"We don't just think about yesterday, today, or tomorrow. We think in terms of eternity," says Jim Sanders of the Mt. Carmel Cemetery board of directors as he stands on the cemetery's windswept hill, surveying the markers.
"And what we do today needs to advantage whoever is looking after this place fifty, a hundred, two hundred years from now."
Mt. Carmel, on the corner of Old Mayfield and Elmdale Roads, is a historic, Catholic cemetery serving the needs of the community through the efforts of St. Francis deSales, St. Thomas More, and Rosary Chapel churches.
Housed therein are keys to our region's history and heritage.
Like most cemeteries, however, time takes its toll.
"It's hard to read what is on the markers with all the crud on there," says Jim. With some of the markers dating back to the 1800s, the loss of readability leads to the loss of history for future generations. And Mt. Carmel houses plenty of history.
"Paducah used to be in the Diocese of Louisville. The bishop there had a slave family that worked at his home. He treated them like guests. He took care of them and had them educated. When the first priest came to Paducah, the bishop sent those slaves down here to help. As soon as they got here, he freed them. They were the first African-American Catholics in our area. The mother and father are buried here along with a lot of their descendants. We are going to repair those headstones, clean them, and put a sign up that tells their story."
This is just one of several projects that is part of five year restoration plan. The board, working in conjunction with the UK Extension Service's cemetery restoration program, along with information gleaned from the City of Paducah's efforts in Oak Grove Cemetery, hope that their work preserves the heritage housed at Mt. Carmel for many years to come.
"It's never been done here," says Jim. "Some of the sites had gotten pretty bad. People just didn't know. Before we used the cleaning materials we found, you couldn't hardly read these."
Mt. Carmel is the final resting place of several priests including Rev. Peter Thomas Meagher who helped bring Catholicism to western Kentucky. He also founded the cemetery.
"He was from Ireland, ordained in Rome, and made his final home in Paducah. This is the history we are trying to preserve," says Jim.
The group is also expanding the Angel Garden. "The garden is fourteen years old and already full. We provide a burial space, free of charge, to any baby from conception to still-born. We already have right at 250 markers here. It is almost daily that you can come out here and see someone here. The new garden will have a large wall and walkways. We don't ask any questions or accept money on them."
As Jim walks Mt. Carmel, he is pleased with the progress. "We have plenty of room to expand into the future, and the work we are doing now will preserve the stories of the past."