The first Catholic cemetery in Mankato was established in 1857 on North 6th Street near Thompson Ravine Road. Mrs. Maria Esbach, age 32, died suddenly on January 4, 1857 and a burial site was required. Blasius Jobst had a plot of ground on 6th Street. The parish bought five acres from him, and he donated another acre. As the cemetery became crowded, and with the steady growth of the city, parishioners agreed to the purchase of a new plot of land for a new cemetery. In November of 1885, a 40-acre parcel was purchased from the estate of Thomas Reiger for the sum of $2,020. Mr. John Klein was the director of the new site and was responsible for the planning and development of the new Calvary Cemetery.
The first funeral at Calvary took place on November 5, 1886 when Frank Salfer was laid to rest. From that time on, the remains of many of who were bured in the old cemetery were gradually transferred to the new one.
In the middle of the cemetery stands a chapel built of Mankato limestone. On June 19, 1894, the contract for the construction of the chapel was awarded to Joseph Kotthoff (the grandfather of Joseph Kotthoff, who is currently a parishioner at Ss Peter & Paul Catholic Church). Upon its completion, the chapel was blessed by the Reverend Bishop Cotter of the Diocese of Winona on All Souls Day 1895, on which occasion the entire cemetery received the blessing of the Church.
This consecration of the cemetery with its chapel was a great festal solemnity for both Catholic congregations then existing in Mankato. The various church societies moved in an imposing procession from the churches downtown to the new Calvary Cemetery on the hill. There, after the solemn consecration of the chapel and its altar, a Requiem High Mass was celebrated by Bishop Cotter assisted of the priests of Ss Peter & Paul and St John’s parishes. The pastor of St John’s, Father Prior, preached an impressive sermon in English, and the pastor of Ss Peter & Paul’s, Father Sigg, S.J., was equally eloquent in giving a sermon in German.
On April 19, 1896, two new statues, which are currently placed above the altar of the chapel, were blessed. One of the statues represents the gloriously risen Savior, and the other represents the angel who announced the Resurrection. With his hand, the angel points to the stone which he has rolled back from the tomb and which bears the inscription, “He is Risen.” the marble altar in the chapel, a gift from Friedrich Kron, was carved by Joseph Masberg. The front of the altar is inscribed: “I heard a voice from Heaven, saying to me: ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. They may rest from their labors; for their works follow them.'” (Revelation 14:13)
The Stations of the Cross which are displayed in the Calvary Cemetery Chapel, hung in Ss Peter & Paul Church in Mankato until 1896, when they were replaced with the stations which are now on the walls of the church.
Over the years, the paintings of the Stations of the Cross deteriorated and were in need of restoration. This work was done in 1994 by Mankato artist Sue Mueller of Ss Peter & Paul Parish. Various interested parties donated the funds for the restoration. An inscribed plate hangs below each station identifying the memorials for which donations were made.
Below the chapel there is a crypt designated for the final resting places of the fathers and brothers of the Society of Jesus. Twelve priests and brothers were originally interred in the crypt. In the 1920s, the remains of the Jesuits in the crypt were removed and re-buried outside the chapel on one side of the present sidewalk. The graves on the other side of the sidewalk are those of Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother who at one time served in the former St Joseph Hospital on North 5th Street and later at the new St Joseph Hospital on the Mankato Hilltop.
Near the sidewalk and roadway in front of the chapel is an angel grave marker. This marks the grave of Sister Mary Joseph Crehan who, along with Father Martin McDonnell, established Sacred Heart Orphanage in Mankato in 1908. The orphanage housed as many as 15 children at a time. Sister Joseph died in 1914 after a brief illness. Her pallbearers were four boys who have been raised at the orphanage. The facility was closed shortly after her death.
The bell in the chapel steeple has an interesting history. It is believed to have been originally intended for a church in the West, but the bell sank when a steamboat foundered in the Mississippi River. The priest at the Winnebago Agency Mission (now St Clair) bought the bell at a salvage sale and brought it to the agency. When the mission closed, it was installed behind Ss Peter & Paul’s original log cabin church, then it was used for a school bell, and finally it was moved to the Calvary Cemetery Chapel.
Over the past century, many people have contributed their time and talent for the improvements and care of the cemetery and chapel. For this, we are most grateful!
As information becomes available, it is being compiled in a reference book at the chapel. Any assistance in documenting more of this history would be appreciated. Please send information, in writing, to Calvary Cemetery Office, PO Box 4143, Mankato MN 56002.
Contributions for the upkeep of the cemetery and chapel would also be greatly appreciated. All contributions are tax deductible.