A broken slab, left, is visible at a gravesite at Catholic Cemetery in Mobile. Center: An open grave shows a skull with a bullethole and, right, the final resting place for Sister Ann Hogan, a murdered nun, was overgrown until a volunteer group cleaned it up and placed flowers at the base. The cemetery is no longer considered perpetual care, but overgrowth, especially in an order section of the grounds is concerning to volunteers.
Photos | Shane Rice
Open graves, broken monuments
On Nov. 12, 1977, Sister Ann Hogan came to Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery to pray for the dead for All Souls Month. She never returned home.
Hogan’s body was found by police the next day in a wooded area near the graves. She had been strangled, according to court records from the Justia legal website, in an apparent robbery attempt. Many of her personal effects were scattered around the cemetery, but a watch was missing.
More than 40 years later, a gravestone in the same cemetery, marking Hogan’s final resting place, was almost unrecognizable until volunteers cleaned it up and placed white flowers at the base.
A lasting tribute to a woman murdered while praying could’ve met the fate of so many other final resting places within the cemetery in 2022, as many monuments lay broken, many gravesites lay covered by overgrowth and many broken slabs display the remains of the once memorialized out in the open, left to the elements.
The current state of the Catholic Cemetery concerns volunteers who say the archdiocese has ignored their pleas to clean it up, specifically the older areas of the graveyard.
A Lagniappe photographer and reporter went out to inspect the area and were shown the broken monuments and cracked slabs from decades of weathering and erosion. There were a number of open graves, some wide enough to cause a hazard to those walking the grounds. Those were marked with red flags. Others contained remains of those long dead in an older part of the cemetery.
In one instance, an open grave contained a skull with what looked like it could have been a bullet hole in it. It’s unclear if the hole was added before or after burial. The remains were reburied by volunteers after Lagniappe left the premises. In another instance, volunteers found an open grave with two full skeletons inside. They reburied those remains as well.
Tilmon Brown, of Catholic Cemeteries Inc., manages the grounds. He said if the team finds an open grave they’ll work to cover it back up within 24 hours, once any remaining family members are contacted.
“We do have that happen,” he said. “Some of them are older graves and were built with bricks and covered by slabs. We have filled five or six in the last two weeks.”
Brown said groundskeepers will walk through the cemetery and look for open graves to fill, but what might look like a closed grave on a particular day could open up the next, and he said it can be hard to stay on top of it.
What looked to be an urban forest on the outskirts of the grounds turned out to be a thick canopy of trees growing around older graves. In some cases, mourners couldn’t reach some parts of the cemetery due to the overgrowth.
Until 2013, the Catholic Cemetery was managed by an outside contractor, Brown said. The overgrowth at the edge of the grounds was an issue when he took over. Brown said the cemetery has attempted to hire contractors to clear out the overgrowth in the past, but the delicate nature of the work has made it difficult to hire a team.
“These contractors want to use heavy equipment,” he said. “When we tell them it has to be cleared by hand they don’t call back.”
Also at issue, Brown said, is the cemetery is no longer a perpetual care facility, which means family members are partially responsible for keeping up individual plots. In the older section of the cemetery, many family members aren’t around anymore, he said.
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