St. Jude parishioners gathered last fall on a hilltop in Glen Dale, West Virginia, to pay their respects and honor a priest whose name may be unknown, but his works to strengthen the Catholic community remain evident today.
The story does not have a conclusive beginning, although it is safe to say that sometime in the late 1700s a priest was sent to minister to the spiritual needs of Catholic families on the hilltops along the Ohio River. What is pioneering of this fete was the fact that much of this land had not been developed or explored.
Back in this time West Virginia was not even a state, it was western Virginia. In fact, Daniel Boone was not legend, he was alive and well serving as a delegate to the Virginia Assembly and the Civil War had not even begun.
Thus, this story is one like so many of the era that was handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation for about 150 years, until 1954 when it was put into an article by James A. McCulley a parishioner of St. James Parish, McMechen, W. Va.
On the basis of what we believe to be reliable information concerning the grave of an unknown priest on the old Markey family farm, which is located on Glen Dale Heights, arrangements were made to pay to it the respect and reverence due to the last resting place of one who gave his life ministering to the spiritual needs of the few scattered Catholic families residing in Marshall County, West Virginia.
In the mid 1950s before the establishment of St. Jude Parish, the Holy Name Society of St. James Parish, McMechen, of which Glen Dale Heights’ residents were part of, assumed the responsibility of caring for the grave. In the hope of discovering some tangible evidence of burial, a few members of the society: Martin Conner; James Welsh; James McCulley; Leo Anderson; Phil Markey; Carl, John, and Matt Hazlett; Father Brady; and Father Daly, reopened the grave, but it yielded nothing more indicative of burial than a portion of earth about the length and breadth of a man’s body, and of a deep purple color, found at a depth of between five and six feet. Mr. John Shuetz, the custodian of Mount Calvary Cemetery, who examined the purple colored clay, and who by virtue of his experience of exhuming bodies after long years of burial, tells us that a human body was undoubtedly buried in that grave. In further explanation of the fact that nothing more tangible was found it due to the particular nature of the ground, which he describes as soapstone, and which would be conducive to the speedy decay of a human body. Had the body been interred in limestone ground the bones would have become crystallized, and eveidence of a more conclusive nature would have rewarded the efforts of those who opened the grave on Glen Dale Heights.
The information given by Mr. Shuetz supports the tradition reverently preserved and handed down from one generation to another in the Markey family. As evidence of their interest in the grave, we discovered the four cornerstones placed there at the time of the burial, and the three maple trees planted around the grave later on by John Markey and other members of the family as an additional mark of identification. All the descendents of the Markey family now living are familiar with the grave, and the identification marks placed around it by their ancestors.
The family tells that the missionary died after two days of sickness in the home of a family by the name of Clarke. The Clarke’s were the first recorded owners and occupants of the farm. The farm was later purchased by the Reilleys, and then the Markey family.
At the time of the priest’s death, another Catholic family, by the name of Campbell lived on a neighboring farm. It was from these two families, the Clarkes and Campbells, that the Markeys learned of the priest’s death, the circumstances surrounding it, and the place of his burial.
The Markeys owned the farm back in the early 1800s.
The name, nationality, and ecclesiastical headquarters were never passed down.
As it is, we think we have sufficient information to warrant that due respect and reverence be paid to his lonely grave, hidden away under the brush of a little frequented section of Glen Dale Heights. Guided by this information, the Holy Name members of St. James Parish built around the grave a ten foot concrete wall, and have erected over it a beautiful celtic cross dedicated to the memory of this unknown servant of God. The cross was artistically carved out of white granite by a prisoner of Italian descent in the Moundsville, West Virginia State Penitentiary.
While his name may never be known and the circumstances of his sickness and death may remain a secret, this tribute of the Holy Name Society to the lonely grave of an unknown soldier of Christ will stand as a simple and lowly monument to this memory. It will in some small way tell us of the present and to the people of the future in this locality the price in terms of labor, sacrifice and heroism, paid by priests of the past for the preservation of our ancient Faith in what was then a distant outpost of God’s kingdom on earth.
It will also serve as a token of the care given to the memory of this priest by the generations of the Markey family for more than one hundred and forty years. And we may be sure that their constant loyalty to the faith is due in no small measure to the prayers and good works of the zealous missionary, who earthly journey ended in an isolated grave on their farm at Glen Dale Heights.
The bronze plaque contains the following inscription:
Erected by the Holy Name Society of St. James Parish, McMechen, in the year of our Lord 1954 to the sacred memory of a pioneer priest who more than one hundred and fifty years ago ministered to the spiritual needs of the Catholic people living here on what was then a distant outpost of the faith. May he rest in the peace and the joy of the omnipotent God who alone knows his name and whence he came.
The farm is currently owned by St. Jude Parishioner Gladys “Betty” Key.