Neighbors rally behind fired gravedigger

January 07, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

The caretaker-gravedigger of Holy Cross Cemetery, fired from his job of nearly four years by a Roman Catholic priest shortly before Christmas, has been ordered to vacate the large frame house on the cemetery property where he lives with his wife and seven children.

Although the caretaker, 51-year-old William F. Storey, was told to have his family out of the house by today, the order was delayed by an official of the Baltimore archdiocese this weekend following complaints about Mr. Storey's firing and eviction by the family and by neighbors of the cemetery off the 6000 block of Ritchie Highway on the edge of Brooklyn Park.

"It just seems very unlikely someone would fire a person lightly, right before Christmastime," Monsignor Francis Malooly said late Saturday, adding that he did not know the reasons for Mr. Storey's dismissal by the Rev. Joseph Maskell of the Holy Cross parish in South Baltimore.

Father Maskell said Mr. Storey had been given repeated warnings and was fired because "over a period of time his job performance has not been satisfactory."

The priest cited concerns about the caretaker's contacts with cemetery visitors but was reluctant on legal grounds to divulge details of a personnel matter.

Mr. Storey said he was given five reasons at a meeting with the priest on Dec. 22 -- that there were "several occasions when it appeared I had consumed alcohol," that he had been accused of rudeness to two elderly women visiting the cemetery, and that he had failed to cooperate with the grass-cutters, to keep the house tidy and to fulfill all his duties.

The caretaker -- who formerly worked as a guard at the maximum-security Patuxent Institution -- acknowledged that he had not been perfect, citing in particular his 1987 arrest for drunken driving in a parish car.

"Every time I get into an audience with [Father Maskell], he brings it up. I paid my dues for that. I went to court, I paid my time and I put in my two years' probation.

"There is no drinking on duty as he claims there is," Mr. Storey said. "I told him . . . that I do not drink on duty. After hours when I get off duty, yes, I'll have a beer or two. That's my privilege."

Mr. Storey also admitted to having "a short fuse" and displaying it when, he said, the two women drove on to the property, past a "do not enter" sign, ignored a sign directing inquiries to the church office, and knocked on the back door of his house while he was alone working in the graveyard.

"Out of hundreds of people that come out to this cemetery, two times he's had complaints on me that I know of, that he came to me and told me about," Mr. Storey said. "The last instance was [the] two elderly ladies. . . . There's been hundreds of people out here complimenting me. There's been no problem, except these two old ladies. The one lady called me an ignorant son of a bitch."

Mr. Storey said neither he nor the supervisor of the grass-cutting service were aware of complaints about his cooperation. He contended the house is "lived in" but reasonably clean and claimed he never refused any duty -- not even when his supervisor had him wash and wax church vehicles.

Mr. Storey speculated that the question of his fulfilling his duties amounted to "a failure of communication" about working hours between the priest and the church maintenance worker who is the caretaker's supervisor.

The caretaker said both his salary and working hours were cut in May, when the priest told him that "the cemetery was operating in the red." The pay was reduced from $6.25 to $5.10 an hour, he said, while the hours dropped from eight a day to six.

Then, he said, the supervisor told him to end the working day at 2 p.m., when a part-time assistant ended his day. Mr. Storey said Father Maskell probably was unaware of that when the priest came to the cemetery in the afternoon and found him sitting at home "with my feet up."

A neighbor who lives south of the cemetery and knows the Storey family said conditions in the cemetery appear much improved since the previous caretaker was fired and Mr. Storey started work.

"Any story about him not working hard, I find hard to believe," said the neighbor, 65-year-old Patricia Cole Blom.

She noted that the Storey family had little money. "With $5 an hour, you don't save up. With seven children, you can't find a house. He hasn't had a chance to get a job. This is an incredible injustice being done here."

Mrs. Blom also questioned the timing of the firing and order to leave the property.

"Evicting a family over Christmas?" she said. "A Catholic church? A priest? . . . These people spent a hellish Christmas. The children sat in my living room and cried."

A neighborhood businessman, William Bennington, told clients and members of his Baptist congregation, the Annapolis Community Church, about the Storey family's situation. Individuals from both groups have provided food and toys for the family, Mr. Bennington said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.