St. Patrick finally gets his due with statue at namesake Kent cemetery

  • Written by Jean Parietti
  • Published in Local
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo blesses the newly installed statue of St. Patrick at St. Patrick Cemetery in Kent. Rich Peterson, director of cemeteries for the archdiocese, is next to the bishop at right. Photo: Stephen Brashear Bishop Eusebio Elizondo blesses the newly installed statue of St. Patrick at St. Patrick Cemetery in Kent. Rich Peterson, director of cemeteries for the archdiocese, is next to the bishop at right. Photo: Stephen Brashear

KENT – It took 135 years, but a statue of St. Patrick finally stands watch over the hillside cemetery that bears his name.

Installed in May and blessed by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo during an outdoor Mass Sept. 3, the $16,000 granite statue was funded entirely with donations gathered by the Knights of Columbus at Holy Spirit Parish in Kent, members of Seattle’s Irish community and friends of the cemetery.

“The St. Patrick Cemetery is the most Irish thing there is in the Seattle area … probably the most genuine connection to Ireland that exists here,” said John Keane, a native of Ireland who is a leader in the local Irish community and honorary Irish Consul for Seattle.

“It was started by an Irish family and it was intended to be a cemetery for the Irish,” added Keane, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Lynnwood who plans to be buried at St. Patrick’s.

That family was the O’Connells, who emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s and homesteaded 80 acres bordering the Green River. The O’Connells’ grandson, 92-year-old Tom O’Connell, a member of Holy Spirit Parish, still lives on the family property.

Historic St. Patrick cemetery photoMourners arrive at St. Patrick Cemetery by horse and buggy in this 1908 photo. Photo: Courtesy Associated Catholic Cemeteries

Tucked just off busy Orillia Road at South 204th Street, St. Patrick Cemetery sits on 4.6 acres set aside by the O’Connells for burials.

“Grandpa was raising potatoes and hops, so he was up there on the hill probably saying to himself, ‘This rocky piece of ground isn’t going to grow hops or potatoes,’” Tom O’Connell said of the cemetery site. Although lacking in agricultural value, the land offers filtered views of the Kent Valley and Mount Rainier.

St. Patrick Cemetery was transferred to the Diocese of Nesqually (now the Archdiocese of Seattle) in 1902, and it became the parish cemetery for Kent’s St. Anthony Parish (now Holy Spirit Parish). The archdiocese’s Associated Catholic Cemeteries assumed responsibility for the cemetery in July 1989.

Since the first burial in 1880, about 800 people have been laid to rest at the cemetery — including members of the Christian Brothers who taught at Seattle’s O’Dea High School, said Rich Peterson, director of cemeteries for the archdiocese.

“Because it was a parish cemetery, a significant percentage of the people buried in the cemetery are all St. Anthony parishioners going back multiple generations,” Peterson said. “When you’re talking to people who have relatives buried at St. Patrick’s, it’s like one big family.”

Some of those parishioners have long wanted a statue of St. Patrick erected at the cemetery. “Our response has always been we would love to have a statue of St. Patrick, but we don’t have resources for that,” Peterson said. “We would certainly be interested if there was some way that we could figure out how to fundraise for a statue.”

St. Patrick statueRoughly life-size, this statue of St. Patrick was custom-made from granite. The inscription includes a bit of Irish that translates: “The great apostle of Ireland.” Photo: Jean Parietti

When the archdiocese took over administration of the cemetery, it came without financial resources or equipment. The property was overgrown and had been vandalized. “Our job for the last 25 years has been maintaining it,” Peterson said, noting $30,000 was recently spent to finally replace the cemetery’s dirt paths with paved roads.

But O’Connell, fellow Knight Jim Sheffield of Holy Spirit Parish and Keane were among those who decided it was time for the statue to become a reality and worked hard to make it happen. Without any special events, the money was raised quickly, in perhaps two months, O’Connell said.

Roughly life-size, the statue of St. Patrick was custom-made from granite — much less expensive than bronze and less likely to be stolen or vandalized, Peterson said.

Now, 135 years after its founding, there’s no doubt the cemetery is named for St. Patrick.

“It’s a shame that we didn’t have a statue before,” Keane said. “Now, finally, I think he’s got his due.”