Friday, July 21, 2017


God's Acre Cemetery Started in 1846

History of God's Acre Cemetery

Land for the parish cemetery was purchased in early 1846, from Silas Peck for $78. It became known as God's Acre. Though called God's Acre, it was actually a total of five acres from the start. In 1892, the Victorian Gothic styled chapel was built over the grave of Father Wisbauer in his honor. (1)  The mason work was done by Frank Rueter and the carpentry work by Jos. A. Rueter. (2)  The expense of the work was covered by Mrs. J. Kemptner, whose husband had designed this chapel (3) and the cobblestone church (4).

There is a bit of uncertainty surrounding who was the first person buried in God's Acre.  According to Racine County records, this person was Joseph Henry, who died on January 2, 1846.  Though a genealogical researcher is noted to have found a gravestone in the cemetery marked as Anthony Grass, with a date of death of July 29, 1844 (at 9 months old). (5)  It is possible that this child was moved here after the cemetery opened.  It is also possible the land was already being used as a cemetery, and plans had been in place for many years prior to the parish purchasing the land. (6)

From is beginning, relatives and friends of those buried here took care of their respective loved one's lots. As time passed, some grave sites were well taken care of and others were neglected. To handle this situation and to assure the upkeep of the cemetery for many years to come, Father John A. Bertram (pastor at the time), formed the Cemetery Association in April of 1914. (1)  Today the Cemetery Board oversees the operation of the cemetery and its many dedicated workers that keep this resting place looking so beautiful.

Additional land was purchase in 1927 from Mrs. Louisa Yanny and Mr. Fred McLaughlin. This investment in land increased the total cemetery size to approximately 18 acres. Later, under the direction of Msgr. Edward J. Kersting, the ornate and substantial stone and iron-work fence on State Street side of the cemetery was added. (1)

Though the list is long of those buried here (over 3,800 as of 2012), below is a short list of some noteworthy individuals:

Father Thomas Morrissey - Irish missionary, celebrated first mass in Burlington in 1838
Father Michael Wisbauer - First resident pastor (under the chapel)
Father Theodore Jacobs - Second resident pastor (under the chapel)
Father John Bertram - Third resident pastor (75 feet northwest of chapel entrance)
Father Joseph Van Treeck - Fourth resident pastor (priest circle)
Monsignor Edward Kersting - Fifth resident pastor (priest circle)
Monsignor Joseph Heim - Sixth resident pastor (priest circle)
Monsignor Philip Klein - the first parish member to become a priest.  Buried in the cemetery on his 95th birthday. (1)

As noted above, Fr. Morrissey was buried in the cemetery, though no marker exists.  "In 1890, workmen digging on the Stang lot (which is the fourth on the right while entering the cemetery from State Street) came upon the grave of what they supposed was an Indian, because the body had been laid north to south instead of east west.  But upon inquiry, Fr. Jacobs and Mr. Schemmer discovered from Mrs. Anna Marie Host, who had moved to Lyons from Burlington, that the grave was that of a Catholic priest, Fr. Morrissey.  Mrs. Host had been one of the singers at the funeral, she said, and received seven cents for her services." (7)

"Our parish has been honoring our beloved dead with Christian burial in our parish cemetery (since 1846).  It is very evident to those who walk through the cemetery that the grave stones tell a great story not only regarding the history of our parish and the City of Burlington, but also the history of our Church and country.  There are grave stones with birth dates before the American Revolutionary War and grave stones that tell of the heroic service given to our country in the Armed Services.  The chapel and Priests' Circle are the resting places for (many) of our deceased former pastors.  Sisters who had served the parish as dedicated teachers are also at rest in our cemetery.  Many of our current parishioners' loved ones are also honored here, including "little angels" and young people who have gone to the Lord.  As we commemorate this milestone we renew our faith and hope in the Lord's promise of the resurrection and pray that all of our faithful departed may rest in peace." (6)

(1) Dolezal, Rev. Richard R. and Fait, Rev. Thomas G., St. Mary's Community of Faith.  1979.

(2) Burlington Standard, 9/2/1893 issue.

(3) Wagner, Herbert J., The Reverend Michael Wisbauer, thesis dated January 31, 1933.

(4) Burlington Standard, 1/13/1894 issue.

(5) Wall-Bernice, Gloria, Files of the Burlington Genealogical Society: St Mary's Cemetery.

(6) St Mary Parish Cemetery Commemorating 165 Years as a Hallowed Site booklet. 2011.

(7) Brennan, Bernice, Historical Sketch of the Catholic Church in Burlington:


Priest Circle