|Source: St Patrick Cemetery (c1920s)|
The story begins with a petition presented to the City Council on March 24, 1857 requesting the appointment of James Farrelly as undertaker. The following week the Mayor and Alderman voted to remove Michael Roach from the office of undertaker and appointed James Farrelly in his place. Farrelly's appointed was backed by Father James T. McDermott, pastor of St. Mary's Church. This set the stage for some fireworks as Roach was Father John O'Brien's man, and it was understood that he would not allow any undertaker into the Catholic burying ground except Roach. Father O'Brien was pastor of St. Patrick's Church and in charge of the cemetery more often referred to as the Catholic Burying Ground..
Although officially removed from office, Roach did not go quietly, probably with encouragement from Rev. O'Brien. On April 13, he was arraigned in the Lowell Police Court for continuing to act as undertaker after he had been removed from office. The case was continued to May 4th for examination. More than a week after his removal, he made returns of five burials to the Superintendent of Burials. Michael seems to entertain an equal contempt for the city fathers and the English language. He puts down the various diseases of those he attended as “Water on the brean,” “consomtion,” “hooping coff” and “yellow ganders.” As a result, Michael was arrested by the police on April 27 on a charge of officiating without authority. In early May, the City Solicitor was directed to apply to the Supreme Judicial Court for an injunction to restrain Michael Roach from serving as undertaker.
After several continuances, his trial was to be in early July. However, that was not to be. According to the Daily Citizen and News of July 7, 1857 “The contest whether Michel Roach shall act as undertaker or not, without consent or appointment of the city authorities, has been finally settled. An injunction has been served on Roach from a higher power than earthly courts, and another has done the job for him that he had done for so many others. Michael died on Saturday last, of dysentery at the age of sixty-five. Death has ended the controversy; and as he was superseded in office by one of his own blood and race, we suppose there will be no further endeavor on the part of his friends to keep up an ill feeling.”
Following the death of Roach, Rev. O'Brien and others petitioned for the appointment of one Patrick Smith as undertaker. Smith was appointed but Farrelly retained his position. As a result, there were now two undertakers to tend to the Catholic burials: McDermott's man, Farrelly, and O'Brien's man, Smith.
McDermott's congregation numbered about 800 while O'Brien's was about 5000. The two priests had a long-standing bitter personal feud which was amplified by the preference of the Catholic population for burial by Farrelly! O'Brien was incensed and in March 1858, he denounced from the pulpit all who would employ Farrelly as being unworthy of the name of Christians and further declared that he would deny 'christian burial' to any corpse whom Farrelly would carry to the grave. By August, 1858, Catholics continued to prefer Farrelly over Smith despite the denunciation and threats from O'Brien. As Rev. O'Brien was the Bishop's agent for the sale of cemetery lots, he refused to sell lots to any who employed Farrelly as undertaker, and he filed suit against Farrelly for trespass in burying the dead in the lots they had purchased.
On October 5, 1858, the CITIZEN reported that the court decided against Father O'Brien, and “the waters of bitterness closed over the head of his reverence.” However, this is not quite the end of the story.....
Farrelly was defended by John McEvoy, an attorney who coincidentally just happened to be the organist at St. Patrick's church! Father O'Brien summarily discharged him from his position in the church! He was FIRED!!