Armed with lawn mowers, weed eaters and chain saws, more than 60 people converged on the Fraternal Cemetery in Pratt City on Saturday, April 22 for a day-long cleanup effort at the historic site that houses some of the oldest graves in the city of Birmingham.
St, Patrick Knights of Columbus Council 10567 organized the service day at the cemetery that is located across from the former location of St. Catherine Catholic Church. St. Catherine was one of four churches that combined in the early 1980s to form St. Patrick in Adamsville.
There has been limited maintenance at the cemetery in recent years, leaving many of the grave sites covered with brush, high weeds and trees. “We have close ties to this cemetery at St. Patrick because many of our parishioners have relatives buried there,” said Council 10567 Grand Knight Louis J. Muro. “When I was first made aware of the condition of the cemetery and actually saw it, it was heartbreaking. I knew we had to try to do something.”
Project leaders Rob Smith, Don Meadows and Gaeton Conte went to the cemetery on more than one occasion to assess the situation and to devise a plan. The Knights realized that some heavy equipment would be needed, along with numerous chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, several trucks and trailers. The Knights asked for donations at Church and for manpower from throughout the Birmingham Diocese.
As part of the plan, the cemetery was divided into four sections and the 43 workers who showed up were divided among those four teams. Another 20-plus people showed up to work on their individual family plots.
The work day began and 8 a.m. and ran until 4 p.m. The St. Patrick Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary provided the lunch for the workers.
"The cemetery is huge and we didn't get everything done that we wanted to," Muro said. "But it is remarkable what we were able to accomplish in one day. In the worst sections of the cemetery we were able to clear away the trees, heavy brush and high weeds that covered many of the monuments. Your vision through the cemetery is no longer obscured.”
Muro said the Knights could never have done it alone. “On behalf of the Knights, I would like to thank everyone who participated in the work day and all those who gave monetary donations. The donations were used to rent equipment and to provide lunch for the workers. Without the donations we would not have been able to have this work day at all. We also want to thank Barbara Rucker and our Ladies Auxiliary for preparing the lunch for the workers and for delivering it to the cemetery.”
Muro noted that the project succeeded because of great planning. “We all owe a debt of gratitude to Council members Don Meadows, Gaeton Conte and Rob Smith who spent countless hours organizing, planning and executing the plan for the work day. It was an impressive plan and it worked to perfection. This was a difficult project but Don, Gaeton and Rob showed great leadership through it all."
The Knights are hoping to make this an annual service project. “Unfortunately, this work day did not provide a solution,” Muro said. “There are still no dedicated resources, either through the government or privately, that are charged with keeping this cemetery maintained. We can only pray that a permanent solution will be found and that this sacred ground will be restored to its former beauty and kept that way.”
The Fraternal Cemetery Begins to Look Beautiful Again