They didn’t know what to expect but they knew they wanted to help improve the oldest Catholic cemetery in the diocese.
A team of about a dozen volunteers picked up trash and debris, raked graves and trimmed low-hanging trees in St. Louis Cemetery, just north of downtown. They were led by the Rev. Sean O’Brien, one of the church’s priests, and Bill Lewis of Lewis Landscaping.
“We had a funeral with one our parishioners buried there and we saw the horrible condition,” O'Brien said.
He recruited volunteers to help “but we are somewhat limited in what we can do,” since some statues and markers are broken. But he said they anything they could accomplish in clearing the trash and debris would improve the grounds.
The cemetery has been a part of St. Louis Church – which is now Sacred Heart Church – since 1874. It is the resting ground of five pioneer priests as well as Cecilia Morse, who founded a parochial school, five of Morse’s children, and Vincente Martinez-Ybor, who brought the cigar industry to Tampa.
St. Louis, at Morgan and Harrison Streets, is connected to Oaklawn Cemetery, which began as a public cemetery in the mid-19th century and is the burial site of Tampa’s first mayor and other founding families. The two were originally separated by an iron fence but now only a few brick fence posts remain. A historical marker shows the separations.
Chris Herrin of South Tampa brought his sons, Tristan, 15, and Cameron, 13, along for the work day.
“I never knew we had a cemetery until I read about it needing help in the church bulletin,” Chris Herrin said. “I thought this was a good way to help the community and help the church.”