Residents, church clash over cemetery building site

October 8, 2010 7:47:12 PM PDT
Some neighbors in the East Bay are taking on the Catholic Church over its proposed housing development. The development is being built at the site of the old St. Joseph's cemetery on Mission Boulevard in Fremont. Hundreds of graves were moved for the project, but neighbors are saying some might have been left behind.

Joe Lonsdale's wife Wendy died of cancer two and a half years ago.

"When I think what I would do if anyone tried to move her grave and cram it into a little box, I'm just furious," Lonsdale said.

As it turns out, the graves behind his backyard were moved from a five to six acre field next to St. Joseph's cemetery. The church unearthed hundreds of bodies buried in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the field and re-buried them in the cemetery.

Even though his wife is buried elsewhere, the removal of the bodies angers Lonsdale.

"The paupers are buried right here; the people who bought expensive burial plots are buried way up there," Lonsdale said.

Now, St. Joseph's plans to build luxury homes on the field.

"You sell these homes for so much more money because of the view and that's the whole deal," Lonsdale said.

Lonsdale says an electronic survey done by a consultants hired by the church reveals there are more bodies in the field. He points to a map which they drew up that Lonsdale says shows areas where there are likely unmarked graves.

"They've left probably at least 200 or 300 bodies in this section of the field," Lonsdale said.

Church officials they already covered that area.

"We actually excavated each of those sites to determine if there was anything in the ground," Robert Seelig of Catholic Funeral Services said.

The church says it got permission from families of those buried and even went through the courts to ensure they did everything right.

"The allegation that the church is not transparent or truthful is a little bit disappointing," Monsignor Manny Simas said.

The Fremont Historical Architectural Review Board has already voted 'no' on the project, but the planning commission approved it.

Lonsdale says if the City Council approves the project, he'll fight it in court.

"I lost my wife, I have nothing to do with my money, I'll fight it," he said.

Lonsdale is Catholic and says he bears no ill will towards the church; he just does not want the development built at that location.

Church officials say the planning commission has asked them to remove two feet of top soil from the field just to make sure there are no more bodies there.

The development will be discussed at next Tuesday's City Council meeting.


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