Maine Irish Heritage Trail

South Portland Site Number 14
by Matthew Jude Barker

Calvary Cemetery
South Portland, Maine

Calvary CemeteryCalvary Cemetery in South Portland, which runs along parts of Main Street and Broadway near Cash Corner, was created in 1858 by Rt. Rev. David William Bacon, bishop of Portland. It is the final resting place of thousands of Irish, French, Italian, Portuguese, English, Scottish, Polish, German, Lithuanian, Lebanese, and Syrian Roman Catholics. People of other religious persuasions and ethnicities are also buried here. Prior to its creation, local Catholics had been interred in the Catholic Ground of Western Cemetery and also previously in Eastern Cemetery.


Calvary CemeteryBishop Bacon consecrated the burial ground on August 8, 1858, assisted by Father Eugene Muller, rector of St. Dominic's, and Fathers Bacon, Murphy, and Carraher. 2500 people witnessed the ceremony, according to local papers. The land had been owned by James Thornton and was a part of "Libby's farm." Immediately after the ceremony, Dublin, Ireland native Mrs. Rosanna Graves, aged 50, was interred, followed by two children, John Magee and two-year old Martha Jane Anderson. Catholic bookseller and steamship agent Terence McGowan, a native of County Leitrim, was the undertaker that day. Beginning in November 1858, many Catholics buried in Western Cemetery were reinterred in Calvary; the official tally for such removals is 166 (until November 1876).

For the first ten years of its existence, many local prominent Irish acted as undertakers for the cemetery, including Barney Daley, a contractor from Galway; Michael Duddy, a teamster from County Derry; James Jordan, a County Clare hackman; and County Tyrone native John Dougher. By the late 1860s, almost all the Catholic burials were attended to by James Jordan or James Tobin, a native of Nenagh, County Tipperary.

When James Tobin died in 1871, his son Dennis took over his undertaking business. Even though Dennis was only twenty-one at the time, he soon turned the business into a profitable endeavor and by 1875 owned a large coffin warehouse on Temple Street in Portland. In the early 1880s he joined with his brother James H. to form Tobin Brothers. They handled many of the Catholic burials for the next twenty years. Other local Irish were also undertakers at this time, including John Dougher, Hugh Carney, Jeffords & Nagle, and James O'Neil.

Dennis Tobin was the first known superintendent of Calvary Cemetery and at the time of his death in November 1892 was residing in a home near the back of the cemetery. His wife Margaret Parker Tobin and brother continued the business for many years. Former city forester and Evergreen Cemetery superintendent Patrick Duffy operated the cemetery from 1892 until his own death in 1898. Billerica, Massachusetts native James Pinkerton was the superintendent from 1898 until 1911 and made his home on Seventh and C Streets in Ligonia. During his tenure, the cemetery was greatly improved and beautified. Pinkerton's obituary in the May 8, 1911 Eastern Argus stated: "Mr. Pinkerton has given much time and attention to the work in the cemetery and although he had no practical experience in such work before his appointment he was a natural mechanic and something of an artist as well, and the result was that the improvements at Calvary began at once and have continued up to the present time with much more planned out for the future."

After Pinkerton there was a rapid succession of superintendents, including Rev. Timothy H. Houlihan, Frederick M. White, and Thomas P. Ronan. Bishop John G. Murray appointed Father Dennis A. McCabe as pastor of Mount Calvary Chapel and superintendent of the cemetery in 1925. This Irish native and 1899 graduate of Holy Cross College had specific instructions to improve the cemetery. He had the help of Joseph H. Doubleday in his new task. Joe's sister Mary I. Doubleday was McCabe's foster sister and soon became his housekeeper at Mount Calvary. The priest made his residence at 431 Brown Street, former home of one of the Burneys, a family often connected to the cemetery, especially in land transactions.

McCabe used an attached barn to his home as a parish hall and held whist parties, dinners, and dances to raise money to improve the cemetery. His congregation consisted of about a hundred families, including the Kendalls, Lydons, Spaltros, Praliczes, Cashes, Rogers, and Lees. McCabe held Sunday School classes in the chapel. During his tenure, he had the cemetery completely mapped by an architect, had the steel bridge leading to the chapel adorned with angels, built numerous shrines, had an addition built onto the chapel (St. Francis Chapel), and had a new iron fence installed surrounding the cemetery. This fence was a donation by John Dunn in memory of his wife Ellen Nolan Dunn.

Father John J. Ryan became the new pastor in 1938 and the bishop separated the parish and cemetery, creating a new parish, St. John's. Mass continued to be said in the old chapel on Memorial Day and Sundays until the early 1970s. Henry M. Quincannon, the son of County Galway natives, became the new superintendent, a position he held for more than thirty-five years until his retirement in the spring of 1974. John J. O'Connor, a year-round employee of the cemetery, was assistant superintendent from the early 1950s until his death in 1973.

In 1974, Thomas J. Nee, employed by Reynolds Tree Service, was appointed the superintendent. Nee, the son of Connemara, Galway natives, put to good use his skill and experience in the tree and landscaping business as he continued to improve the grounds until his retirement in September 1997. Under Nee's tenure, New Calvary Cemetery was developed and opened in 1975. Much of the land had been owned by Irish-American Mary W. Malia. A pieta was built in the new section where Memorial Day Masses are still held each year.

Thomas Nee's son Richard M. "Dickie" Nee was appointed the new superintendent in 1997 and remains in this position today. Under Dickie, improvements in the old part of Calvary have continued, as well as many additions, improvements, and expansions in New Calvary (see Calvary Cemetery newsletters at the cemetery office). Longtime employees of the cemetery in the last three decades have included Charlie Shannon, Steve Mrowka (grounds supervisor), Steve Nee, Peter O'Donnell, Danny O'Donnell, and Curt Magnuson. A more detailed history of the cemetery can be found in "The Western Cemetery Project, 1997-2001, Irish-American History," published by the local Ancient Order of Hibernians in 2001 (Waterfront Graphics & Printing, South Portland).

With an estimated 46,000 people buried in Calvary Cemetery, there are literally thousands of interesting individuals interred here, of course, all with their own remarkable stories. The following is a brief list of some of these notables. Maps of the cemetery, pinpointing exact locations of gravesites, can be obtained at the Calvary Cemetery Office, 1461 Broadway.

  • Michael "Kid" Madden, professional baseball player 1880s, 1890s
  • Lt. Michael C. Boyce, killed at Gettysburg
  • Rt. Rev. James A. Healy, second bishop of Portland
  • Rt. Rev. Daniel J. Feeney, bishop of Portland
  • Rt. Rev. Amadee Proulx, auxiliary bishop of Portland
  • Margaret Barry Musgrave, operated Sailor's Home, 1860s-1890s
  • John E. Anglin, second youngest Medal of Honor winner, Civil War
  • Robert Jackson, English native who died at Andersonville Prison, Civil War
  • William H. Kohling, a German-born merchant, and his Limerick-born wife Rose Liston
  • Eduard LeProhon, French consular and physician
  • Angelina and Giovanni Amato, inventors of the "Italian Sandwich"
  • Abby Curran Feeney and John A. Feeney, parents of Hollywood director John Ford
  • The Bohemian Monument (Celtic Cross marking burial site of some victims of the Bohemian shipwreck of 1864)
  • Daniel L. Bowen, first Irish Catholic police chief of Portland
  • Helen Cunningham Donahue, first woman postmaster of major Maine municipality
  • Jane Callan Kilroy, served nine terms in the Maine State Legislature
  • John and Mary Burke, "Darby & Joan," well-known 19th Century Portland couple
  • Michael T. Connolly, Galway native, Portland policeman, murdered 1930, case remains unsolved
  • Charles J. Loring, Korean War veteran, killed, Medal of Honor winner
  • Lizzie Walsh, one of first Irish Catholic teachers in Portland, principal of Staples School
  • Joseph E. F. Connolly, first Catholic elected to the Maine Courts
  • Daniel O'Connell O'Donoghue, U.S. engineer clerk, local Fenian leader, 1st Catholic elected to school board in Maine, descendant of Daniel O'Connell
  • Rev. John W. Murphy, Cork native, founder of "new" St. Dominic's Church, 1888-1893
  • Thomas J. O'Neil, Civil War vet, saloon keeper, friend of John L. Sullivan
  • Capt. James P. and Mary Duddy Bogan, grandparents of noted poet and critic Louise Bogan
  • Daniel J. and Mary Shields Bogan, parents of Louise Bogan
  • James McGlinchy, brewer, grocer, wine merchant, richest Irishman in southern Maine 1880
  • Jane Loyd, Irish emigrant, housekeeper to Bishop Bacon, died 1897, aged 95
  • Rev. John Duddy, first Portland boy ordained to the priesthood
  • Alex Tanous, famous psychic

RELATED SITES: Western Cemetery, Healy Monument, Ligonia, St. John the Evangelist Church

Acknowledgements by Matthew Jude Barker

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