Thursday, August 19, 2010

Catholic, Protestant and a wall between the coffins

One of the strangest stories in our family is the story of the grave site of Elizabeth Bissonnette Wills and John Albert Wills as told to me by my mother.  Elizabeth Bissonnette was born and raised Roman Catholic, John Albert Wills was born and raised Protestant.  They married in St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Cohoes, NY on August 26th, 1903.  Marriage in the Catholic Church indicates the groom was willing to have his children baptized in the Catholic faith.  Of the nine children, only the first born male, Uncle Johnny, was not baptized in the Catholic Church.  Perhaps because he carried the male line and name, he was raised Protestant.

St. Joseph's Cemetery, Waterford, NY

Elizabeth Bissonnette Wills died  on February 1st, 1936 from complications from her thyroid gland and surgery to remove it.  Her daughter Elizabeth Wills died less than one year later-on January 9th, 1937.  Less than two months later John Albert Wills died on March 3rd, 1937.  In thirteen months, the Wills siblings had to face the death of their mother, beloved sister and father.  Then, in order for their parents to be buried together in the Catholic cemetery,  the Wills siblings had to pay for the construction of a brick wall between the grave of their Catholic mother and Protestant father.  The Catholic church required this in order to bury a Protestant in the Catholic cemetery and was not that uncommon. To gather the funds to accomplish this during "The Great Depression" was no easy feat, especially considering the three oldest sisters were married with children to support, and the youngest three were eighteen and under.  Only Johnny and Dorothy were eighteen and older and not supporting children. But they all (Lena, Anna, Julia, Johnny, Dorothy, Etta, Larry, and Bobby) scraped the money together and, accordingly, the brick wall was built between the two places the coffins rested upon.

Is there really a wall six feet under between the coffins?
I cannot confirm it but my mother certainly told me in no uncertain terms, the wall was built and if it was, it is there in the ground between Libby and John where God can see it - if God wants to.  Personally, I think God has more important things to look after these days.

There wasn't enough money to buy a gravestone during the Great Depression.  For over thirty years the grave was unmarked.  The stone was added in the late 1960s or early 1970s.  I remember driving to the cemetery with mom to see it after it was installed.

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