(September 22) Bishop William Weigand joined members of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Saturday evening at a ceremony to bless St. Joseph's Pioneer Cemetery, which dates to the Gold Rush. (Click photos for larger images.)

Pioneer cemetery is blessed by bishop and begins a new life

Published Saturday, September 22, 2001

A piece of area history joined the present Saturday evening, when St. Joseph's Pioneer Cemetery was blessed by Catholic Bishop William Weigand.

The 2 1/2-acre site, which sits between Highway 16 and the Country Club's South Course, has been in use since Gold Rush days. The graves originally surrounded St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Over the years, as area population dwindled, the congregation was moved to Elk Grove, and by the 1920s the church no longer existed.

Over the years, the pioneer graves were vandalized, and all traces of the church building disappeared.


The cemetery features famous local names like Granlees.

Members of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church stepped in to rescue the cemetery from neglect nearly two years ago. A few dozen volunteers, with the cooperation of the Rancho Murieta Association and the Country Club, tackled cleanup and maintenance chores. A list of volunteers' names was read at the ceremony.

As the cleanup progressed, a title search was launched to determine the current owner of the property.

Monsignor Albert O'Connor, St. Vincent de Paul's pastor, explained that the Catholic Church had lost title to the property over the years.

Phil Niederberger, a Rancho Murieta resident who is the director of cemeteries for the diocese, told the 50 people gathered at the cemetery that the search for the cemetery's owner as "an interesting process." The surprising result was the Pension Trust Fund of the Operating Engineers "found they had a cemetery," he explained.

The PTF deeded the property to the diocese, which will continue the restoration and reopen the cemetery for burials in a few months.

The first task is "to find out where the graves are," Niederberger said. More than a hundred people are listed as being buried in the cemetery, but the number of identifiable graves is far lower. Niederberger said this is a common problem with old cemeteries and the technology exists to locate the buried remains.

He said it's not certain what the name of the cemetery will be when it reopens, since St. Joseph's, it turns out, is a popular name for cemeteries in the diocese. Naming the cemetery after the Rancho Murieta church is another possibility, he said.

The bishop described the brief ceremony as a "reblessing," since the cemetery "has been blessed many times." He called it "a resting place of light and peace" and prayed, "May this place be a source of comfort for the living."


The 2 1/2-acre cemetery adjoins the South Course's 15th green and 16th tee. (Click photo for larger images.)

Do you have comments about this topic or story? Share them at RanchoMurieta.com's Community Views page.