover Park Gazette, from October to December, 2002. All rights reserved.)


Holy Rood Cemetery I - origin, Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown
Holy Rood Cemetery II - transfer to the Archdiocese of Washington, 1942
Holy Rood Cemetery III - no room at the inn & digging up the dead, 1984
Joseph Nevitt - Minuteman & revolutionary war veteran
Slave Burials - for those too poor to even own themselves
The Unquiet Grave of Susan Decature - converted to Cathaloicism, buried on Georgetown University grounds, relocated to Holy Rood and then exhumed and buried a third and final time in Philadelphia. The other 900 bodies originally buried with her on the Georgetown campus are landfill somewhere.
Union Veterans
Confederate Veterans

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