Neighbors rally behind fired gravedigger

The caretaker-gravedigger of Holy Cross Cemetery, fired from his job of nearly four years by a Roman Catholic priest shortly before Christmas, has been ordered to vacate the large frame house on the cemetery property where he lives with his wife and seven children.
Although the caretaker, 51-year-old William F. Storey, was told to have his family out of the house by today, the order was delayed by an official of the Baltimore archdiocese this weekend following complaints about Mr. Storey’s firing and eviction by the family and by the neighbors of the cemetery off the 6000 block of Ritchie Highway on the edge of Brooklyn Park.
“It just seems very unlikely someone would fire a person lightly, right before Christmastime,” Monsignor Francis Malooly said late Saturday, adding that he did not know the reason for Mr. Storey’s dismissal by the Rev. Joseph Maskell of the Holy Cross parish in South Baltimore.
Father Maskell said Mr. Storey had been given repeated warnings and was fired because “over a period of time his job performance has not been satisfactory.”
The priest cited concerns about the caretaker’s contacts with cemetery visitors but was reluctant on legal ground to divulge details of a personnel matter.
Mr. Storey said he was given five reasons at a meeting with the priest on Dec. 22 -- that there were “several occasions when it appeared I had consumed alcohol,” that he had been accused of rudeness to two elderly women visiting the cemetery, and that he had failed to cooperate with the grass-cutters, to keep the house tidy and to fulfill all his duties.
The caretaker -- who formerly worked as a guard at the maximum-security Patuxent Institution -- acknowledged that he had not been perfect, citing in particular his 1987 arrest for drunken driving in a parish car.
“Every time I get into an audience with [Father Maskell], he brings it up. I paid my dues for that. I went to court. I paid my time and I put in my two years’ probation.”
“There is no drinking on duty as he claims there is,” Mr. Storey said. “I told him … that I do not drink on duty. After hours when I get off duty, yes, I’ll have a beer or two. That’s my privilege.”
Mr. Storey also admitted to having “a short fuse” and displaying it when, he said, the two women drove on to the property, past a “do not enter” sign, ignored a sign directing inquiries to the church office, and knocked on the back door of his house while he was alone working in the graveyard.
“Out of hundreds of people that come out to this cemetery, two times he’s had complaints on me that I know of, that he came to me and told me about,” Mr. Storey said. “The last instance was [the] two elderly ladies … There’s been hundreds of people out here complimenting me. There’s been no problem, except these two old ladies. The one lady called me an ignorant son of a bitch.”
Mr. Storey said neither he nor the supervisor of the grass-cutting service were aware of complaints about his cooperation. He contended the house is “lived in” but reasonably clean and claimed he never refused any duty -- not even when his supervisor had him wash and wax church vehicles.
Mr. Storey speculated that the question of his fulfilling his duties amounted to “a failure of communication” about working hours between the priest and the church maintenance worker who is the caretaker’s supervisor.
The caretaker said both his salary and working hours were cut in May, when the priest told him that “the cemetery was operating in the red.” The pay was reduced from $8.25 to $5.10 an hour,  he said, while the hours dropped from eight a day to six.
Then, he said, the supervisor told him to end the working day at 2 p.m., when a part-time assistant ended his day. Mr. Storey said Father Maskell probably was unaware of that when the priest came to the cemetery in the afternoon and found him sitting at home “with my feet up.”
A neighbor who lives south of the cemetery and knows the Storey family said conditions in the cemetery appear much improved since the previous caretaker was fired and Mr. Storey started work.
“Any story about him not working hard, I find hard to believe,” said the neighbor, 65-year-old Patricia Cole Blom.
She noted that the Storey family had little money. “With $5 an hour, you don’t save up. With seven children, you can’t find a house. He hasn’t had a chance to get a job. This is an incredible injustice being done here.”
Mrs. Blom also questioned the timing of the firing and order to leave the property.
“Evicting a family over Christmas?” she said. “A Catholic church? A priest? … These people spent a hellish Christmas. The children sat in my living room and cried.”
A neighborhood businessman, William Bennington, told clients and members of his Baptist congregation, the Annapolis Community Church, about the Storey family’s situation. Individuals from both groups have provided food and toys for the family, Mr. Bennington said.
“Mr. Storey keeps to himself and doesn’t ask for a lot of help,” Mr. Bennington said. “But everyone in the community thinks he has done a fine job.”
Late Saturday, the Catholic Archdiocese also offered some help.
Monsignor Malooly said representatives from Associated Catholic Charities would meet with the caretaker and his wife, 46-year-old Margaret A. Storey, and offer job counseling and help in finding alternative housing and get their side of the story -- including any accounts from “witnesses” who worked with Mr. Storey.
Mrs. Storey, a lifelong parishioner at Holy Cross, works as a floral arranger for a South Baltimore florist.
The couple have eight children between the ages of 10 and 19 -- with an 18-year-old son now living on his own. There are two sets of twins, 19-year-old girls and 14-year-old boys.
“The cemetery was in deplorable condition when we came here,” said Mrs. Storey. “You couldn’t see the headstones for the grass, that’s how high it was. It was Mother’s Day, the end of May. The archdiocese got flooded with complaints that year.”
The 50-acre cemetery, according to Father Maskell, dates back a century and has had about 15,000 burials.
He said Mr. Storey was the only full-time employee at the time of his firing and acknowledged he was anxious to have him leave.
The priest noted that the Anne Arundel County social services department has said the family could be put into “emergency housing if necessary,” and he offered to continue the family’s health insurance for several months “to ease the burden.”
“I can’t replace Mr. Storey as long as he stays in that house. … The heating, fuel, electricity, water and sewerage, insurance coverage -- that’s all part of the remuneration,” Father Maskell said.
The Baltimore Sun is republishing archived coverage of the unsolved 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, which is the subject of a Netflix documentary series set to debut May 19. Cesnik, a 26-year-old Baltimore nun, was reported missing in November 1969 and her body was found in Lansdowne in January 1970. These stories appear as they were originally written in The Sun or The Evening Sun.