St. Mary's affair sets a sad and dangerous precedent

3 CENTS WORTH

July 08, 1992|By RUSS MULLALY

I have been witness to one of the sadder incidents in this county's history. It is an incident that shows that the dollar is more sacred than anything else to some people. I am referring to the desecration of St. Mary's Cemetery in Ellicott City.

The 3.2-acre site, which was purchased by a developer for $60,000, is to have two homes in the $250,000 range built on it. The developer of this property is Allen Becker, who also is the chief executive officer of Chesapeake Federal Savings and Loan.

I talked last week with residents to neighboring Turf Valley Overlook, many of whom are members of Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society. I was told they have had no help or cooperation in the matter of the cemetery from the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, who sold the cemetery in the mid-1980s. State and county agencies have told them everything being planned for the land is "legal." Legal, yes, but ethical or moral?

The NAACP has also taken interest in the matter, since the construction is on the unmarked grave sites of former slaves. As I see it, this smacks of continuing racism in this county and elsewhere. These people were mistreated when they were alive; now their remains are being mistreated in death.

"No trespassing" signs have been posted by the developer, which means that relatives of those interred there will have to have permission to gain access to the graves. Does this mean that someone has the right to keep people from visiting and maintaining the graves of their relatives?

People concerned about the fate of the cemetery were told that if any unmarked graves were dug up, the remains would be treated "reverently and with sensitivity."

However, I was told of a conversation between a preservation society member and a heavy equipment operator at the site. The operator indicated that he wasn't disturbed about digging up a cemetery and didn't care that he might be digging up human remains.

Members of the preservation society plan to videotape the land clearing to have a record of any desecration. Speaking of records, the Baltimore Archdiocese informed the society that they could find "no records" of who was interred in St. Mary's Cemetery. A preservation society member was later able to find the "missing" records at St. Louis Church in Clarksville.

The preservation society has also contacted the Vatican and various media organizations for assistance. Archbishop William

H. Keeler of Baltimore was repeatedly unavailable for comment.

I feel that this whole business is setting a dangerous precedent. Are your deceased relatives safe from developers?

I learned that the German family whose relatives are interred at St. Mary's wanted to purchase the cemetery some years back. They were told by the archdiocese that the church has no interest in selling its cemeteries.

When did church policy concerning the sale of cemeteries change? Has the church become nothing more than a big business?

Why are there no laws on the books to prevent desecration of cemeteries in this state?

Is nothing sacred any more? Who would want to buy a house that had been built on a site where graves had been disturbed?

And finally, what sort of person would want to desecrate a cemetery for his own personal greed?

I guess we know.

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