Local Catholic cemetery established in 1868

By Greg Olson

Generations of Jacksonville’s Catholics are honored and memorialized on sacred ground on Lincoln Avenue.

Many of the saints and sinners who established a Roman Catholic church – the Church of Our Saviour – in a Protestant stronghold and decidedly anti-Catholic and Irish-hating prairie town in 1851 are buried in the parish’s Calvary Cemetery.

The parish bought 10 acres of land for a cemetery from John Henry, a former state senator and congressman, in the fall of 1868. The city cemetery to the south, Diamond Grove, opened about the same time as Calvary.

Some records indicate that Morris Tobin was the first person buried at Calvary Cemetery, which, until 1902, simply was called the Catholic cemetery.

The unfortunate Mr. Tobin, a young man who worked in Jacksonville as a railyard guard for the St. Louis, Jacksonville and Chicago Railroad Co., was shot at close range and killed on the night of July 19, 1869, while on duty.

Several theories were presented as to why Tobin was murdered. Some speculated that he had disturbed a person trying to sleep in an empty rail  car; others said the murderer was a “rough-looking fellow” who had been kicked off a railroad platform by Tobin and had threatened to get even; and still others believed that Tobin was killed after catching “some scamp on a thieving expedition.”

A man named Joseph Hawley was arrested on circumstantial evidence and charged with murdering Tobin. A few days later Hawley was released and quickly left town. However, before he was released from jail several Jacksonville residents congregated at the jail and openly talked about hanging Hawley.  A local newspaper writer dissuaded the mob from taking action. “Gentlemen, neither law nor equity countenances hanging upon suspicion,” he wrote.

“We sincerely hope that all the anticipations of trouble and evil doing that we have listened to are unfounded. Mobs are things horrible, without any redeeming virtue and inexcusable.”

Some Calvary gravestones predate the establishment of the cemetery. Those buried beneath those stones most likely were originally buried in Jacksonville East Cemetery, the city’s oldest cemetery.

Near Mr. Tobin’s grave are buried several Catholic priests, including Father John Crowe, who served as pastor of Our Saviour Parish from 1892 until his death in 1916.

During his tenure, Crowe oversaw the establishment of Routt College and High School in 1902, as well as the remodeling of the church’s interior, the construction of a parish rectory and the opening of Our Saviour’s Hospital.

Upon Crowe’s death in 1916, one of his assistant pastors, Father Francis F. Formaz, became head of the parish.

Formaz, who was born in Switzerland in 1874, was assigned to Our Saviour Parish in 1901.  According to a parish historian, when Formaz came to the local parish, the bishop told him that the assignment would be temporary, but he never was reassigned, and he spent the next 59 years serving the parish. Like Crowe, Formaz’s  remains rest in Calvary.

The cemetery is also the final resting place of many Catholics whose family names are no longer found, or at least aren’t common, on the parish rolls.

Among those once common surnames are Burkery, Cleary, Clerihan, Dowling, Duffner, Flanagan, Gaitens, Heneghan, Keating, Kiloran, Lynch, Mahoney, O’Donnell, Quinn, Schirz, Schmalz, Schumm, Sweeney, Trahey and Walls.  An estimated 4,000 people are buried in Calvary Cemetery.

Beneath one gray granite stone lies the remains of Frank Kiloran, who, in life, was a neatly dressed, wiry little man and the chief of police of Jacksonville for 31 years.

Kiloran, who grew up in “The Patch,” the northeast section of Jacksonville where many of the Irish families once lived, was known for his gravelly voice and his gentle nature.  Supposedly, Kiloran knew hundreds of Jacksonville residents by their first name and went to great strides to make sure children stayed on the right side of the law. He retired  as police chief in 1951 and died in 1962.

Among the other well-known Catholics buried at Calvary are members of the Routt family.

Brothers Charles and William Routt, who were converts to the Catholic faith, were born in Kentucky and moved to Jacksonville as children. The wealth they obtained later in life helped to provide a solid financial base for what is now known as Routt Catholic High School.

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