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St. Patrick’s Cemetery: A Story of Immigration in Geneva

October 23rd, 2019

By Jordan Raivel, Intern

As an intern at the Geneva Historical Society this summer, I was tasked with creating a tour of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery on East North Street. The Historical Society has done tours of other Geneva cemeteries before, such as Glenwood and Washington Street, but St. Patrick’s has so far been untouched. For the month of July I spent time venturing into the cemetery itself and doing research online, uncovering the histories of just a few of the many interesting people who are buried at St. Patrick’s.

When discussing St. Patrick’s, it is necessary to start with the history of Catholics in Geneva. Before the mid-19th century, various priests periodically came to Geneva as a “mission station” to give services, but the town did not have its own Catholic church or priest. Around the same time, many Irish were leaving Ireland for the United States for various reasons, most frequently due to British oppression and later the potato famine. St. Francis De Sales was built in the mid-19th century, with the first records of baptism and marriage dating to September 1848. Over the years St. Francis De Sales grew, and by 1881 it boasted the largest congregation in the city, having twice the membership of the next largest church. The foundation for the St. Francis De Sales school was laid in 1873, as the church made it clear that they wished to keep church and state separate. “Americans have nothing to fear from the spread of Catholicity in this country. Every Catholic… was grateful to Americans for making this land an asylum for the oppressed of all climes,” said one Irish speaker. The church was making an effort to be both inclusive and included in the Geneva community.

Between 1847 and 1860, more than 1 million Irish immigrants came through New York City’s port. While many stayed in the city, some moved onto other areas of the country, such as Geneva. The construction of the Erie Canal provided work for many Irish immigrants, as did the Seneca-Cayuga Canal. In the years following 1825, many Irish immigrants lived in the northern part of town where they had easier access to jobs on the canal. Most Irish immigrants were laborers, and proximity to their work sites was imperative. As the 19th century went on, the number of Irish immigrants increased in Geneva and the St. Francis De Sales congregation grew. St. Stephen’s Church on Pulteney Street was built in 1912, and gradually many Irish changed congregations.

man in a suit leaning again a prop

Patrick Coursey

Over 200 of the Irish buried in St. Patrick’s were born in Ireland, reflecting 19th-century immigration trends. One such person was Patrick Coursey, who was born in County Meath in 1816 and died in Geneva in 1880. Coursey came to Geneva at the age of 33 and began work in the shipping business, later opening a tannery on Exchange Street in 1864 where he worked for the rest of his life. He also helped his son run a flour mill on Exchange Street which was known for its “Gold Dust” flour. The Courseys also drilled a well behind their mill, bottling and selling Lithia Mineral Springs water for many years.

As Irish immigration declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian immigrants began making their way to Geneva. Many Italians moved to Geneva between 1901 and 1914 and began worshiping at St. Francis De Sales. The early days were difficult as the priests could not speak Italian, but gradually language barriers were overcome. Most Italian immigrants worked as laborers, specifically on the construction of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and lived amongst the Irish in the north end of town. Some of the Italians in St. Patrick’s Cemetery were born in Italy, but the majority seem to be descendants of those immigrants who first came to Geneva. One such immigrant was Michael Calabrese who was one of the earliest Italian immigrants in Geneva, arriving at the age of 15 in 1880. Calabrese originally worked as a laborer on the railroads, eventually owning grocery stores on Exchange and Castle streets for over 50 years. Calabrese was well-liked and well-respected in Geneva, and his legacy reflects the mark Italian immigrants have made on this city.

newspaper ad - Special Wednesday Tomatoes 35 cents a basket if basket is returned peaches early crawford $1.35 a basket Michael Calabrese 120 Castle Street Geneva

Newspaper ad for Michael Calabrese’s grocery store on Castle Street

As we know and think of it today, Geneva is a place that consists of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, and its storied history reflects that it has continually been this way. As Irish and Italian immigrants came to Geneva in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Geneva grew and so did St. Francis De Sales. The histories of these Genevans live in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, and they have some amazing stories to tell. Due to time constraints my work on St. Patrick’s covered a relatively small portion of the cemetery and only brushed the surface of the history of immigration in Geneva. Further work can, and should be, done to investigate these stories to a greater depth, as we learn as much as we can about those who came before us.

If you are interested in learning more about the Italians and Irish buried in St. Patrick’s, make sure to come to the cemetery walking tour on Sunday, October 27, 2019!

The tour will be Sunday, October 27 at 2 pm. It will begin in the center of the cemetery at “Priests Row,” and will cover the oldest sections.

2 responses to “St. Patrick’s Cemetery: A Story of Immigration in Geneva”

  1. Mary Gerhart says:

    Thanks for these interesting and important notes on the history of Geneva. I’m curious if readers are able also to identify the 3 photos at the top of the blog. . . .

  2. Anne Dealy says:

    I assume you mean the photos in the website header? Those are, right to left, Green’s Bathing Beach in the 1920s, John Johnston, and cars outside the Russell-Hart Agency car dealership, 1933.

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