Established in 1875, St. Roch Cemetery lies just north of the Faubourg Marigny in the St. Roch neighborhood.
The founder of St. Roch Cemetery was Father Peter Leonhard Thevis, pastor at Holy Trinity Church located closer to the Mississippi River at St. Ferdinand and Dauphine Streets. According to a famous New Orleans legend, Father Thevis prayed to St. Roch during the deadly yellow fever outbreak of 1868 and vowed to build a chapel to him if the Holy Trinity congregation was spared. No one died, and Father Thevis indeed built the chapel a few years later in the cemetery he had established for the church.
Upon his death 25 years later, Father Thevis was buried in the center of the Chapel, beneath the marble floor in front of the altar and the statue of St. Roch. The inscription on his tombstone is engraved in Gothic rather than Roman script; Gothic script, prevalent in Western Europe from the 1100s to the 1600s, was used much longer in Germany, throughout the 19th and until the 20th century.
Who is the saint to whom Father Thevis prayed for protection from yellow fever and to whom he dedicated the chapel in which he himself was later buried? According to Catholic legend, Saint Roch was born in Montpellier, France, around 1295. Roch was very devout and lived an ascetic life from an early age. After his parents died, he gave all of his worldly possessions to the poor and, in 1317, set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. He came to Italy during a plague epidemic. It was said that his touch, prayers, and signing of the cross healed the ill. He ministered to the sick in the hospitals of several cities. On his way back from Rome, he himself succumbed to the plague at Piacenza. He was cast out of town and retreated to the forest, where he would have died, had it not been for the dog of a nobleman which brought him bread and licked his wounds, healing him. After Roch recovered, he continued healing those afflicted by the plague.
Based on this legend and due to recurrent outbreaks of plague from the 14th to the early 18th century, St. Roch became a very popular plague saint all over Europe, including countries north of the Alps such as Germany.
GERMANS IN ST. ROCH CEMETERY
A number of clues scattered throughout St. Roch Cemetery reveal the presence of German immigrants in the neighborhood. German names adorn many of the graves, including Schmidt, Klein, Schneider, Koch, Ueberschlag, Ahsenmacher, and Elzensohn. The high proportion of German names on the tombs demonstrates that the nineteenth-century community that first established and used this cemetery was heavily comprised of, though by no means exclusively, people of German descent.
Many of the tombstones are engraved with additional words and expressions in German such as Familie, Geb[oren], Gest[orben], Hier ruht, Hier ruht in Frieden*, and *im Alter von.
Further evidence of a German influence in the St. Roch Cemetery is found in the name of one of the cemetery’s two main walkways. The walkway leading from the front gate of the cemetery to St. Roch Chapel is St. Roch Avenue Walk is named after St. Boniface, the patron saint of Germany. St. In St. Roch Cemetery, his name also appears on a vault established by the St. Bonifacius Verein, the benevolent association of St. Boniface Church. The latter, along with St. Boniface School, was founded at Galvez and Laharpe Streets in 1869 for those Germans who had moved to the St. Roch neighborhood.