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St. John Fisher University Faculty Spearheads Mission to Honor the Unnamed Deceased at Mount Hope Cemetery

October 16, 2023

A memorial honoring hundreds of individuals buried in unmarked graves in Mt. Hope Cemetery will soon be unveiled.

A photo of Mt. Hope Cemetery - Photo Credit: DanielPenfield via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

“Invisible No More: Honoring the Deceased Buried in the Public Section of Mt. Hope Cemetery,” was spearheaded by Dr. Ryan Thibodeau, a psychology professor at St. John Fisher University, in an effort to memorialize those who died in the Monroe County Almshouse, the Monroe County Penitentiary, and the Monroe County Insane Asylum (later named the Rochester State Hospital, currently known as the Rochester Psychiatric Center), and were buried in unmarked graves in the “pauper” section of the cemetery.

The memorial was funded by a grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation and will be unveiled on Monday, Oct. 23, at 10 a.m. at Mount Hope Cemetery’s Public Section. Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Rochester Mayor Malik Evans are expected to attend.

“These unmarked graves are a poignant reminder of the past, where the departed were too often denied the recognition they deserved, their very existence seemingly erased. This is particularly disheartening and unacceptable, especially concerning the significant population of former asylum and state hospital patients laid to rest in this cemetery,’’ said Thibodeau. “As we acknowledge this history, we can continue to work toward a more compassionate and inclusive society, one where people grappling with severe and enduring mental health challenges receive the support and understanding they deserve, no longer living on the margins but as integral members of our community.”

In an effort to pay tribute to these individuals, Thibodeau composed a committee and began work on the historic memorial. He hopes that it will give the deceased the remembrance they deserve, provide a venue for descendants of the deceased and the wider community to honor them, and stimulate the community to reflect on social welfare issues that he says are “every bit as salient today as they were in the 19th century.” He and the committee also hope to preserve the history of these 19th-century Rochester-area institutions and help educate a community largely unaware that they existed. 

The committee, led by Thibodeau, included:

  • Robert Riley, assistant to the executive director, Rochester Psychiatric Center
  • Laurence Guttmacher, former professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical medical humanities and bioethics, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • Patricia Corcoran, president, Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery
  • Dennis Carr, past president, Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery
  • Veronica Weider, former director of creative wellness, Mental Health Association
  • Margie Shaw, assistant professor of bioethics, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • Christine Ridarsky, Rochester City historian
  • Ruth Rosenberg-Naparsteck, former Rochester City historian