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No plans for search despite evidence suggesting graves under shuttered Catholic school property in Tampa

The Diocese of St. Petersburg says all graves were moved. 10 Investigates found historical evidence that conflicts with that statement.

Emerald Morrow

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Published: 7:53 PM EDT August 11, 2022
Updated: 6:44 PM EDT August 12, 2022

The last seven years of Alexia Svejda’s search for her great-grandfather’s grave left her with more questions than answers.

“I started searching summer of 2014, and nobody knew about the cemetery," she said. "I tried every avenue I possibly could."

Her great-grandfather, Bernardo Alvarez, came to Tampa from Spain in the late 1800s and built a career in Ybor City’s thriving cigar industry. A gunshot wound cut his life short in 1907.

His family laid him to rest in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery off N. Florida Avenue in Tampa. Today, the Diocese of St. Petersburg owns the property, and the shuttered Sacred Heart Academy occupies the space.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
Alexia Svejda says her great-grandfather was buried in St. Mary's. She's convinced his grave was never moved.

A spokesperson for the diocese insists graves were moved before it acquired the property from the Diocese of St. Augustine in 1968.

Records do show some graves were relocated to a section of Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Tampa. But with death records suggesting anywhere from 400 to 800 or more graves from St. Mary's at some point, archaeologists and loved ones of those buried there say it’s a strong possibility bodies are still buried on the site.

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