Tending to family

By: AMANDA CREGAN The Intelligencer

The baby who was once abandoned is now the woman who refuses to abandon the McCarty family's history.


Time has etched away the names and dates delicately carved into these old stone gravestones, but Rosanne McCarty knows each one of them.

Though the woman was adopted as an infant, McCarty says she has dug her roots in.

"Most of all these graves here, the old ones and the new ones, are all my old relatives," she said, as she walked the cemetery grounds of Old St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Haycock.

Dating back to 1743, the cemetery is among the oldest Catholic parish cemeteries in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The church is the site of the oldest Catholic Baptismal record in North America, when Albertina Kohl was baptized in 1741, according to records McCarty has gathered.

Among these pre-Revolutionary War graves and ghosts (and yes, there are ghosts, says McCarty), are the whisperings of her family and many of Upper Bucks kin, like Fries, Geigel, Haney, Buck and Kohl.

The McCartys were Roman Catholic and emigrated from Ireland, seeking religious freedom. Patriarch Edward McCarty bought the 500-acre farm as part of William Penn's Walking Purchase in 1739, she said.

The family homestead is still there, just past the old church and over the stone bridge into Nockamixon.

The homestead still includes the Mass room - a great room where the early community gathered for religious services - and a private bedroom strictly maintained for traveling priests.

"They would light the fires on the hills to let people know the priest was coming," said McCarty.

By 1743, the community had established a cemetery on the hillside, just above Haycock Run.

It was 33 years before America would declare its independence.

Edward McCarty's mother, Unity, who was buried on the family farm in 1741, was reburied at the new cemetery, becoming the first in Old St. John the Baptist Catholic Church's cemetery.

The circa 1798 stone church that was built adjacent to the cemetery grounds was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in 1855.

It's the third-oldest church in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The little white chapel remains today. With blue and gold interior trimmings, ornate stained glass windows, hand-crafted wooden pews and intricate, white alters with gold leaf trimmings, the chapel sits empty. Its old spirits only receive visits from McCarty and another caretaker from time to time.

"When they talk about history this is what you talk about," she said. "When you sit in these pews, it's almost like you can feel them here."

She has been pushing the clergy of the new St. John the Baptist Church in Nockamixon to open it up for weddings and funerals, but to no avail.

Taking care of this old church, for now, is a job McCarty has accepted.

The 66-year-old still lives in a house her grandfather built, just down the road.

The Ottsville woman shares her life with dozens of cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles. She is a life-long teacher, spending her career in schools in Easton, Quakertown Community and St. John the Baptist Parish School.

And though she spends countless hours tending the graves of her family and the old church where they worshipped, she is not truly one of them.

She was once a "boarder baby," explained McCarty, as she sat in a wooden pew, splashed by rainbow colored sunlight shining through the old church's stained glass windows on a hot, late summer afternoon.

As a newborn, her mother abandoned her at Sacred Heart Hospital.

She was among a generation of children that was left at the Allentown hospital. The babies were loved and cared for by the nuns, and even brought into the sisters' rooms at night and "boarded" until the nuns could find families in the area to adopt them, explained McCarty.

"They took care of me and nurtured me for five months," said McCarty, who was adopted at 5 months old.

And now the baby who was left without any family is surrounded by more family than most.

"There was always a connection. Now that I'm in my 60s, I now look at the path that came because of the nuns," she reminisced. "I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to be one of the McCarty family. It was a very safe place for me, always."

Rosanne McCarty is truly one of their own, said her 81-year-old cousin Helen Koenig.

"No one in our family at all thought about (the adoption)," said the Warminster resident. "No one ever talked about it. They say you get like a lot of the people you live with, she has some of the same traits as her (adopted) mother. It's amazing."

McCarty continues to invest her life in others.

"She does a lot of her own charity. She goes visiting people because they're old or they've lost someone. She keeps in contact with the nuns that taught at the school at St. John. She's always doing something for somebody," said Koenig.

As she continues to yank weeds, mow and brush fallen leaves off the headstones of the family that took her in as one of their one, McCarty knows that this will be the place she too will be buried.

"I belong here."

Amanda Cregan can be reached at 215-538-6371 or acregan@phillyBurbs.com


September 10, 2010