St. Thomas Catholic Church in rural Nelson County, Kentucky, is centrally located in the county, south of Bardstown off US 31E. About 1787 Edward and Thomas Howard settled on the Poplar Neck of Beech Fork River. Thomas and wife Ann constructed a log house here in 1795. Members of the Catholic faith in the area gathered in their home for worship services. In 1810 Thomas Howard willsedhis farm to the Catholic church and St. Thomas parish was established in 1812.
Today I share with you ten of the older gravestones, most of the inhabitants coming from Maryland, or children of those who came in those early days.
John Speak, born February 2, 1785, died April 21, 1851, aged 66 years.
Married a sister of Richard Coomes.
Erected in memory of John Reynolds, who died January 19, 1840, in the 90th year of his age (born 1750). Ann Reynolds, 85 years at her death. By their affectionate son Rev. I. A. Reynolds.
‘Among the earlier emigrants to the neighborhood of Bardstown was John Reynolds, who, with his wife, Ann French, and their family of children, settled on a small farm almost within sight of that upon which was afterwards built the convent, school and chapel of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. But for the fact that John Reynolds was the husband of an extraordinary wife, and the father of a still more extraordinary son, no special mention of his name would be here necessary. He was an industrious, well-meaning man, to be sure, and after a manner, pious. But he was given to the vice of intemperance. His wife was altogether of another standard. To use the expression applied to her by an aged sister of the Nazareth community, she was “a living saint.” If is doubtful if there has ever occurred in Kentucky a more noteworthy example of healthful influence exerted over a household than that which is presented in the case of Mrs. Ann Reynolds. In addition to the fact that her religion was as the measure of her life, she was of that precise temperament that is most attractive of love and confidence. Modest, retiring, helpful, prayerful, sweet of temper and loving her children in God and for God, it will not be considered strange that these latter should have readily yielded themselves to her molding hands and become, even as she was herself, exemplars of christian life and social respectability.
‘John and Ann Reynolds were the parents of five children, viz: Bernard, whose wife was Polly Brown; Ignatius Aloysius, who became a priest and died bishop of Charleston; Elizabeth, who married John Coomes; John, who died a most edifying death in his 22nd year; and Ellen, who married John Horrell. The aged couple passed the last years of their lives in the old seminary of St. Thomas, in Nelson County. Mrs. Reynolds died suddenly and without previous illness, in August, 1840. Her husband, utterly prostrated by the occurrence, took to his bed, and, two weeks later, he was buried by her side in the cemetery attached to the church of St. Thomas.’
Sacred to the memory of John Miles, born the 6th day of June 1775, died the 29th July 1833 (58 years of age).
Maria Naomi McManus, departed this life September 3rd 1817, aged 26 years (born 1791).
Maria Naomi McManus was the daughter of Mary and Thomas McManus. ‘The next Catholic emigrants to reach Bardstown [after 1798] were Mrs. Mary McManus and her four fatherless children, Margaret, Mary, Charles and Naomi. both herself and her deceased husband were of Irish birth, and their first home in the United States was Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where they were married and their children were born. In 1791, concluding to remove to Kentucky, Thomas McManus took his family to Pittsburgh and thence embarked with them on a flatboat for the prosecution of his voyage down the Ohio. When a short distance above the town of Gallipolis, the boat was fired upon by Indians and the husband and father killed. Not knowing what better to do, the distressed widow continued her journey with the other emigrants of the boat, and settled with them near Winchester, in Clark County. Here another misfortune befell her in the destruction of her house by fire. With the exception of a few treasured books, everything she had was destroyed. Another in her place might have given way to despair; not so this truly courageous woman. Her dependence was upon Providence, and Providence raised up friends for her in her sore distress. It is uncertain how long she remained in Clark County, but is believed that her removal to Bardstown took place at a date not long anterior to that of the erection of the old church of St. Joseph, near the town. She made up her mind that it was her duty to go where it was possible for her to put in practice the precepts of her religion, and no persuasion on the part of her neighbors had any effect in shaking her resolution. She managed somehow to get to Bardstown with her children, and she afterwards managed to support herself and them without being dependent on public or private charity.’
To the memory of Margaret Abell who died January 1818 aged 59 years. This tribute inscribed by her children (born 1759).
‘Robert and Margaret Mills Abell were the parents of ten children, seven sons and three daughters. These were named: Samuel, Jesse, James, Robert, Ignatius, Benjamin, John, Mary, Ellen and Janet. Robert Abell went on a visit to Maryland in 1802, where he was taken sick and died.’
In memory of Ann Burch, who departed this life February 2nd 1836, age 37 (born 1799).
Sacred to the memory of Chrystena Hagan who departed this life August 3, 1826, in the 47th year of her age (born 1779).
Here lies the remains of John Boon who died August 31st 1840, aged 44 years (born 1796).
Sacred to the memory of Robert Hagan who departed this life July 21, 1840, in the 62nd year of his age (born 1778).
Notes from The Centenary of Catholicity In Kentucky by Hon. Ben J. Webb, 1884.
My home parish! Many family members are buried in the cemetery, as well as friends and neighbors. Even though I have lived in Indiana for over 50 years, all my siblings are still living in KY, mostly in Nelson County.
Forgot to mention that I’m distantly related to a couple of the people listed in the article.
Jeanette, it’s such a beautiful church and cemetery. My home parish was St. Charles in Marion County, not far away.