Toledo Blade
Article published June 14, 2001

Cemeteryís friends mark it for posterity
Monroe graveyard had been forgotten

Members of Carleton VFW Post 4093 fire a volley beside the new monument during a celebration sponsored by the Friends of St. Antoine at the cemetery in Monroe. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER


MONROE - A celebration began yesterday at St. Antoineís Cemetery in Monroe as the bow of an old-fashioned canoe beached on the shore of the River Raisin.

The celebration marked the completion of a two-year undertaking, spearheaded by an ad-hoc group known as the Friends of St. Antoine, that stopped a housing development planned for the cemeteryís site and memorialized the hundreds of people buried there.

Those people are believed to be the first settlers of Monroe, who arrived in the late 18th century and founded St. Antoine Church in 1788. St. Antoineís was the second church founded in Michigan.

The newly rediscovered cemetery was in full use from 1788 until 1830, when St. Antoineís burned down. The parish later became St. Maryís, and the community slowly forgot the cemetery.

City records indicate that the bodies originally buried there had been moved in 1830, though some knew they hadnít been.

"Anyone who knows anything about Monroe knew there was a cemetery here before they found those bodies," said Pat Vincent, a member of the Friends of St. Antoine, who, along with her husband, helped restore the old St. Maryís Cemetery, also in Monroe.

"Itís been a very sensitive topic in this town - our relatives are buried here. Many of the citizens of Monroe have descended from their stock. You canít throw that away," she said.

The work of the Friends of St. Antoine began when a crew installing a storm sewer line for the planned housing development discovered human remains in August, 1999. The construction halted for investigation. Thanks to the olfactory powers of a specially trained dog named Eagle, a multitude of grave sites was confirmed.

The Friends of St. Antoine began raising money to buy the three lots from developer Dan Rice, who agreed to stop building on the site. He hadnít known a cemetery was beneath it when he bought it.

"He has been instrumental in making this a reality," said Lucy Bellville of Toledo, a member of the Friends of St. Antoine and a descendant of seven of those buried in the cemetery.

"When I heard about the situation about a year ago, I took it to the board of commissioners," Mr. Roe said. "They agreed that it would be a good idea to memorialize the site and decided to fund the purchase."

Mr. Roe is descended from four people buried in the cemetery.

The county bought the land from Mr. Rice for $105,000, or $60,000 less than his original asking price. Mr. Rice agreed to sell for such a low price to avoid going to court. His planned 17-house development has been scaled back to 14.

"The county did very generously to honor its founders," said Jeanne Micka, who provided much of the energy behind the Friends of St. Antoine.

The financial side of their efforts was handled by the Community Foundation of Monroe County.

The money that the Friends of St. Antoine raised paid for a monument, sidewalk, fence, and landscaping at the site, which will be maintained by the city of Monroe.

"Itís been a long haul," Mrs. Bellville said.

The cemetery was dedicated Nov. 28 by Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit.

The half-hour celebration yesterday honored the memory of those buried in the cemetery as well as the efforts of those who worked to see that the cemetery and its tenants arenít forgotten.

As the canoeís occupants, clad in traditional 18th-century French clothing, made their way across the street to the cemetery, Jack Ready, a Monroe lawyer and member of the Friends of St. Antoineís, gave a brief speech lauding those who contributed.

Afterward, a group led by Mrs. Micka cut the ribbon leading to the cemeteryís newly erected memorial, which the Rev. Anthony Sulkowski of St. Maryís Church subsequently blessed.

During his blessing, Antoine and Gabriel, two bells from the original St. Antoineís Church, were rung. When he finished, area veterans performed a gun salute, and "Taps" was played by Teddy Jernigan, an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 579.