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St. Patrick's Cemetery angel a symbol of resilience

St. Patrick's Cemetery angel a symbol of resilience

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Driving past St. Patrick’s Cemetery, you can’t help but notice the life-size white marble angel standing beside an even larger cross.

Through the years, she has become an important symbol to the historic cemetery and for the town as well.

If you get a close-up look at her, you would note she is bruised and battered. Time has not been kind — her wings are now clipped and both hands are now gone.

Headstone 'doctor' makes stop at St.Patrick's Cemetery.

Through the years, vandals have toppled her more than once, and harsh weather conditions have taken its toll as well.

But like Butte, she remains resilient, and like the town that lays claim to her, she still stands.

What started out as a story on the history of this iconic angel soon expanded to include the family she watches over, the O’Farrells.

No one goes through life not experiencing some heartache. This family, though, had more than its fair share.

Copper King Marcus Daly had the monument erected 128 years ago, to memorialize his beloved 28-year-old nephew, John J. O’Farrell Jr.

The young O’Farrell, a mining superintendent, died from typhoid fever Dec. 28, 1888. He was the oldest son of John and Anna (Daly) O’Farrell. Anna was the Copper King’s older sister.

While family mourned his loss, so did Butte residents. The Butte Weekly Miner reported that O’Farrell “was greatly esteemed by the miners who worked under him, and they would do anything for him on account of his impartiality and hearty disposition.”

From start to finish, it would take nearly four years to have the monument, which included the young O’Farrell’s likeness, not only commissioned, but also shipped from Carrara, Italy.

Upon arrival in Butte, it would be encased in glass and topped with an ornate pediment.

John would not be the only O’Farrell buried here.

The plot would also become the final resting place for John’s brother and sister, Katie and Marcus, and his parents.

In the years after John’s 1888 death, tragedy would strike the O’Farrell family time and time again. More and more O’Farrell headstones would be placed at St. Patrick’s.

John’s younger sister, Kate O’Farrell, died Aug. 3, 1893, at the age of 26 from a lingering illness. Anna, their mother, succumbed to Bright’s disease four years later.

On July 4, 1899, the 8-month-old daughter of Marcus O’Farrell would die unexpectedly, and two years later, scarlet fever would take the life of Marcus’ 8-year-old son, John.

Heart failure was thought to be the cause of death for Marcus, who died at the age of 32 on Jan. 25, 1903.

Like his namesake uncle and his brother John, Marcus was a mining man.

At the time of his death, he was the Anaconda Mine foreman. When his death was reported in The Anaconda Standard, he was described as a “thoroughly honest, upright man, one in whom all his friends reposed the greatest confidence and love.”

Hundreds of Butte residents attended Marcus’ funeral, which was described as “the greatest funeral pageant that has been seen in Butte for many a day.”

John Sr., the patriarch of the O’Farrell family, would follow his son in death three months later. “He was well known here for his manly traits of character,” reported the Butte Miner.

Marcus left a grieving widow, Elizabeth, a 1-year-old son, Marcus Jr., and an unborn son, Charles.

History would again repeat itself as Charles, like the father he never knew, died unexpectedly. He was not yet 30 years old. When he died of an infection on March 26, 1933, he was a research student at the University of Utah.

The Butte native would be buried at St. Patrick’s. During the graveside service, a plane manned by aviator Bert Mooney circled above and dropped flowers onto his grave.

John and Anna had two other children, Sister Mary Victor, who died in 1931, and Michael, who was a life-long bachelor when he died in 1934.

Marcus’ widow, Elizabeth O’Farrell Breen, passed away March 22, 1941. In her lifetime, she would bury three of her four children and two husbands. St. Patrick’s Cemetery is her final resting place as well.

The day after Christmas 1956, Elizabeth’s only surviving son, Marcus Jr., 55, was brought home for burial. He would be the last from this O’Farrell family to be buried at St. Patrick’s.

As for the angel, 53 years after she was placed at St. Patrick’s, vandals would shatter the glass surrounding the monument in the early morning hours of April 19, 1945. More than 30 other headstones were also damaged in what city officials called “one of the most despicable cases of vandalism in Butte’s history.”

Sadly, since that time, she has been the victim of vandals’ attention more than a few times. Through all that, she has remained at the helm, watching over the O’Farrells.

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