It Took a Village
5/1/2008
A Connecticut community pitches in to rescue an endangered cemetery.

Many of the headstones in St. Augustine Cemetery (above) in Bridgeport, Conn., reflect the city's Irish heritage. Some provide birthplaces of the deceased (right).

Not much grabs family historians' attention like a front-page article in the local newspaper about a neglected cemetery. On a Sunday morning last October in southwestern Connecticut, the Connecticut Post featured an old, inactive Catholic cemetery situated in a tough inner-city Bridgeport neighborhood. Once a worldwide source of manufacturing and commerce, Connecticut's largest city now shares the challenges of other US urban centers — crime, blight, drugs, unemployment and redevelopment.

St. Augustine Cemetery, a 6-acre site opened in the 1860s and nearly filled by the 1890s, sits in the heart of Bridgeport. Few neighbors today have any connection to those interred at the cemetery. Families have moved away, leaving many grave sites unattended for more than a century.

The Post's reports of drug dealing, trash dumping and neglect in St. Augustine struck a nerve. Ray Capo, who manages the cemetery for the Catholic diocese, said in a letter to the editor that caretakers couldn't keep up with vandals who repeatedly broke in.