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Remember Garden Poem Dedication

May 20, 2015 (Rochester, NY) – May is Mental Health Month, a time to increase awareness to mental illness and erase stigma for the diagnosis that effects one in four people in America at some point in their lifetime. In an effort to maintain increased awareness to the plight of those with a mental health diagnosis and to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness, DePaul held a special event at the Remember Garden in Rochester’s Highland Park on May 19.

White carnations placed on a memorial plaque in the Remember Garden
The Remember Garden is a living memorial to those who died while institutionalized at the Monroe County Insane Asylum, Almshouse and Penitentiary, some 900 of whom were buried in an unmarked mass grave which was discovered at Highland Park in 1984. In 2009, a group of community members led by Gillian Conde, Vice President DePaul Properties, came together to plant a garden at the site of the grave.

“In the 1800s, this exact spot was known as the bone yard and from 1826 until 1873 the dead were buried here in unmarked graves with no records kept of their lives,” said Conde.

 Mary Lee Pifer At the May event, a plaque with a poem about the Remember Garden written by Mary Lee Pifer was installed and the piece recited by the poet.

“I was inspired to write this when I came for the Remember Garden dedication,” said Pifer. “The stones seem to speak to me and told me write this poem. I felt their stories needed to be told and they deserved the respect they were denied.”

In addition, Michael Keene, author of “Mad House,” which details the hidden histories of 19th-century insane asylums in New York, shared stories of lives lived in these institutions.

Sister Grace Miller of The House of Mercy concluded the event, which was designed to honor individuals as well as raise awareness, with a blessing for those buried at the site.  Sister Grace Miller, pictured with Gillian Conde

“The callous mass burial of people with mental illness, one on top of another, with no love, no compassion, no care, no heart, should never have happened,” said Sister Grace Miller, pictured with Conde below.

Miller further reflected upon injustices that currently exist in the world concluding, “I say to you, our work today is not done.”