Established in 1883, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church was known as the church that served the Polish Catholic faithful.
Where it all began . . .
“The Church Home – This photograph, circa 1890, is of the old church home on Chisholm Street. Built in 1866 and named St. Bernard’s, it was Alpena’s first Catholic church and served all members of the faith until 1883, when the parish split into three groups. The Polish Catholics found their own church, the St. Bernard congregation built a church almost directly opposite this one on Chisholm, and the old church home became the property of the French congregation. ”
St. Anne Church: 100 Years & Counting
Fr. Francis Shulak and Fr. Joseph Kucinski, another Polish Jesuit from Chicago, formed a committee of 150 families and purchased the vacant Methodist Church on Dock Street (now Second Avenue) for the sum of $2,000. Title to the property was signed on July 2, 1883. The people worked hard to gather the needed supplies and funds to furnish their new church. Within six months, the renovations were complete and the first Mass was celebrated on December 8 in the Polish Catholic Church of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
The First St. Mary School
The first St. Mary grade school was a two room structure built in 1888 on the newly purchased lot 10 in block 83. It was staffed by Fr. Sklorzyk and a lay teacher, Mr. Snick.
Fire of 1888
Unfortunately, Alpena and the developing community of St. Mary’s met with disaster in the form of a terrible fire on July 11, 1888. Burning refuse from the lumber mill of H.R. Morse had ignited a sawdust covered road and then traveled to a sawdust heap. A large fire commenced on the north side. It destroyed the church, the rectory and 200 neighborhood houses. Miraculously, only one person was killed. Mrs. Ann McLean, who had come from Buffalo to visit relatives. The Alpena Weekly Argus gave the following account:
“When the fire swept down to Dock Street, blazing brands set fire to the steeple of the Polish Church, and soon that part of the structure was a mass of flames and presented a striking sight. The steeple was on fire before the main part of the church, and looked like a pillar of fire shining through the smoke clouds.”
All parish records were burned. The parishioners, a determined people with a remarkable work ethic, had a new home built for their pastor by the end of the year.
The people launched a series of fund-raising projects and on June 1, 1889 the first payment was made on the new church foundation.
The increase in the number of children demanded a new and larger school. The search began for a religious order of sisters who would accept the responsibility of educating the children while preserving the traditions and values of their parents. This work was accepted by the Felician Sisters of Detroit who sent four of their nuns who arrived by boat on September 3, 1891.
The dedication of the new church, built for $19,000 with a seating capacity of 666, took place on October 1, 1893.