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Joe Saniuk explains the historic significance of an Italian section at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Omaha. Photo by John Bosco/Staff.

Many points of interest at historic cemetery

Victorian-era monuments, traditional Italian-American style markers and the unmarked graves of numerous Irish-Americans are just some of the points of interest at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Omaha.

And they were among reasons the cemetery at 4912 Leavenworth St. recently was recognized by the National Park Service for its historic significance, earning a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Holy Sepulchre really stands out for a number of reasons," said Joe Saniuk, Omaha architect, member of St. Cecilia Parish and Catholic Cemeteries board member.

Saniuk, also president of the board of Restoration Exchange Omaha, an organization devoted to preservation and restoration of historically significant sites, encouraged nominating the cemetery for the designation, with the organization leading the effort.

"One thing that fascinated me was that it was a great example of a Victorian-era cemetery," Saniuk said. "And the Italian-American section is really fabulous because you see a lot of the funerary practices that the immigrants brought over, like statuary, above-ground family crypts and husband-and-wife cameos on some of the vertical markers."

Saniuk also noted the Irish tradition of requesting their graves remain unmarked while Ireland was not free. "So there’s an entire section of people whose graves were never marked."

The cemetery also holds the remains of many priests and religious who were instrumental in the Catholic community of Omaha, he said. "There are Jesuits, Sisters of Mercy, Servants of Mary and other religious orders that are represented, and from that standpoint, it makes Holy Sepulchre very significant."

The cemetery was established in 1873 by Bishop James M. O’Gorman, vicar apostolic of the Nebraska Territory, and is the oldest continuously operating Catholic cemetery in Omaha.

The first Catholic cemetery, St. Mary’s Mercy Convent Cemetery at 24th and Howard streets, was displaced by Omaha’s westward expansion in 1887, with the remains of many of those interred there moved to Holy Sepulchre.

"Every person interred in the cemetery is important," said Dan Keller, director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Omaha. But Holy Sepulchre also is notable for some of the well-known people interred there.

They include members of the Creighton family, who were Omaha business leaders and founders of Creighton University; Thomas Cuming, secretary and acting governor of the Nebraska Territory; and General John O’Neill, an advocate for Irish immigrants and Ireland’s independence from England, and founder of the city of O’Neill.

"But for us, what was more important about this designation was getting information out about the beauty of this cemetery and what it offers," Keller said.

The designation also provides protection from future projects that could adversely affect the cemetery’s character, he said.

Holy Sepulchre is among five Omaha cemeteries managed by Catholic Cemeteries, including Calvary, Resurrection, St. Mary and St. Mary Magdalene.

INTERESTING FACTS

About 40,000 interments

Architectural styles include late-Victorian, late-19th century and 20th century Revival, and late-19th century and early-20th century American Movement

The Priest’s Circle, including bronze sculpture of the crucifixion, and graves of Jesuit, Columban, Redemptorist and archdiocesan priests

Deceased bishops of the archdiocese were reinterred at Calvary Cemetery, where most archdiocesan priests also are interred

Up to 15,000 individual monuments, mausoleums and other memorials

About 2,000 monuments featuring porcelain photographs of the deceased

As many as 200 monuments featuring carved figures (mostly angels)

The Creighton family monument (tallest in the cemetery)

Eight family mausoleums

The Catholic Voice

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