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Helpers: How John Monaghan and his crew keep tradition alive at St. John’s Cemetery in Garson

‘Our cemetery crew is a very caring, self-motivated group of volunteers deeply committed to making things better in the community’

John Monaghan believes it is teamwork and a group’s synergy and drive that brings people together to accomplish great things. The beauty and serenity of St. John’s Cemetery in Garson is testament to the dedicated team of volunteers making a positive difference in a community they cherish.

Monaghan, who recently turned 74 and has lived his entire life in Garson, has taken care of the local cemetery for the past 40 years. Much of that commitment has been as a volunteer during his retirement from Falconbridge Limited.

He and his wife, Normina, have two grown children: Kerri, a principal with the Rainbow District School Board, and Mitchell, an underground miner with Glencore Canada. The entire family has had a hand in helping Monaghan with cemetery work and events for the past 25 years. 
“I’ve had many important role models in life, beginning with my late parents, Gertrude and Herbert,” said Monaghan. “They instilled in me and my eight brothers and sisters that people should always be willing to give back to the community in which they were raised.” 

The Monaghan kids certainly fulfilled that duty all the way into adulthood. During his career as a planner with Falconbridge, Monaghan decided to give back to his hometown in a very hands-on way, by getting involved in maintaining the local cemetery. Taking over that role from his brother, Shane, in 1980, Monaghan started off working alone, but over time established a team of volunteers with a variety of skills and work experience. 

Today, they are a group of 17 friends working together to keep St. John’s Cemetery clean, manicured and well-maintained.

“Our former priest at St. John the Evangelist, the late Father Mathieu, often said, ‘You can tell a town by the condition of their cemetery’. Our cemetery crew is a very caring, self-motivated group of volunteers deeply committed to making things better in the community,” said Monaghan. “We all have family buried here so there’s a vested interest in keeping the property in good condition, just like Father said.”

Although Monaghan oversees and participates in maintenance and repairs, he reiterated that he only organizes what needs to be accomplished. 

“We’re all in this together, and that sense of community is what gets things done. People invest their hard-earned money in a funeral and burial, so it’s important they feel comfortable and cared for visiting the gravesites of their loved ones.”

The mandate of the St. John’s Cemetery and its supporters is “keeping tradition,” a commitment embodied in the cemetery’s annual BBQ fundraiser. 

Residents and out-of-town visitors look forward to attending this event, which has been held every summer for the past several years. 

“It’s like ‘old home week’,” said Monaghan, adding the event is “a heartwarming reunion of sorts because people reunite with old friends, get together with family, visit the gravesites and enjoy an afternoon of camaraderie, entertainment and good food.”

This year, the St. John’s Cemetery fundraising BBQ will take place on June 28 from noon to 3 p.m. funds raised will be donated to Maison McCulloch Hospice. 

“The crew takes four solid days to prepare this event. We make certain all 38 areas of the cemetery are in pristine condition and all the benches are spic and span.”

Moving forward, Monaghan is confident the cemetery is in good shape for the long term. He expressed sincere appreciation for the ongoing support that the team receives from the city’s Cemetery Division and the many local businesses that have contributed toward helping improve and maintain the property. 

“The annual BBQ is our way to say thanks to all the supporters of St. John’s Cemetery and who have supported our team so strongly over the years.”

John Monaghan’s Words of Wisdom: 

“It’s not just one person that makes things better in a community. It’s amazing what great things you can achieve as a team. And, never forget the mentors and coaches who have made a difference throughout your life. Make it your duty to help others just as they helped you.”

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to


About the Author: Marlene Holkko Moore

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