Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Immaculate Conception Catholic Cemetery and the O'Donnell Family

About three miles south of Bridgeport on the blacktop, then a mile west on CR600 lies the Immaculate Conception Catholic Cemetery.   This editor has often wondered as she has driven past why it is so far away from the church in Bridgeport with the same name.  John Hamilton in an article in the Sumner Press on December 27,2001 answered my question.  The following is extracted from his article.

In 1855 Menomen O'Donnell and his wife Mary donated 10 acres of land near their farms south of Bridgeport.  St. Patrick's Church  was built on this property  from timbers hauled by oxcart from St. Francisville.  The land next to the church became a cemetery and there are at least three graves there dated in the 1860's.  Among many others are the family names of McBride, Kelly, Fitzpatrick, Murphy, O'Rourke, Diver, McKeown, Bryan, and O'Donnell.

In 1866 the parish name was changed to Immaculate Conception. Sometime in the 1870's the country church was abandoned and a new church was built in the city of Bridgeport.  That city church was replaced in 1900 by the building that remains on Church Street built at a cost of $3,500. The cemetery remained south of Bridgeport.

Captain Menomen O'Donnell and John Diver, Sr were the earliest Catholic settlers in the area. O'Donnell was just 18 when he stepped off the boat from Donegal, Ireland in 1843.  For 3 years he worked at odd jobs, moving always west from New York to Lawrence Co, Il.  He purchased land here and began a successful livestock trading business and slaughterhouse.  In 1853 he was able to bring his brother Charles from Ireland to join him.  Menomen was awarded the congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War. The Economic Recession of 1873 forced his pork packing company into bankruptcy, but in 1879 after a move to Vincennes he opened a successful butcher shop and later became president of Knox Building and Loan Association.  He died in 1911 but instead of being buried in the pretty little country cemetery for which he had donated land, his body was interred in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Vincennes.

His brother Charles though stayed on the family farm south of Bridgeport, and shipped thousands of head of cattle and hogs to the livestock markets in East St. Louis, Il.  He married Mary Ann Monagnan in 1864 and they had 14 children.  He died in 1894 as a result of a runaway horse accident and is in buried at Immaculate Conception Cemetery.

 His widow stayed on the farm until 1907 and then moved to Vincennes, where she had an 11-room house built on Church Street.  This mansion was later purchased by the Duesterberg Funeral Home.  In 1908 the family farm near Bridgeport had 20 oil producing wells, and produced  between 1,200-1,500 barrels of "black gold" daily. 

Upon Mary Ann O'Donnell's death in 1914, funeral services were held at the Old Cathedral, after which her body was buried at Immaculate Conception Catholic Cemetery.  A newspaper clipping states: "More people attended the graveside service for Mrs. O'Donnell than for any other person in Knox or Lawrence counties.  Those who owned automobiles conveyed 256 (people) from Vincennes to Bridgeport for the last rites.  For those who did not have their own transportation, the family provided a special train from Vincennes to Bridgeport."  288 people took advantage of the rail transportation. Her obituary referred to her as the "wealthiest woman in the two counties."