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New Convent Goal of Parisville, Historic U.S. Polish Settlement 1   

PARISVILLE - Although it is generally accepted that Parisville is the oldest Polish Settlement in the United States, there is no factual historical data to support that claim since hazardous fires have destroyed all records.  According to Father Pare, however, in his The Catholic Church of Detroit, "A sparse group of Poles came to Huron County as early as 1848 and the Parisville mission had its beginning in 1852."

The first of the pioneering priests and "Apostles of the Thumb District" were Fr. Lawrence Kilroy of Detroit, who soon replaced by Rev. Julian Maciejewski, and followed shortly by Rev. Joseph Krutell.
Actual assimilation began around 1858 with the coming of Rev. Peter Kluck, born in Sypniewo county of Walcz.  The original document dates back to July 1, of 1857.  At the request of Bishop Lefevere, he laid the foundation for St. Mary's Church in 1858.  His report to the Chancery office after one year of hard work is revealing:  (1) not one cent of income;  (2) total inventory - one set of violet vestments.

Since there was no church, the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered in the spring of 1858 in the log house of Anthony Slavic. 

Father Kluck built the first log chapel on the spot where the present shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands, 1,000 feet west of the present rectory.

Father Kluck's health failed by 1863 and he left for Mexico.  He died in 1878.  Parisville was now totally without spiritual help.

Fr. Francis Briefkopf of Berlin, Canada was instructed to assist the colonists from time to time, until the people built a larger St. Mary's Church and a new rectory.  This church was built on the spot where the present shrine of St. Rock stands.

Fr. Simon Wieczorek, C.R., relieved Father Brietkopf upon assuming permanent pastorship.

Just as the parish began to show signs of promise, the historical fire of 1871 ravaged Manistee, Holland, Forestville, Parisville and a group of other little colonies, which completely disappeared.  Father Wieczorek sought refuge in his Detroit mission field.  Fr. John Dziurowicz was sent to replace him, but his stay was short lived.

Fr. Joseph Musielewicz came in 1874.  He began the building of the second church in June 1875, and saw its completion by October of the same year.  Next Pastor, Fr. John Graca, held the post till 1884.

Meanwhile a second dreadful fire of Sept. 5, 1881 raged from Saginaw Bay to lake Huron leaving sixty miles of devastation and rubble.  Father Graca nearly lost his life in the heroic attempt to save his church.

Pooling their resources, St. Mary parishioners commenced reconstruction of a new church, school and rectory.  The Immaculate Conception Church stands to this day as a monument to their courage and zeal.

Among priests who labored at St. Mary's were:  1884 - Rev. Constantine Domagalski;  1887 - Rev. Albert Sulek;  1889 - Rev. Leopod Moczygemba;  1890 - Rev. Peter Rodowicz;  1893 - Rev. Casimire Wolajtys;  1908 - Rev. John Mueller;  1923 - Rev. Joseph Folta;  1926 - Rev. Contantine Dziuk;  1932 - Rev. Joseph Koper.

Fr. Leopold Moczygemba deserves special mention in that at his invitation, the Felician Sisters came to Parisville in 1889 to conduct the school.  They are still at their post today after half a century of hard work amongst the children.  To date 20 young ladies from Parisville have joined their ranks.

The residence of Father Wolajtys was totally destroyed by fire, Feb. 6 1902, but it was immediately rebuilt and the result is a fine and modern brick rectory.

Father Wolajtys is also credited with the erection of a beautiful shrine in honor of St. Rock, located between the church and rectory.

Father Joseph Koper arrived from Hilliards in 1932.  Toward the end of his pastorate he supervised the cleaning up and landscaping of the cemetery. 

His great project was the building of the crucifixion monument in the cemetery, which was blessed on Memorial Day of the year 1946.  In 1948 Father Koper was transferred to St. Florian in Standish.

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Crucifixion Monument Committee members

Of the living pastors we have Rev. Michael Kujawa and Rev. Ignatius Woloszyk.

The interiorly renovated church and the newly built ranch-type school are Father Kujawa's monumental works. But he saw that school without providing transportation would be a failure, hence Father Kujawa bought two buses and a garage for this purpose and a house for the custodian.

Considering the short term that he stayed here, the accomplishments are praise worthy, for he was installed June 15, 1948 and left the parish June 23, 1953.

The successor of of Fr. Kujawa at St. Mary's is Fr. Ignatius J. Woloszyk, who was installed pastor June 24, 1953.

Greater internal improvements in the church are attributed to Father Woloszyk's effort.  There is much evidence of beautiful handiwork and carpentry done in the church.  The confessional, artistic altar rail, new floor, new pews and recently installed lights changed the whole internal appearance.

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Interior of the old St. Mary's Catholic Church

New expensive bronze candle sticks replaced the old.

Even the external received a new garment as the preparation for the Centennial, which took place in 1958.

Besides this, many improvements were made at the convent, including pews, altar and artistically inlaid candle-sticks.

Father Woloszyk also supervised a $35,000.00 improvement in the rectory. 

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The much talked about improvements attracted visitors from all over the state.  The purchase of three new buses (valued $18,000) in the last three years added to the improvements.

With the untiring efforts and excellent management of the pastor the parish mortgage of $65,000 has been paid.  The total improvements plus the paid debt represents a value of $140,000.

A new convent is now under construction.

The last of the achievements of the people of Parisville is the Shrine built in honor of the Immaculate Conception on the occasion of the Centennial.  The shrine is of unique design and built from field stone brought by the people themselves.

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Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Vocations:  sisters since 1952 - (Total 19);  brothers - 2;  and Seminarians - 2.

1  "New Convent Goal of Parisville, Historic U.S. Polish Settlement," The Catholic Weekly,  Sunday, August 18, 1963
     (provided to me by:  Marian Wodwaska)

Fire Levels Historic Church At Parisville 2

Fire of undetermined origin leveled the historic St. Mary Catholic Church at Parisville Tuesday night as hundreds of parishioners looked on helplessly, many of them weeping, at the loss of the venerable and tradition-steeped building of worship. 

Firemen from five Huron County departments, no match for the wall of intense flames that spread almost instantly through the church, confined their efforts in saving the rectory next door and the church school and convent across the street.

Standing fast against the stifling intensity of heat generated by the fire in the (undecipherable) year old wood frame church, firemen poured hundreds of gallons of water on the brick rectory, which nonetheless sustained superficial damage in terms of broken windows and damaged walls.

Across the street, firemen hosed down the convent and church school while others mounted the roof to kick off burning debris which was carried across the street by a moderate west wind.

Rev. Stanley Surman, pastor of the church for less than a year, was away when the fire broke out around 8:15 p.m. and the rectory and church building were unoccupied.

Across the street, the two nuns assigned to the parish, Srs. Mary Gerald and Mary Maschal, were in the convent watching television.  Sister Mary Gerald noticed a glow outside the convent window and looked out where she saw the fire, which appeared to have originated in the steeple tower. 

The nuns did not call firemen as the fire had been noticed first by a passerby who already had summoned the Ruth Fire Department.  Subsequently, firemen from Ubly, Minden City, Harbor Beach and Bad Axe were also called in as a total of nine fire fighting units converged on the scene.

Ronald Booms, who lives near Parisville, noticed what he described as "smoke or steam" coming from the steeple and attempted, with a companion to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.
Ruth Fire Chief LaVerne Hanselman said Booms was unable to reach the source of the fire.
Flames towered into the dark autumn sky visible as far away as Bad Axe and perhaps further.

Some rain fell before the fire and lightning was sighted on at least two occasions.  Some speculation is that a bolt of lightning may have struck the church steeple.

At least one parishioner questioned whether the fire might have started in newly-installed wiring placed in the steeple to accommodate an outside lighting system for illumination of the spire.
Steeplejacks have been completing extensive work on the steeple roof and chimney of the church.  Their truck and fifth-wheel travel trailer, which had been left parked beside the church, were towed away by firemen to prevent their catching fire.  A quantity of items were also removed from the nearby rectory and attached garage.

Parishioners lined Parisville Road, many of them wiping tears from their eyes, as the church where their baptisms, first communions, confirmations and marriages took place was consumed by the raging flames.

"It's like losing our home," Mrs. Ernest Peruski said.  "We were born and raised here."  The Peruskis live two miles from the church.

Historically, it was the third time St. Mary Catholic Church had burned.  Twice before, during the fires of 1871 and again in 1881, the building had been lost to fire.  The structure lost Tuesday night was built sometime after the 1881 fire.

Unofficial estimates of replacement costs range in the area of $200,000 to $300,000.

Historians have been at work recently chronicling the evolution of the church and the Polish-Catholic settlement it began serving in the early 1850's.  There was perhaps one other such settlement founded ahead of Parisville, that being located in Texas.

Efforts to reach Fr. Surman by telephone Wednesday were unsuccessful.  What the future plans are for church activities and the possibility of new construction are unknown at this time.

Some sources close to the parish council said they wanted a little time to recover from the shock of losing their church.

The church school was closed Wednesday, but was not damaged and will probably reopen this week.

2  "Fire Levels Historic Church At Parisville," Huron Daily Tribune,  Wednesday, October 22, 1974, front page

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St. Mary's Catholic Church before the fire of 1974
photos scanned from the 1970 Parish book

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Burning of St. Mary's Catholic Church - Parisville, Michigan

Tuesday, October 22, 1974
Photos taken by Diane (Oberski) Gaston

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Remains of church
The chimney & bell are all that remain of the old church

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St. Mary's Catholic Church today

St. Mary's Museum

The log house shown below serves as the St. Mary's Museum.  It was built around 1875 by Michael Maikrzyk.  It is a structure of hewn red pine logs, corner-notched rigid, with a  shingle roof. 

The cabin was originally located two and a half miles north of its current site.  The Anthony Jezak Family bought the log cabin in the 1930's and sold it to their daughter, Sabina Susalla, in 1945.  The home and an acre of land were both purchased for $1,000.00.

The log cabin was donated in 1978 and moved to the current location in 1979.  (North of St. Mary's Catholic Church on Parisville Road).   

The cabin opened in 1981 as St. Mary's Historical Museum, but closed in 1986 due to lack of interest.  In 1989 the parish took it over and that's when the primary caretakers, Pat Vogel, Bea Kubacki and Clem Ulfig stepped in.  

The church owns the land and the log cabin.

The three made several repairs to the building and changed the theme of the museum.  Antiques are more the emphasis instead of historical documents.

The cabin once had three or four rooms downstairs and a loft, but the bottom area is now one open room and the upstairs is closed off.  The original floor still remains.

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St. Mary's Museum - Parisville

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