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The History of St. Mary Catholic Church  (founded in 1878)

by Bill Van Wolvelaere


In 2003 St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church of Norway celebrated its 125th anniversary. In recognition of different nationalities comprising the laity of St. Mary's, events were scheduled throughout the calendar year that honored ethnic groups of the original church. A number of inspirational evenings were also featured. The year-long schedule of events concluded with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 7). The Most Reverend James Garland, Bishop of Marquette, was the main presider for the anniversary Mass. A dinner and program followed in the newly remodeled church hall.


In preparation for the milestone anniversary, St. Mary's parish had undertaken two capital campaigns that provided major changes in the church, rectory, and grounds. A paved parking lot adds to the convenience of church goers. An elevator makes the church handicapped accessible and air conditioning provides comfort on those warm summer days. Most recently the church itself has been redecorated.

Looking back 125 years, we find Norway in its infancy. The Norway Mine was the backbone of the locale. The investment in the business district parallel the optimism for this new community. Families of various nationalities were settling here, speaking different languages which was somewhat of a problem. A common denominator, however, was that many were Catholic and the Latin mass was familiar to all.

The story of St. Mary's actually begins in Quinnesec. Rev. Martin Fox, a Prussian priest, arrived there in 1877 and built a church in the community. At this time it was deemed that Quinnesec would have a bright future--later that became questionable when ore at the mines was found to be inaccessible. Father Rousseau, skilled in the organization of parishes, replaced Fr. Fox. He was not happy with the living quarters at St. Mary's of Quinnesec and moved his residence to Norway. He continued serving Quinnesec and became interested in establishing a Catholic Church in Norway.


In August 1879 Carl Wendel donated property for a church--"a large piece of land overhanging partly the deep cut of the Chicago Northwestern railroad tracks." By December sufficient money was raised and the lot was prepared for building. The first mass was held at Sancta Maria Immaculate on May 1, 1880. The first parish house was built next to the church--together their white frame edifices were an imposing sight overlooking the town.


Father Rousseau was transferred in May 1881. His successor Father Mozina in ill health remained a short time. He was temporarily replaced by a retired Bishop of Marquette. In May 1882 Father Orth arrived and served the parish for one year. It was during this time the church was enlarged by 20 feet.


In May 1882 Father Orth arrived and served the parish for one year.  It was during this time the church was enlarged by 20 feet to accommodate the growing congregation.


In October 1883 Father Martin Kehoe was appointed to served the 250 families of St. Mary's Parish with parishioners from Norway, Loretto, Vulcan, Sturgeon Mill, New York Farm, and outlying areas.  With the constant change of church leadership, the parish did not prosper as expected.  This was about to change.  Father Kehoe spoke fluent English, French, German and Italian and soon won the confidence and affection of the people.  He labored assiduously among them and laid particular stress upon the spiritual education of the future generation. He lobbied for a parochial school.


The parish was not in the financial position to carry out this plan, but through sacrifice and perseverance, the school was built on the  North side of the church and opened in September l888.  The Franciscan Sisters from Alverno, Wisconsin, taught from 1888-1895 followed by sisters of St. Joseph's from Concordia, Kansas.  Crowded conditions in the public school forced the school to remain open a year after the sisters returned to their mother house and was staffed by lay teachers.  The school closed in l902.


Between 1890 and 1900 five different priests served the Catholics at Santa Maria Immaculata. In 1904 under Father Joisten the first remodeling project was completed. The population of Norway had grown from 1,000 in 1879 to over 7,000 in 1904. Forty feet were added to the church as well as redecorating, new altars, stations of the cross, and stained glass windows.  Many of the windows, statues, and furnishings were gifts from early parishioners to perpetuate memories of their families and were later moved to the new church in l928.

During his service in Norway, Fr. Joisten succeeded in establishing very pleasant relations with the members of the parish as well as guiding and counseling them in their spiritual endeavors. A good rapport with the young people was one of his priorities often welcoming them into his home.  He also adopted three children from the Marquette Orphanage.  Fr. Joisten died suddenly in 1916 following a one-week illness. 

Father Hollinger came to Norway in 1916 and promptly went to work solving the remaining remodeling indebtness--about $2,000. In 1920 St. Mary's purchased a lot at the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue--Oliver Mining Co. then donated three additional lots.  Three lots were purchased from John Anderson on Norway Street--today, present locations of the church and rectory.  Hollinger served this parish for 6 years and was replaced by Father Edward Feldhaus.  Feldhaus was an avid sports fan who particularity loved basketball; in failing health he was transferred to Sault Saint Marie as an assistant pastor.


In l926 Father Erasmus Dooley was appointed pastor.  His stay was interrupted in 1937 with an assignment of a year and one half in Hancock.  He returned to Norway in September of l938.  He died August 23, 1948 suffering from complications of exposure to mustard gas that plagued him since his chaplin days in WWI.


Father Dooley is best remembered as an astute business administrator responsible for building and financing the new St. Mary's at 401 Main Street on the eve of the depression.  With meager parish assets he rallied his parishioners to build in the newer section of our city.  Many of the interior fittings; namely, communion railings, windows, confessionals, pews, the church bell and the wood flooring for the parish hall--were moved to the new church. Approximate cost was $75,000. Properties on Sunset Hill were sold to private parties for salvage.  

Oddly enough during the last Sunday Mass held at the old church, plaster fell from the ceiling  The constant rumble of nearby trains had taken its toll.  It was time to move.  Due to unsafe conditions, services were held at the new St. Mary's before it was completed.  In November of l929 Bishop Nausbaum of Marquette dedicated the new church--now to be known as St. Mary's.


The rectory at 203 Main Street, at the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue, was rented from Mrs. Molignoni and later purchased for $4,500.  The present rectory on Norway Street was built in l952 at a cost of $43,000.  An addition was completed in l965.

German born, Father Sebastian Maier succeeded Father Dooley in 1948.  With funds earmarked by Father Dooley, new pews were purchased.  Under Father Maier's direction, the church hall and kitchen were remodeled and the previously mentioned rectory constructed.  Religious education was of utmost importance--a year round catechism program for the youth included weekly classes as well as several weeks of summer school taught by the Catholic Nuns.  In l962 Father Maier celebrated his golden anniversary of his ordination.


After Father Maier's death in December l963, Msgr. O'Neil D'Amour came to St. Mary's to re-establish a Catholic School.  In September a study was undertaken to determine the feasibility of building and supporting a Catholic school. Conservative estimates projected costs to be $350,000 plus real estate and would eventually involve neighboring parishes of Vulcan and Loretto.


An election was held to choose a school board, an act reported to be the first of its kind in a Catholic parish in the United States. The first official Board meeting was held on February ll, 1965.  A 1965 fund-raising drive netted $130,000 in pledges and permission was granted by the diocese to build a Catholic school. Holy Spirit opened on October ll, 1966 (grades 3-6) staffed by Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit.  Dedication ceremonies were held on May l4, 1967. A 1967 census showed an enrollment of l52 students.


Msgr. D'Amour was also responsible for building the convent adjoining the school and for the 1965 addition on the church rectory.  Property for Holy Spirit school and convent on the south end of Saginaw Street was purchased for $25,000 from Hubert Hulquist. Holy Spirit remains operational today; however, the sisters left in l988.


Father Bares replaced Msgr. as pastor in l966.  Msgr. D'Amour died unexpectedly in l968.   


Father Elmer Bares served St. Mary's parishioners from July 1966 to July 1981.  A model priest, he became a mentor for a number of assistant priests:  1966 Rev. Leslie Borman, 1967 Rev. Anthony Polakowski, 1968 Rev. Joseph O. Gouin, 1971 Rev. Michael Shanley, 1973 Rev. Daniel Zaloga, 1975 Rev. Peter Carli, 1977 Rev. Guy Thoren, 1978 Rev. Michael Vichich, 1979 Rev. William P Callari, and 1980 Rev. Thomas L. Poisson.  In July 1981 Father Bares was transferred to Quinnesec to serve as pastor.  Father Poisson was also transferred--both replaced by Father Bill Richards.  It was the first indication of an impending shortage of priests in the diocese.


Father Bares was instrumental in the continuing success of Holy Spirit School.  It reached its peak enrollment in l970 with 229 students.  In l972 Phase I of a Church Improvement Fund was launched.  Pledges were sought to tuckpoint the exterior brickwork and install an oil furnace.  Phase II was completed in April 1976 at a cost of $35,000; it included interior decorating and rebuilding the front steps. Father Bares (l970) also assumed responsibility for the mission church in Quinnesec.


Vatican II mandated changes in the Catholic Church much to the chagrin of elders of the parish. Changes were made in the Mass and to many traditional Catholic practices.  The priest now faced the congregation and the Mass was celebrated in English.  Lay Leaders--Cantors--and Extra-ordinary Ministers of Communion were now opportunities for lay persons to become involved.


Father Richards served as pastor from July 1981 to August 1985.  His experience and outgoing personality brought continued stability to the parish.  In 1983 the Spring Fling, an annual fundraiser, was initiated--the first-year profits were in excess of $12,000.  In August of the same year, the first annual parish outdoor mass/picnic was held at Marion Park.


In September l982 Mark McQuesten, a seminarian, joined the parish as a part of his preparation for the priesthood.  Years later (1996), he would become the pastor and lead St. Mary's into the 2lst Century and to its 125th anniversary celebration.


In l985 Father Richards was elevated to Vicar of Priests in the dioceses and Father Peter Carli appointed Pastor.  He served St. Mary's until November of 1992.  During this time, a major church renovation was completed and the Knights of Columbus #9523 was founded.  Father "Pete" introduced the Polka Mass that for a number of years was very popular.


Following Father Carli's surprise exit from St. Mary's, Father Arnold Grambow was entrusted to clear the confusion and carry on the work of the church.  Rev. Father Mark McQuesten became pastor in l996 and continues today in that capacity.  Mr. Ronald LeMire was ordained the parish's first married permanent deacon on September 26, 2003. In preparation of St. Mary's l25th anniversary, the church and its environs have seen significant changes that make St. Mary's one of most beautiful churches in the Upper Peninsula.



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