Written and up-dated by Janet Ruddy
The story of St. Michael Parish, Maple Grove, is a story of sacrifice and generosity. It is a story of times of peace and times of great strife. It is a story of great accomplishments in the face of severe adversity. But most of all, it is the story of a Faith that has endured for 132 years.
The history of St. Michael Parish began with the arrival of the first permanent settler, Joseph Voith, a devout Catholic. He was born in Bavaria, Germany, March 10, 1832, and in 1852 had come with his parents to Winchester, Indiana. Hearing tales of large tracts of unsettled land farther north, he left home and with $300 and an ax, arrived in Maple Grove October 14, 1854. He found a wilderness of virgin forest and marshy land broken only by a few Indian settlements on the sandy knolls. He immediately purchased 160 acres of land at 18½ cents an acre and worked hard clearing 60 acres of it. He never married.
For thirteen years he lived alone in a small log hut he had built in the wilderness. This hut was located at a site just east of the present church, about in the middle of what is now Ferden Road. One of his nephews, Frank Andres, said that he walked in from Flint, and as he went along he counted the surveyors stakes in an attempt to build his log cabin in what he then determined to be the middle of his 160 acres. He had to cut a road six miles long through timber and swamp to reach civilization. Bear, deer, wolves and other game were very abundant and provided the only fresh meat he could obtain. Due to the extent of the swamps in this mosquito infested land, water covered the land until late June so that only the knolls could be planted. So, the first settlers lived mostly on game and fish.
By 1857 Maple Grove had grown enough to be organized as a township. Although there is no written record of why the name was chosen, it is thought that the large number of maple trees in the area is probably the reason for the choice of “Maple Grove.”
Now that the territory was an organized township, many new settlers moved to Maple Grove, and first among them, in October of 1862, came George Henige, brother-in-law of Joseph Voith. After observing the good soil and hearty people, he decided he liked this entirely new country he found here. So he partly contracted for a 140 acre farm, returned to Ohio to sell his farm there, and with his wife, the former Anna Voith (sister of Joseph Voith), and two children, returned to Maple Grove in February of 1863. Their arrival marked the second milestone in the history of St. Michael’s Parish, for George Henige was a persevering and determined leader in establishing the Catholic Church in Maple Grove Township, although he encountered great difficulties in organizing and guiding these Catholic settlers towards building their own church.
In 1863, George and Anna’s third child, Louisa, was the first white child to be born in Maple Grove Township. Since there was not yet a church in Maple Grove, she was baptized in Flint. In 1879, at the age of 16, she married Peter Andres and lived her entire life in Maple Grove. She was the only child of George and Anna Henige to remain in Maple Grove. Louisa died September 21, 1952, at the age of 89 years. Her last grandson, Frank Andres, died in September of 1996. One of the finest gifts these earliest settlers could have passed on to future generations of St. Michael’s Parish, apart from their devotion to God and their Catholic Faith, was a diary kept by Anna Voith Henige and her daughter, Louisa Henige Andres. This diary, written in German, contains invaluable details of the day to day and year to year struggle these early pioneers faced in eking out a livelihood, establishing their Parish, and building their first church. Another extraordinary piece of good luck came as the Parish began preparations for the celebration of its Centennial Anniversary in 1965. The Pastor at that time was Father Michael Wolf, and he was fluent in German. Father Wolf spent many hours translating excerpts from the diary that helped to expand statistics in the Church Annals and facts found in histories of Saginaw County by James Cook Mills and another by Chas. Chapman & Co.
Also arriving in February of 1863 were the William Walser and Joseph Angst families, William and Joseph being brothers-in-law (and this writer’s great-great uncles.) All three families lived initially with Joseph Voith in a house he had by this time built south and east of the present church on what is now Lincoln Road. Joseph Angst later purchased a 40 acre farm on the corner of Ferden and Briggs Road and lived there with his family his entire life.
On March 1, 1863, the Sunday after the arrival of Henige, Walser, and Angst, these three Catholic families, along with Joseph Voith, gathered for the first prayer service. Since there was no weekly Mass on Sundays in the area, and the people felt they should attend some religious service, they agreed that it would not be improper to attend some Protestant service under these circumstances. And so for a time, William Walser, Joseph Angst, and later George Hirschmann (who did not arrive until August, 1864) attended the Methodist Church (either in Saginaw or possibly in this area – records unclear), and George Henige and Joseph Voith went to the “Church of God”. Ecumenism having not yet arrived in the area, the common complaint of these struggling Catholics was that “the preachers scolded against everything Catholic”, and it was then that they swore, with the help of God, to establish a Catholic Church with St. Michael as its protector. They had been encouraged, as early as St. Patirck’s Day, March 17, 1863, by a Doctor Cunick who came from Flint, to purchase a place for building a church.
The first Mass recorded in the annals was celebrated at the home of George Henige, with the five Catholic families present, on Easter Monday, April 17, 1865. This is the date St. Michael’s celebrates as its anniversary date. Father Louis VandenDriesche, who had been appointed as Pastor of St. Mary’s in Corunna with other missions at Oakley (then called Brady) and at Chesaning, was the celebrant. The house in which this first Mass was celebrated is located on the east side of Lincoln Road just south of the present church, and was the home of the Joseph Andres family until Mrs. Andres’ death in 1994. Joseph, like Frank, was a son of Peter and Louisa, and a grandson of George and Anna Henige.
On July 25, 1864, in New Haven at Coltmans (this might have been New Haven which is west of Juddville and southwest of Maple Grove, or it may have been New Haven, Michigan, bordering Lake St. Clair near Marine City) a mission was conducted and George Henige went there and asked the priest to give a mission in Maple Grove. On July 10, 1865, the first mission was held and 45 souls came 10 miles to attend. It was during this mission that the first Catholic children were baptized in Maple Grove. Father Louis VandenDriesche (on the records he signed L. Vandriss) came from St. Mary’s in Corunna to administer the Sacrament of Baptism to John Walser, George Henige, Anna Leibe, and two children of Julius Schultz (Louis and Emily) from the Mission Parish of Albee.
More and more Bavarians who had migrated to New York and Ohio continued to arrive, and as they did, plans for the first church progressed. Among those arriving were Valentine Gewirtz and Matt Walser (September 5, 1865), Anthony Henige, George Keeler, Casper Indlekofer, (this writer’s great-grandfather), Michael Martin, Joseph Weisenberg, Carl Scherer, Joseph Hollerbach, Constantine Hollerbach, Casper (Kaspar) Amman, Henry Andres, Peter Andres, Marcus Sutter, Daniel Gross, Joseph Artmann and others.
The faith and determination of these early settlers was evident as the congregation was being organized. They cleared woods for a church site at the present old cemetery location. Julius Schultz promised to deliver to the mill “pine blocks” (logs) for the church. Later Mr. Conley promised his best cow for a beginning of the church. In September of 1865, George Henige promised $300 as means to build a church. Joseph Voith promised a bell on condition that the congregation and Henige make a contract for building the church. So, on October 12, 1865, Ableson began building the first church.
Troubles ensued and the church was not finished until 1867. On May 13, 1866, Mass was said in the new church for the first time, although it was not completely finished, by Father VandenDriesche who had arrived at midnight of the preceding evening from Corunna. This is a memorable date in the history of St. Michael’s, Maple Grove. The next month the new bell arrived, and on June 24, 1866, George Henige vigorously rang the bell for the first time calling the people for prayer and confessions. Their joy was short lived. Before that same day had ended, they stopped the building: no more funds to build with. It was not until 1867 that, amidst all the strife, the church was finally completed. It was described as “a frame church 26′ x 36′, 20 feet between floor and ceiling, a steeple 26 feet above peak of roof.” It was the first church edifice erected in the township of Maple Grove.
Meanwhile, priests continued to come from Corunna to minister to the mission at Maple Grove. After father VandenDriesche came Father James P. Berentzen (1867), who had mission churches at Owosso, St. Johns, Chesaning, Oakley Maple Grove, Gaines, Ovid and Antrim. Father Ignatius Richert served from 1869-1871. He in turn was replaced by Father Kraemer (1871-1877). In l871 father Kraemer moved the church out of Corunna and established St. Paul Parish in Owosso, so that Maple Grove then became a mission to Owosso along with Brady, Chesaning, St. Charles and Albee. Then came father James Wheeler from Owosso, and Father Joseph Reiss (1877-1882), a most beloved Priest from Saginaw Sacred Heart, and Father Ebert (1882-1883).
These early Catholic settlers understood the need of an education for their children. As early as 1876 a parochial school was established in the church building. A cloth was thrown over the altar, the teacher stood in front of it, and the students sat in the pews. They taught reading, writing and arithmetic, as did the little public schools in the area, but they also taught religion. Lay teachers hired to teach the children were Marcus Sutter, Casper Amman, Albert Klaes and N. Yenn.
In 1883 the Holy See established the new Diocese of Grand Rapids. Thus, Saginaw County became the southeastern boundary of the new Diocese. In this same year, November 23, 1883, the new Bishop, Joseph Richter, established St. Michael’s, Maple Grove, as a parish with its first Pastor, Father Nicholas Irmen, who stayed until August, 1889. Father Irmen had missions at Albee, St. Charles, Oakley and Chesaning. He resided at the Michael Martin home until a rectory was built.
During the time that Father Reiss was still serving St. Michael’s as a mission parish, the membership had increased beyond the capacity of the original little church. Marcus Sutter donated land on the site of our present church, and in 1883 the cornerstone of the second church was laid. Construction was completed under the Pastor ship of Father Irmen. In 1883, at the time of the building of the second church, there are few references to be found. However, an article in the Chesaning Weekly Argus on April 6, 1883, related that: “The Roman Catholics of Maple Grove will erect a church 40×80 with a confession room to be added on behind this season. The job is to be let soon.” Two other sources show that the devotion, determination and generosity of the people of Maple Grove as they began this new endeavor did not waver from that of those first settlers nearly twenty years earlier. In an article published by Twin Township Tales, Issue #26, “Excerpts From Letters Sent To Germany”, a former parishioner, Franz Joseph Loewen wrote “We already have 40 thousand feet of lumber to build a worthy house for the Lord in Heaven. . . It will cost us every cent we can raise to bring this work to completion.” And in the “Amman History: The Ammans of Early Maple Grove, Michigan”, we find this interesting observation: “Editor’s note #4 ‘Kaspar didn’t have any money to make a suitable donation. So he sold a cow for about $25 and donated that to the church.’ Now this was half of his dairy herd. So that’s what could be called serious tithing & giving until it hurts. The Kaspar referred to was Kaspar Amman, one of the teachers in the first Parochial school (and this writer’s Great Grandfather.)
In personal notes left by earlier Pastors of the Parish we find that Joseph Voith also helped to build the second church. They say that Voith, besides helping to build the first church and donating “a fine church bell to call the congregation to worship,” also helped to build the second church, and was very generous to St. Michael’s Parish throughout his life. Upon his death, he also left a bequest for the second rectory and the present church. A fine stone mausoleum in St. Michael’s Cemetery enshrouded his remains until it crumbled and had to be removed in 1954. In 1966, the Twin Township Historical Society erected a lovely wood marker at the site in the cemetery marking Voith’s grave, and Frank Andres placed below it a headstone honoring the first settlers, Joseph Voith and George and Anna Henige.
As more and more settlers moved into this new unsettled territory, the little church building serving as a school was no longer adequate and it also became necessary to build a larger school. As work on the church was being completed, work also began on a new two story school building under the guidance of Father Irmen, and both the church and school were completed in 1889 by Father Gustave Graf who replaced Father Irmen as pastor that same year. This school was built on the site of the present two story school building. Rudolph Studer was the teacher from 1887-1902 with Miss Mary Walter as assistant teacher for nearly ten years – 1891 to May 20, 1900 – when she died. Miss Lucy Reckard was assistant teacher from 1900-1902.
The next Pastor appointed was Fr. Aloysius Weissteiner who served from 1891 until his death in May 1916. He was a saintly priest, full of kindness and understanding, and during his pastorate the spiritual life of the parish flourished. He planted the faith deeply into the hearts of his people, and his influence is felt to this day. During his pastorate many young people left the parish to dedicate their lives to the service of God as Priests, Brothers and Sisters, in several religious communities. He introduced the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids as teachers in charge of St. Michael School in 1902. Although he often said that he was no financier and builder, he remodeled the rectory as a convent for the Sisters and built a new rectory with bequests left by Joseph Voith, Miss Mary Walter, and an unknown benefactor. The large classrooms in the school were divided into five separate rooms, but the school lacked proper heating and there was considerable danger of fire. The average attendance was about 180 pupils with 10 grades. In 1912 the school was enlarged. A stone foundation was placed under it and the basement provided a social hall. New stations of the cross were erected in the church, a furnace was put under it, and a pipe organ was put in for $750. The first church was torn down in 1910 to make room for an extension of the cemetery so they could sell lots, since only single lots were sold before 1910. When his health began to fail, Father Weissteiner asked for an assistant. Father Gofrey Lenzen arrived in November of 1910 to assist him until his death on May 16, 1916. Father Weissteiner was buried in St. Michael’s cemetery and a beautiful monument, still there today, was raised over his grave – a gift from his congregation. On it are inscribed the words “Our Beloved Pastor.”
Father Frederick H. Ruessmann was appointed Pastor before the end of the month. He began immediately to place the parish on a sound financial footing and brought about many improvements around the grounds and in the various parish buildings. Sidewalks were built, a lighting plant, a water system, and plumbing were installed. With the rapid growth of the parish, the church became inadequate and Father Ruessmann directed his efforts toward the building of a large permanent church.
Many stories and much information are available from this era. Many of the older people who have lived in Maple Grove all their lives remember the building of the present church. Articles in the Chesaning Agrus, a weekly newspaper of the day, follow its building progress from the laying of the foundation until the triumphant day of June 29, 1922, when it was dedicated.
The second church was moved back – to the west- and in October of 1919, the laying of the foundation of the new church began. Mr. Fred Henige of Saginaw had the contract for the cement work with Mr. Edward Indlekofer of Maple Grove to do the stone work. Mr. Andrew Fenske of Bay City was the general contractor, but Father Ruessmann retained the right to hire and fire. The foundation was finished in April of 1920. Richard Turnwald of Maple Grove remembers his father telling that the church is actually ten feet narrower than it was planned. They apparently made a mistake in laying the foundation and didn’t discover it until the foundation was completed. Father Ruessmann’s housekeeper, Katie Bishop, boarded the cement masons from Saginaw in the school basement. She fixed up quarters for them, putting in cots to sleep on, and cooked all their meals. She would order her groceries by telephone from the store at Layton Corners and Joe Bishop, only 15 at the time, would drive Father Ruessmann’s Dodge touring car down to pick them up. The masons would go home on week-ends.
Once the foundation was finished, work on the church stopped until May of 1921 when the cornerstone was blessed. Joe Bishop, who was still living and 92 years old in 1997 when this history was put together, remembers that the problem confronting the parish was that the Second World War had just ended, and wages were too high. Although the people of the parish donated most of the work for the construction of the church, some of the skilled work had to be hired at $3 for a 10 hour day. Father Ruessmann, who (some of the old timers recount) “always got $1.50 value out of every dollar he spent”, wisely waited one year to continue the building. So it was not until May of 1921 that the cornerstone was laid. Joe Bishop was a student in the High School typing class at that time, and he typed up the names of all the members of the Parish to place in the cornerstone.
The people of the Parish did not stand idly by during that year, however. Articles in the Chesaning Argus tell of church dinners, picnics, school plays and plays with local talent, where money continued to be raised for the church fund. It is evident from accounts in the paper that they had a good time as they worked together toward their worthy goal. We even read about fat men’s races and fat women’s races (with the winners proudly announced in the paper!)
The frame of the church was constructed from trees donated from the woods of the area. They were hand cut and hauled in by teams of horses. The finished oak flooring and wood trim inside the church was purchased from George Wendling. This lumber was hauled with John Yaklin’s Model T truck to Saginaw to be planed and sized. Large elm trees from Matt Wrocklage’s woods were used to construct the large pillars that line each side of the middle pews in the body of the church. Each pillar actually has a tree inside around which the pillar is constructed. In those days the brick was double laid (an inside brick and a finished outside brick). The inside brick was hauled by horse and wagon from Clio, which took all day, and the outside finish brick was trucked in from Montrose. Joe Bishop remembered helping his dad split the stones that were placed over the stained glass windows. They used a 12 pound hammer to do the job.
Because the bell was going to be consecrated (blessed), the tower that held it had to be constructed to very exacting specifications. The walls had to be two feet thick of solid concrete. To haul all that mortar up into the tower, Joe Bishop says that they used Mike Streng’s horse (some say it was a blind horse), with a rope and pulleys to hoist the mortar up. Art Streng, Mike’s son, liked to joke about all the trips he made up and down the isle of the church with a horse! At the top of the steeple is a 16 foot copper cross put in place by Sam Bueche, a local lad from Flushing who took on the job when the long-awaited steeple jack didn’t show.
The windows, beautiful stained glass from Munich, Germany, were cut and leaded in by John D. Raleigh. John came to the New Lothrop area in 1921 from Kentucky to marry Merritt Walter. John learned the lead and glass cutting trade after his service in World War I and then decided to stay and make his home in the New Lothrop area. The windows cost $400 each, and the parishioners who donated them were honored by having their name imprinted in the glass. The windows, now deemed priceless, are among the most striking characteristics of St. Michael Church. Father Ruessmann purchased and paid for the altar himself, costing around $3,000.
Artists were brought in from Saginaw to paint the beautiful pictures which still highlight the ceiling of the body of the church. Marie (Wendling) Wrocklage remembers the artists boarding at her parent’s home while they worked on the project.
Because the people of the parish had donated so much of the materials and labor, the finished cost of constructing the church was $70,000 and it was fully paid for by the end of 1923. The beautiful church is a monument to the work of Fr. Ruessmann and to the generosity of the people of St. Michael’s congregation. The old church was torn down and the people doing the work were allowed to take home anything they could use.
According to articles and a picture of the new church which appeared in the Chesaning Argus of June 29th and July 6th, 1922, the new church was dedicated with services beginning with Solemn High Mass at 9:30 a.m. on June 29th, 1922. It was called an ”impressive” service with Rt. Rev. E.D.Kelly, Bishop of Grand Rapids, in charge, and about 50 visiting priests present. The Bishop called the church building “one of the most beautiful churches of the Diocese on account of its solidity of construction, its perfect symmetry, its purity of architecture, its shapely drawn lines and pleasing outside appearance.
Festivities included the ladies of the Parish serving a “most sumptuous dinner” at noon, and consecration of the bell at 2 p.m. The bell, which had been donated by George Friedle, was described as “a beauty weighting 2500 lbs. and costing $1000.” Today it still rests secure in the consecrated belfry that has held it for all these many years.
Father Ruessmann is also remembered as bringing some much-needed discipline to the school. He was a big man, and when he pounded on the desk and thundered “I’ll break every bone in your body”, some of the smarter errant teenage boys of the day took note. Others, however, found that he was not above carrying out his threats. It is said that after one such encounter, an intimidated young man left, not only school, but his home and the community too! Since the settlers of Maple Grove were almost solidly German, for many years German was taught in the school along with English. However, both Joe Bishop and Edith Amman recall that during the World War I area, this German speaking community was perceived by some outsiders as being disloyal and unpatriotic. So German was dropped and from then on only English was taught in the school. The patriotism of St. Michael’s Parish need never have been called into question. It gave three of its finest in the service of its country – Leo Gasper who was killed in Russia the day the First World War Ended, Nov. 11, 1918; Ernest Breier, who was killed on a training flight January 18, 1943; and Bernard Eickholt who was killed in France July 31, 1944.
Father Ruessman continued to keep the Parish on a strong financial basis, but advanced age and ill health compelled him to resign in November of 1927. Father Anthony O. Bosler was appointed as fifth Pastor of St. Michael’s Parish on December 6, 1927. With the church now provided, Father Bosler turned his attention to the needs of the school. One hundred eighty pupils in ten grades occupied five rooms of the frame structure. Heating and fire safety presented problems. Work on a new school began in about a year with the people again contributing a good share of the labor. The cornerstone was laid in 1929 and although the Great Depression struck, construction of the 62×130 foot building with an exterior of red wire cut brick with Bedford limestone trim and a split stone foundation, was completed in 1930. Because of donated labor, the cost was just over $80,000. Parts of the interior, landscaping, and a 48×90 foot gymnasium were completed at a later date. By 1937, with 230 pupils in 12 grades, St. Michaels claimed one of the finest rural parochial schools in the land. It was a fitting tribute to Father Bosler, whose first love had always been the children of the Parish.
Father Bosler was a great sports fan, and once the new gym was constructed, for which Father Bosler donated his own personal savings to finish the interior, he brought athletics, especially basketball, to St. Michael’s School. The one thing the teams of St. Michael’s were always able to count on, was that Father Bosler would be at the games rooting for their win, or if the game was too close for comfort, he would be pacing up and down the hall of the school, or the sidewalk in front, saying his Rosary for the success of “his” team. For nearly 40 years, under his coaching, and then George Quaderer and later Harold Diebolt, the athletic prowess of St. Michael’s Maple Grove was known state-wide.
The burden of operating the school in the depression years was lightened when in 1931 the public school board assumed that responsibility by leasing the building and hiring Sisters as well as lay teachers to staff the school. Father Bosler was Superintendent of the school until 1944 when George Quaderer was appointed. From 1937 to 1950, St. Michael School enrollment doubled from 230 to 480 students.
On February 26, 1938, His Holiness Pope Pius XI separated sixteen counties of the Diocese of Grand Rapids and the Archdiocese of Detroit to form the new Diocese of Saginaw, thus making St. Michael’s Parish a part of this new Diocese. When the Holy Father signed the decree of erection, he appointed Msgr. William Murphy, D.D., pastor of St. David’s Church Detroit, to be the first Bishop of Saginaw Diocese.
The parish population continued its steady rise in the thirties. Maple Grovers purchased farm land in nearby Shiawassee County. As farmland became absorbed, the upcoming generation was compelled to seek a living by going into the industrial fields in Flint, Saginaw, and other nearby towns, but continued to establish their homes in Maple Grove and the nearby villages of New Lothrop and Montrose.
By 1949 the school had become too small to handle the ever-increasing number of school children. So, in that year a $75,000 wing of four classrooms, two offices, and two lavatories was added. A new convent at a cost of $125,000 was also completed adding to the already outstandingly beautiful set of parish buildings. Both buildings were constructed by Trier Construction Company of Saginaw, with Franz & Spence, Architects.
Father Bosler’s priestly worry was the school. As the country’s economic status improved, secularist influences increased demands for the removal of Sister-teachers from public schools. Father instituted plans to revert the elementary grades to the parochial status. The public board would provide their own kindergarten through high school.
Father Bosler was assisted with his parish duties beginning in October, 1946, by Rev. Paul J. McGraw. Rev. Olin J. Murdick served as assistant pastor from June, 1948 to June, 1950. Rev. Albert McEvoy followed him until April, 1951. The Franciscan Fathers of Saginaw supplied week-end help after Fr. McEvoy’s departure. After 25 years of undying service to St. Michael Parish, on December 4, 1952, following a late November heart attack, Father Bosler died at St. Mary’s Hospital in Saginaw. He was buried in the parish cemetery next to the grave of Father Weissteiner.
Anticipating the need for a new rectory, Father Bosler before his death had set aside approximately $30,000 for this purpose and had engaged Frederick Wigen & Associates, Architects, to draw plans. His pet priestly worry was obviously the school, and he had worked tirelessly for the educational and spiritual growth of the people of St. Michael’s. In his will, he left over $7,000 to be used for the needs of the Parish. This money was kept in a trust fund until 1977 when it was used to erect a 46×72 foot pavilion in his memory, which is used for various parish functions, family reunions, picnics, etc.
The Most Rev. William F. Murphy passed away on February 7, 1950, and on March 28, 1950, the Most Rev. Stephen S. Woznicki was appointed Bishop of Saginaw Diocese by Pope Pius XII.
In January, 1953, Bishop Woznicki appointed Father Michael Wolf was appointed the sixth Pastor of St. Michael Parish. In April of 1953, shortly after Father Wolf’s appointment, the Michigan State Department of Public Instruction conducted in Maple Grove and investigation of school board members , teachers, Sisters and children, without benefit of legal counsel. As was pre-determined, Maple Grove Public School was declared “sectarian” because of “living statues” teaching therein. The Department’s original encouragement for the establishment of a public school was changed to an unexplained refusal. The department’s action proved to be a blessing. With faith and generosity, the people set to the task of financing a complete 12 grade school program free and God centered.
For the next fourteen years Father Wolf guided the parish through an outstandingly successful period of building accomplishments. Even in the face of the severe school problems which beset the Parish in 1953, the people of St. Michael’s, with Father Wolf at the helm, proceeded without hesitation on the $27,000 task of repairing and redecorating the church, exterior and interior. Construction of a new rectory began in the summer of 1954 and was completed the following year. It provided two offices with adjacent supply closets and record room, complete quarters for assistant and housekeeper, guest room, two meeting rooms in the basement, pastor’s bedroom and bath, living room, dining room, kitchen and service rooms.
Also in 1954, it became necessary to do something about the condition of the cemetery. The headstones of some of the first settlers were badly deteriorated, and the stone mausoleum enshrouding the remains of Joseph Voith was crumbling. The decision was made to remove the crumbling headstones as well as the mausoleum, and they were buried in a large hole in the cemetery. A huge boulder marks the spot. This was the second time that unsightly markers had been removed from the cemetery. Joe Bishop remembered that in the early 1920’s, he had helped remove markers, mainly wooden crosses and metal signs, whatever the people of those early days could provide. And so the graves of many of our early St. Michael ancestors lie unmarked and undisturbed in a grassy area in the south west corner of the cemetery.
The exact date of the first grave dug in St. Michael cemetery is not known, but the circumstances surrounding it are still talked about by some of the older members of the parish who heard it from their parents. George Hirschmann, one of the original five settlers, was having a barn raising, one of the many ways the farmers in those days helped one another to survive and prosper. His son, about 10 years old, was hit on the head with a beam and died. All work stopped, and then they realized that there was no place to give him a Catholic burial. So he was buried on the church property in back of the church, (the first church on the west side of Lincoln Road), and it was the beginning of St. Michael’s Cemetery. Until 1910 only single graves were sold. It was then that the first church was torn down, the cemetery extended, and family lots were sold. In 1954 an additional five acres of ground were purchased on the East side of Lincoln Road from Mrs. Joseph Gross. Edward Bitterman became the first person to be buried in the new cemetery in December of 1955.
Even in the days of long ago, before telephones and daily papers could spread the word of the death of a parish member, there were ways that people knew. When neighbors would see Kaspar Amman walking the two plus miles to the cemetery, with his pick and shovel, they would say, “Someone must have died, there goes Cap Amman to the cemetery.” And for many years, perhaps until the time that Father Bosler died, whenever someone in the Parish died, the church bells would be tolled. As the doleful peals drifted across the quiet countryside, farmers in their fields and farm wives at the clotheslines knew that one of their own had gone home.
In 1958 it again became necessary to provide more room for the still growing number of school children. Bulging classrooms had forced the first grade into the public school, and this became a signal for additional building. The Church Committee and a newly formed building commission decided to chance the debt involved in a new high school. The playground was needed as a site for the new school. Three parishioners, Mr. and Mrs. Alphonsus Bishop, Mr. and Mrs. Norbert Wendling and Mr. and Mrs. Wencz Yaklin, donated about five acres of ground which was not available for a price, to provide a playground area. With Morris & Wesolek as architects and Englehardt construction of Bay City as general contractors, construction was begun in April1958. By the end of 1958, a fine modern eight room high school facilitating 200 high school students was ready for occupancy. It consisted of four home rooms for the four grades, a library, well-equipped commercial room, domestic science room, spacious foyer and corridors, offices and service quarters. Construction and furnishing cost $250,000.
In 1964 new shower rooms were added on to the gymnasium at a cost of $40,000. A new pipe organ had been installed in the church in 1960 and in 1965 the sanctuary was remodeled with beautiful new marble altars, just in time for St. Michael’s Centennial Celebration.
Periodically throughout his tenure as Pastor, a priest assisted Father Wolf in parish work. Rev. Carlos Sodi spent the winter of 1954 and 1955 at St. Michael’s between summer duties with the Mexican Apostolate. He was succeeded by Rev. Aristodemo Rodriques for eight months. “Rev. Lawrence Greiner served for two years from May, 1958 to May, 1960; Rev. Emmett Fitzpatrick from September, 1960 to November, 1961. Father Anthony J. Elfrink, a Holy Family Missionary working in this area, helped out at intervals during 1964 and 1965, and Fr. Greiner again returned in 1965.
As enrollments continued to increase at St. Michael’s, and with the organization of St. Michael’s Athletic Association, new interests grew in sports such as football, baseball, wrestling and track. These, together with the basketball played in the gym, make it necessary to improve the shower facilities. In 1964 new shower rooms were added onto the gymnasium at a cost of $40,000. In 1965 the beautiful set of school buildings provided for an enrollment of 604 students staffed with six lay teachers and fourteen Sisters.
As 1965 approached (the 100th anniversary of the first Mass to be offered in Maple Grove), the people once more sought some worthy sacrifice of love to offer to God. At the suggestion of Father Wolf, it was decided that nothing could be a more appropriate offering than to remodel the sanctuary in accordance with the Liturgical Renewal. A new pipe organ had been installed in 1960, and now the badly worn old altars were replaced with beautiful new marble ones. The people felt that in contrasting these new altars with the simple table in the of George Henige so long ago, they were symbolizing before God the contrast between the beautifully fertile and prosperous Maple Grove of today, and the wild and non-productive swampland that greeted our forefathers 100 years ago.
On August 25, 1965, a special Mass of Concelebration marked the end of the first 100 years and the beginning of the second. The Mass was led by Father Wolf who was joined by Father Clement Sigmund, Father Henry Eickholt, Father Paul Ruddy, and Father Robert Knieper, all son’s of St. Michael’s. A centennial celebration followed in the school gymnasium for all members of the Parish.
CONTINUING THE HISTORY OF ST MICHAEL’S PARISH
The Beginning of the Second Hundred Years
1965 – Present
When Father Wolf was transferred in 1967, Father Joseph Schabel became the seventh Pastor of St. Michael Parish, followed in 1970 by Father Eugene Seidenwand who became the eighth. These were years of division and turmoil in the parish because of the cost of operating the school. When the doors were closed in 1971, it ended 95 years of a proud tradition in St. Michael Parish and was a bitter defeat for many. The beautiful high school building was eventually sold to a private citizen and renovated into a 19 unit apartment complex.
In June, 1975, Father Jack Gentner was appointed Pastor. By this time it was evident that the church was in desperate need of renovation. Because the church, built of local materials by the parishioners themselves, meant much to the community, it was determined that the basic structure should be preserved. Construction began in the fall of 1976. A new front entrance and a ramp entrance using field stone and brick which matched the original church were utilized. Inside, a new reconciliation room, rest rooms, an altar boy and choir robe room, a bride’s and ushers’ room, and a work room were added. New carpeting and pews were installed. Plaster was repaired, and the entire church was repainted. The bell from the original church and the marble from the side altar were incorporated into a sign for the front of the church. The project was completed in the spring of 1977 at a cost of $300,000, and a rededication ceremony was held.
It was also during the time that Fr. Gentner was pastor that the convent was renovated into parish offices and meeting rooms. This gave the parish a much-needed center for administration. Also during these years the Good News Center was built in New Lothrop. It is a building serving yet today where Religious Education classes are held for students participating in the released time program.
When Father Gentner was transferred in 1982, Father -Robert Navarre became Pastor and served until July of 1988 when Father John O’Callaghan was appointed. One of Father O’Callaghan’s first decisions was to rent out the two story school building which had been standing empty for a number of years. The building is once again a hub of important activity where school is held for adult developmentally disabled people of Saginaw County. Father O’Callaghan began immediately to make some much-needed repairs to keep the beautiful church in good repair. In addition to roof and other repairs, it was painted inside and out.
Father O’Callaghan, with his Pastoral Associate, Sister Dena Baron, fostered a genuine spirit of Ecumenism with the congregations of the Protestant Churches in the area. Catholics began to experience and be comfortable joining fellow Christians several times a year for worship, fellowship and mission activities. Also, with the formation of a Strategic Planning Commission, St. Michael’s of Maple Grove joined with Chesaning Our Lady, St. Mary’s Albee, and St. Michael’s Oakley to foster a spirit of sharing between the parishes. This culminated in a very successful 4-parish Mission in 1996.
On April 17, 1990 (the exact date of the First Mass) the 125th Anniversary of St. Michael Parish was celebrated with a special Mass and banquet. At this celebration the three longest married couples of the Parish were honored: Joseph and Genevieve Bishop, Frank and Margaret Andres, and Felix and Tillie Meyers.
Father O’Callaghan initiated the idea of having St. Michael Parish become a Michigan Historic Site with an historical marker to grace the beautiful grounds of the church. He asked Janet Ruddy to begin working on the project, and Janet, working with Ruth Hemgesberg, the Parish Secretary, completed and submitted the necessary history and paperwork. On July 18, 1996, St. Michael Church and School complex was listed in the State Register of Historic Sites as Michigan Historic Site No. L1982. On Sunday, April 13, 1997, in remembrance of the First Mass celebrated 132 years previously, the new Historical Marker gracing the front lawn of the church was dedicated and blessed by Father Don Dueweke. Honored were the longest married couple in the Parish, Walter and Florence Gross, married 64 years; as well as Joe Bishop, oldest living male member of the Parish at 92, and Edna Bitterman, oldest living female member of the Parish at 106. Present were most of the remaining 11 out of 80 members of the Confirmation Class of 1922 which took place the day the present church was dedicated.
Father Donald Dueweke had become Pastor of St. Michael’s in 1994 upon the transfer of Father O’Callaghan to Hemlock, and began serving the 750 families of the Parish.
Throughout the years, the people of St. Michael Parish had been known for their kindness and generosity in helping one another during difficult times. In 1980 however, with the encouragement of Father Gentner, and under the direction of the Christian Service commission, an entirely new kind of Christian mission was undertaken. Reaching out far beyond the boundaries of the parish, they sponsored a displaced family from Laos. Acclimating this family, a father, mother and six children – none of whom spoke English – to their new homeland required the help of not only the commission, but of many volunteers throughout the Parish. People lovingly turned out in force to lend support. In 1981 the parish welcomed another family, this time from Thailand. Both of these families were eventually able to become self-supporting and move on to other localities.
In 1990, at the urging of Father O’Callaghan, the Parish decided to adopt another Christian service mission. A daughter of St. Michael Parish, Sister Margaret Mary Birchmeier,O.P.,R.N., has labored as a missionary in Chimbote, Peru for now over fifty years. In support of her labors there, the Parish decided to adopt her as its own special Missionary. A “Fifth Sunday” collection four times a year is taken up and the monies sent directly to her for her work in Chimbote.
The St. Michael Catholic Church complex has always been a focal point for the community in Maple Grove Township. The church steeple can be seen for miles across the flat farmland, just as in its earliest days when the community centered around its church. Through the years, with the building of the three churches and three schools and the upkeep of all the Parish facilities, many people have donated land, labor and skills to make and keep St. Michael’s Parish so beautiful.
The donation of land to the church is especially noteworthy when we consider how precious farm land is. We have already mentioned several such donations. In 1982 a former child of the Parish, Kathleen Eichkholt Spodney, donated 1.24 acres of land directly south of the church for a desperately needed and much appreciated parking lot.
One young man, Jim Beckman, son of Joe and Joyce Beckman, gave more than just his time and talent. While helping other volunteers to paint the trim of the church during Father Gentner’s time, he fell from the eaves and was badly injured. He lost an eye but was quick to tell his Dad, “That’s O.K., I have another one.” Lawyers, who were in hot pursuit of business when they got wind of the story, were shocked that their persuasion could not produce a law suit. Jim later died of other causes.
That a Parish the size of St. Michael’s can offer so many programs and maintain such beautiful facilities, with only the Pastor and a very small staff of paid employees, is indeed a tribute to its many volunteers. In addition to the many sacrificial deeds already spoken of, throughout the years a host of other people have also served. We have had, and continue to have, dedicated Religious Education Teachers, both in the regular and the developmentally disabled programs. One of the very first volunteers for the Religious Education program who (in 2011) is still active in the SPRED program is Marie Wrocklage who gave years to both regular Religious Education as well as SPRED. Many others have served as choir members, organists, Eucharistic Ministers, Lay Ministers, lay proclaimers of the Word, parish council and commission members, Befriender Ministry members, and as participants in many other parish functions throughout the years that would be too numerous to recount.
And so we can see that the story of St. Michael Parish, besides being a story of buildings and programs and accomplishments, is also the story of its people. It is the story of a dedicated people who have passed on to each succeeding generation the heritage of the seeds of Faith planted so deeply by those determined forefathers who settled Maple Grove and established our beloved St. Michael Parish.
My thanks to all the people who have shared stories with me as I worked on this history and the two that preceded it in the Parish Centennial Books of 1965 and 1990. (Additional information on the Parish can be found in these books). Thanks especially to Catherine Kline who wrote the first history of the school; and to Frank Andres and Joe Bishop, both now deceased, who so graciously gave of their time in sharing facts and memories that helped to weave the picture of early days in Maple Grove, and especially in St. Michael Parish. If any of you have additional stories or pictures, please share them with me for future additions to the history.
MORE TO FOLLOW AS THE HISTORY OF THE PARISH FROM 1999 TO PRESENT DATE IS COMPILED.