Overlooking the nearby planting of a Memorial Poppy Cross on the family grave which named a son ‘lost’ in the Great War, was a dirt-ingrained, uneven grave topped by a leaning headstone which invited further investigation. This was discovered to be that of Fr John Joseph O’Shea VF, recorded as having died on March 19 1943 and having served in the Parish of St Mary’s Selby.
The name was one which resonated as having been seen somewhere quite regularly in St Mary’s Church. There amongst the eleven brass plaques around the church was one dedicated to Fr John Joseph O’Shea. The script confirmed that he had served the parish between 1936 and 1943. Did this plaque which corresponded to the grave in Selby cemetery mean that the subsequent eleven plaques also corresponded to a grave in the cemetery? These were questions to be answered.
Parish Priest, Fr Anthony Wilson had no knowledge of any links between the plaques and graves in the cemetery and so … a hunt began.
Over the following two years section by section and area by area was explored. Each new grave discovered promoted a sense of achievement. All but two of the church plaques tallied with a grave either in the cemetery or in the church’s garden, the missing two being those of more recently deceased clergy buried there. The majority of the graves and their headstones/monuments dating from 1891 to 2013 were cleaned and tidied, as far as was practicable by a dedicated duo of parishioners. Newer graves with individual planting space were in desperate need of attention and new plants.
With investigations regarded as complete, the bi-weekly tidying and cleaning of the graves became routine. The earliest grave (1891) was completely surrounded by large, overhanging trees and the nesting/roosting place of countless birds needed continual cleaning; all carried out by one of the duo. Overhanging trees and roosting birds also blighted other graves to a lesser degree.
One Parishioner was specifically interested in the grave of Fr Patrick Duane. He had been an altar boy during Fr Patrick Duane’s time in Selby and recalled serving at his funeral and being part of the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery:
‘it was a very long procession and it was dry when the procession left the church but rain started soon afterwards when we were halfway down Armoury Road and we were all soaked before we even reached the cemetery – normally a 10 minute walk away.’
An offer to pay for the restoration of Fr Duane’s memorial was made to Fr Wilson. No work could be contemplated as the Parish was unable to prove ownership of any of the clergy graves and conversations began between Selby Town Council and the Parish. It transpired that most of the graves were most likely to have been purchased out of Parish funds with the current priest listed as the ‘named owner’ for the purpose of cemetery paperwork. The solution was reached by completing a Statutory Declaration after which Selby Town Council assigned responsibility for the future maintenance of the graves to the Parish. Once this process was completed the restoration of Fr Duane’s grave was able to proceed.
One problem remained – a brass plaque existed in the church for Canon Thomas Worthy (St Mary’s, Selby 1911-1914) yet no grave was found. A further challenge! Having secured the grave reference an unsuccessful search ensued. Grave numbers bore no resemblance to numerical order, so eventually meeting with the cemetery manager, the two parishioners were taken to the unmarked plot where Canon Worthy was buried.
It was unthinkable for the grave to be left unmarked and Fr Wilson agreed to mention the situation to the congregation, saying that a donation tin would be left at the back of church for anyone who wished to contribute. Within weeks £477.05 was received. Plans moved swiftly onto organising a simple but fitting memorial: an 18-inch square polished black marble slab engraved with silvered lettering and a cross, mounted on a mottled grey base was agreed upon. This stage was organised through the kindness and invaluable help of a Parish friend.
Within a short time the stonemason completed the engraving and installed the memorial.
A short service and the blessing of Canon Worthy’s headstone was conducted by Fr Wilson on Thursday, October 6 2022 and attended by five members of the Parish. Sadly one of the ‘dedicated duo’ was unable to attend the service and blessing, but all are now delighted that Canon Thomas Worthy now has a marked grave which looks tasteful and appropriate. Maintenance work continues to be undertaken by the same two parishioners who would welcome dedicated helpers to share their work.