By Peter Bradley
In the October 2020 issue of the BYTE Heritage Road focused on the impact of the 1919 Spanish Flu on the people of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The Archives Office received inquiries as to the burial locations for those Catholics who died from the Flu. For Catholics living in San Bernardino Valley, the primary Catholic cemetery in 1919 was Holy Rosary Cemetery in San Bernardino city. The article for this issue will cover the early Catholic cemeteries from the 1850’s to the 1970’s.
Holy Rosary Cemetery
As the Catholic adjunct to the Pioneer Cemetery approached capacity faster than expected, Senator William Conn once again came to the rescue and purchased a tract of land north of the city limits (today’s 26th and “E” St.) for a new cemetery in 1875. With two Catholic cemeteries in existence, the common usage for names showed the Catholic adjunct at 7th St. and Sierra Way known as “Old Catholic Cemetery,” and the cemetery at 26th St. and “E” St. known as the “New Catholic Cemetery.” With the founding of Holy Rosary Parish a short distance away in 1927, the cemetery became known as “Holy Rosary Cemetery.”
As with the previous cemeteries, there were no caretaker records for the “New Catholic Cemetery.” Much of the burial information that we have is derived from funeral records and tombstone censuses. The grave makers report that most of the pre-1875 burials eventually ended up in Holy Rosary Cemetery. All of those buried at Lake Seccombe were transferred to the Catholic adjunct after 1869 and then to Holy Rosary, or were transferred directly to Holy Rosary after 1875. Most of those buried at the Catholic adjunct (i.e. Old Catholic Cemetery) during its brief existence, 1869-1875, were re-interred at Holy Rosary. Catholic burials during the Spanish Flu in 1919 were done at Holy Rosary Cemetery.
By 1936, when the San Bernardino area became part of the Diocese of San Diego, Holy Rosary Cemetery was nearly full and burials were stopped by 1940. The number of burials totaled 1,685. A privately owned cemetery called Mountain View Cemetery began in San Bernardino in 1907. It was located at Waterman Ave. and Highland Ave. In the mid 1930’s, Mountain View Cemetery established a separate Calvary section for Catholic burials. Several dozen transfers were made from 1935-1967. From tombstone data, it appeared that only those who died after 1885 were moved from Holy Rosary. With the opening of the Calvary section at Mountain View Cemetery and the loss of the Catholic adjunct to Pioneer Cemetery, Holy Rosary Cemetery became known as the “Old Catholic Cemetery.”
With the virtual abandonment of Holy Rosary Cemetery, vandalism and the effects of neglect were soon apparent. With no established responsibility for perpetual care for the premises, weeds and high grass grew unchecked. Between the 1940’s and the 1970’s, there were constant complaints from family members of the deceased as well as local residents about the condition of the cemetery. The Diocese of San Diego and the City of San Bernardino had numerous communications and meetings about the problem. Finally, in 1976, a compromise was reached. The Cemetery would become a memorial park where identifiable headstones would be preserved. A monument would be erected with all known names and the city agreed to maintain this new memorial park.
St. Boniface School Cemetery, Banning
In 1888, Bishop Francis Mora of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles Diocese announced plans to build a school for Native American children in the area of the San Gorgonio Pass. It was part of a nationwide effort using both government and church run schools.
The cemetery opened sooner than expected when the school’s first superintendent, Very Rev. George Willard, died unexpectedly on July 26, 1890; this was less than five weeks before the scheduled opening of the school. In 1892, two students and one of the religious sisters who staffed the school died. From 1890 to 1941, there were 77 burials. Of the 77 interments, 24 were connected to the school. There were three priests, five religious sisters and 16 students. The remaining burials were of residents of Banning, Beaumont and the Morongo reservation.
After World War II, the cemetery began to deteriorate. This was due to changes with the school. In 1969, the trade school portion moved to Beaumont and the St. Boniface buildings were demolished in 1974. Also in 1974, the remains of the five sisters were exhumed and reinterred at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.
On May 11, 1977, the County of Riverside designated the school and cemetery site as Historical Site No. 049. Through the years, different church and community groups have worked to maintain the cemetery property.
Today, the Diocese of San Bernardino has its own Catholic cemetery in Colton, Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.