History of St. Patrick's Catholic Church
Parnell, Grattan Township, Kent County, Michigan

The area that is now known as the Parnell parish has a history that goes back much further than the hundred and fifty years that St. Patrick's has existed. For
years before the 1840's, Ottawa Indians traveled back and forth across the present townships of Ada, Grattan, Vergennes, Cannon, and Oakfield. They settled on
the banks of the Flat and Grand Rivers and also on the shores of the area's many lakes and streams. Their trails existed between the modern cities of Grand
Rapids, Lowell, and Greenville. These Indian civilizations are remembered today only through the occasional uncovered arrowhead, smoothes stone, or legend.
Wabasis Lake in the northern reaches of the modern St. Patrick's parish takes its name from a great chief of these Indians whose fabled treasures are yet to be
In 1836, the federal government made a treaty with these Indians that would forever change these lands and people. The Treaty of Washington opened for
settlement all land north of the Grand River in Western Michigan. Slowly, the lands that were once Indian homes, trails, and hunting grounds became farms for white
families from the East. These new settlers first took up land closest to the Grand River and then gradually spread northward. By 1839, the first settlers were staking
out claims to land in what is now northern Vergennes and Ada townships and also in what is now cannon and southern Grattan townships.
For reasons that modern writers can really only speculate, a number of Irish settlers began to congregate in the area that later became Parnell. These Irish families
had always had a deep connection to the land, and when the English government deprived them of their land rights in their homeland, they traveled to America to
seek what they could not have at home. The reason that so many Irishmen found their new land and new homes in the Parnell area is partly a matter of timing,
partly because of geography, and partly due to the very earliest pioneers of the area.
As the Irish settlers began to move in large numbers in the 1840's, the land of today's Parnell was the best available land close to civilization. Railroads and plank
roads were being built into the area and the workers and travelers settled just past the ends of these roads. They took this land because its rolling hills and lakes
and streams reminded them a little of the green hills of Ireland. (Undoubtedly, they were more attracted to the hills of Michigan than the western plains which were
also being opened for settlement at this time.) Also, the government had assumed the obligations of the bankrupt Indiana Railroad and some of the workers were
paid with grants of land in the Grattan area.
Once the earliest settlers took up land in the area, they encouraged friends, relatives, and any other Irish men to join them in this area that they now called home.
One of the first settlers, Michael Farrell, worked his way through Michigan as a railroad foreman. Once he had established himself in Ada Township, he actively en-
couraged other railroad workers to settle there and helped them to acquire their first pieces of land. Other very early settlers: Dennis and William McCarthy, Richard
Giles and John Delaney among them; all worked to make the area into a community of independent Irish farmers: a sort of Ireland in miniature.
By the summer of 1844, at least twenty of thirty Irish families had settled in the area that is now Parnell. Aside from their devotion to their own land, their homeland
of Ireland, and their families, these Irish settlers had a true faith in the Catholic Church. The nearest Catholic church at the time was the mission at Grand Rapids.
By June of 1844, there were enough Catholic settled in the area that is now Parnell to make it worthwhile for the missionary priest to visit regularly to administer the
sacraments. This priest, Fr. Andrew Viszosky, would say Mass in the home of the settlers, most often at the home of Michael Farrell. (The wooden secretary that
he used as a altar at the Farrell home was passed down through the family and is now on display at the Grattan Historical Museum.) A turn-of-the-century historical
article states that thirteen families met in September of 1844 to discuss the establishment of a Catholic church to serve these Irish settlers. Another early account
states that these early settlers originally planned to build a church on Michael Farrell's property in Ada Township.
On December 7, 1844, yet another meeting of Catholic pioneers was held to discuss the proposed Catholic church. This meeting was to be the decisive event in the
founding of St. Patrick's parish. Fr. Viszosky and twenty-eight area settlers (some from as far away as Lowell) drew up a document as "the Catholik congregation of
the town of Vergines." The document from this meeting shows that a committee was set up and pledges were solicited from the building of a Catholic church. It
was decided that the church was to be built on four acres of land donated by Richard Giles in what is now the northwest corner of Section 32 of Grattan township.
This land is currently used as the parish cemetery. AT the time of the foundation, the location of the parish was referred to as Vergennes because Grattan town-
ship was not officially established until 1846.  In December, 1844, Richard Giles, Michael Farrell, William Byrne and Dennis McCarthy organized the erection of a white frame church in the center of the old section of the present cemetery.


Vergines, December 7th, 1844
Andrew Viszozkey…………………….6.25
Richard Giles…………………………..5.50
William Byrnes…………………………4.00
Dennis McCarthy………………………4.00
William Allen……………………………5.00
John Dornin……………………………..1.00
John Brophy…………………………….4.00
Michael Doyle…………………………..3.00
Andrew McDonel……………………….2.00
John Delaney……………………………4.00
William mcCarthy………………………3.00
John McCarthy………………………….3.00
John Mooney……………………………3.00
Patrick Sheahan……………………….1.00
Maurice Scanlon……………………….2.00
John Devine……………………………. 3.00
Timothy Howard………………………..3.00
Michael Farrel…………………………..5.50
Edward Devine (payed $2.00)…………3.00
Charles Babcock……………………….8.00
Wm. Murphy…………………………….2.00
Francis Murphy………………………….3.00
Daniel Marsac……………………………2.00
John Monks………………………………2.00
Charles Marsac………………………….2.00
Matthew McNamara…………………….3.00
Edward McCormick……………………..4.00
John McHughe…………………………..3.00
Patrick Fingleton………………………..4.00
Richard Giles, Denis McCarthy, William Byrnes, Michael Farrell
The money pledged by the founders of St. Patrick's was used in the construction of a log church which sat in what is now the oldest part of the parish cemetery. The
church has been described as follows: The building stood "lengthwise east and west with the altar in the east end. There was no belfry, but it did have a wooden
a wooden cross over the east end. There was one aisle up the center, with seats on each side. A heavy beam tied it together near the ceiling, and on top of this
rested the chimney from the heating stove." On March 4, 1845, this "pretentious building." as one historian called it, was dedicated. For the next fourteen years,
this log church served the ever-growing Irish population. The church became the first mission of St. Andrew's of Grand Rapids and therefore holds a position of
seniority over all other Catholic parishes in the area that is now the diocese of Grand Rapids. Fathers Viszosky, Lawrence Kilroy, Thomas Lyons, Charles DeCeuninck
and Francis Van Erp all served St. Patrick's from their station at St. Andrew's from 1844 until 1854. With Irish immigration to America continuing to increase (fueled
by years of famine in Ireland), the Irish Parish of St. Patrick grew as well.
By November of 1854, St. Patrick's Parish had reached the point where it needed a pastor of its own. The Bishop of Detroit was able to send Fr. Nicholas Stehle to
St. Patrick's, and the parish ceased to be a mission of St. Andrew's. By this time the parish's location was generally referred to as Cannonsburg or Grattan, the
location of the nearest post offices. Not much is known of Fr. Stehle or his time at St. Patrick's, but he is generally listed as the parish's first resident priest. There
are no records of a rectory existing until 1863, so it is assumed that Fr. Stehle boarded with parish families.
Fr. Stehle left the parish in June of 1855, and the vacancy was not filled until the following year. In the interim period Fr. Van Erp resumed his ministry to the parish
as part of his pastorate at St. Andrew's. Father William Quigly arrived in June of 1856 and remained until November of that same year. He is also generally referred
to as resident pastor. After Fr. Quigly's tenure, there was another year in which the parish was served by the priests of St. Andrew's. Finally, in the first months
of 1858, the parish welcomed a resident pastor, Fr. Henry Rievers, who remained for eight years. The arrival of Fr. Rievers signaled the absolute end of mission
status for St. Patrick's Parish.
Soon after the arrival of Fr. Rievers, the community and the pastor began to see that their small log cabin church could not meet the needs of the still growing
congregation. In 1859, Fr. Rievers assembled a committee to oversee the construction of a new church. The committee's membership included Fr. Rievers,
William Byrne, James Byrne, James Hefferan, and Dennis McCarthy. It was decided that this church would be 80 rods west of the first church, and it faced what is
now Five Mile Road. This location is today covered by the parking lot on the north side of the present church. The frame of this second church was raised in June
The Daily Enquirer of Grand Rapids contained some information about this church in its issue dated July 8, 1860:
The Catholics of Grattan, Kent County in this state have just completed their new church, which has been in course of erection for the last fifteen months. It is a
neat edifice. 85 by 45 feet, and 30 feet high. Fifteen years ago there were only three houses in Grattan; It has now a farming population for over one thousand, all
Irish, and owners of "the land they live on" Their pastor, Rev. Mr. Rievers deserves much praise for his untiring exertions in raising this monument to their faithful-
ness and piety.
Although the above article describes the completion fo the church in 1860, the parishioners could not occupy their new church and their new rectory (built at the
same time) until in 1863. It seems as though the parish and the contractor became involved in a dispute over some payment, and a legal battle ensued which was
described in the Daily Enquirer in December 1860.
A Church Dificulty
The Catholic Society pf Grattan have built a very fine Church edifice during the past summer, and have had some difficulty with the contractor. Our afternoon
contemporary states the cased as follows: Patrick Brady built the Church and the building committee, not being able to make the payments in full, allowed him,
according to contract, to hold and keep possession of the edifice as security for they balance of $350.00, his due on the work. Not withstanding Mr. B. held the
keys of the sanctuary, arrangements were made by the faithful. Priests invited, and the presence of Bishop LeFevre, from Detroit, secured to open and consecrate
the house on Wednesday last. Mr. Brady got wind of the proceeding and learned that the parties interested has a few days previous, broken into the house and
taken possession of it, and were thus prepared for the dedication ceremony. On the morning of the day fixed for the services, Mr. B. accompanied by officers
Granger, Dodge and Wright, for safety, preceded the priests and Bishop and took possession of the house, and held it against all persuasion and threats. The
consequence was that they didn't consecrate and the clergy returned to this city, leaving the laborer in possession of the structure.
Yesterday afternoon, the Bishop caused the arrest of Mr. Brady and the officers upon a writ of unlawful entry and detainer.
Bishop Lefvevre must have had the law on his side, because he won the court case, and the parishioners began to use their new church.
The pastorate of Fr. Rievers is important for St. Patrick's b because it laid the groundwork for all succeeding pastors and parishioners. One of Fr. Riever's most
lasting legacies is the parish picnic first organized during his years as pastor. These picnics evolved into the famous Parnell Suppers and current parish Festival.
Fr. Rievers was called by the bishop to the Muskegon missions in August of 1866. He succeeded as pastor by Fr. Patrick McManus. Fr. McManus was a very
popular pastor. He continued to excellent administration begun by Fr. Rievers, and he also endeared himself to the parishioners because, like them, he was a native
of Ireland. His parish continued to grow. The church built by Fr. Rievers became too small, and the congregation decided to add on to their church building. The
The south gable of the church was removed in order to elongate the nave of the church. While this construction was taking place, on August 22, 1868, fire broke out.
Legend has it that the fire was started by a spark from the pipe of Con McManus (Fr, McManus' brother). How ever the fire was started, its damage was great. The
church was totally destroyed. The parishioners met in their old log church to plan a course of action.
The first fact that the parishioners discovered was that the old log church was too small to use as a temporary meeting place. They decided to build a temporary
building out of rough lumber to use as a meeting place and church until a suitable edifice could be constructed. This temporary shelter was nicknamed a "wigwam"
by Father McManus. Once their wigwam was built, the people of the parish did not delay in planning for the new church. Bigger and better than the previous one.
They set up a committee comprised of John Flanagan, Terrance McGee, Timothy Scally, and Patrick Fingleton to oversee this project.
The new third church building was begun in 1869 and completed in 1871. It was constructed just east of the site of the second church, facing the present Parnell
Avenue. This building was one hundred thirty-six feet long and fifty feet wide, and it had a belfry and spire one hundred sixty-eight feet high. It was "lighted with
massive windows of stained glass." When this church was completed, the cost totaled approximately twelve thousand dollars, and it was considered "an honor to its
builders," "an ornament to the town," and "one of the finest frame buildings in the state.."
Soon after the third church was completed, Fr. McManus was sent to Grand Rapids to be pastor of St. Andrew's, and Father Patrick Tierney spent two years in the
parish and presided over a time of continued growth and prosperity. He was succeeded in October of 1873 by Fr. Bernard Quinn.
Less than a year after Fr. Quinn's arrival, the Church Committee of Denis Driscoll, Martin Doyle, William Farrell and Thomas Wynne issued a statement which
he statement praised the pastor for arranging a settlement of the outstanding debt from the construction of the third church. Among other things, the statement also
ed the establishment of a library society in May of 1874. After listing all of the important events and testifying to the sound condition of the parish books, the
committee summed up their general opinion by stating, "Father Quinn's management of our church has been the cause of peace and satisfaction to the congregation."
Within two years of the publication of the committee's statement on Fr. Quinn's first year, "peace and satisfaction" no longer existed in the community. A letter
written on September 16, 1876 by Bishop Caspar Borgess of Detroit to his superior, Archbishop William Elder of Cincinnati, described the situation that had come
to pass in the parish:
Last Sunday seven men of the congregation of Grattan came to Grand Rapids and in the presence of Revs. Ehrenstrasser, Ebert (CPPS) , Pulcher, and Schutjes
made affidavit, that Rev. B.A. Quinn has taught his people not to invoke the prayers of the Blessed Virgin and the saints; that Martin Luther was justifiable in what
he did, having been driven to it by oppression and tyranny; that he considers the High Mass a theatrical performance; that, if fathers and mothers knew about the
confessional and what he does, they would keep their daughters at home; and that the body of the priests and bishops are corrupt, and the Sisters and nuns are
whores. The witnesses who swore to those horrid charges are good Catholics and worthy of being believed as the priests in Grand Rapids assured, and therefore
I believed it my duty to suspend the Rev. B.A. Quinn.
Bishop Borgess further described the situation in a letter that he wrote in 1879 to Bishop Thomas Foley of Chicago:
I beg to state that B.A. Quinn has been in this diocese stationed respectively in Flint, Kalamazoo, and Grattan. In the last named mission he publicly taught heresy,
the fact having been verified by the testimony of eight men of the congregation, I suspended him. The day after he had received the letter of suspension, the church
and pastoral residence in Grattan were burned to the ground. Since that time he has revenged himself by a flood of abusive letters in which he advances such
atrocious charges that only a lunatic could invent them.
As Bishop Borgess' letter stated, the church and rectory were destroyed by fire on September 22, 1876. While many of the parishioners were at a dance at Duga's
Hall (this place later became the farm of Dan and Clare Byrne). The fire started, and by the time they discovered the fire on their way home from the dance, it was too
late. They found the church engulfed in flames, and the fire was spreading to the neighboring rectory. When they began pounding on the rectory door to alert Father
Quinn to the danger, the priest, most likely in a disturbed mental state, feared that the people had come to attack him. Only with much convincing did some
sympathetic parishioners convince Father Quinn to leave the rectory. They then took the priest to Lowell, and they never saw him again.
The Lowell Journal reported the fire on September 27, stating, "The Grattan Catholic Church was burned last week, and now they want to know who lit the match."
The Western Home Journal, a Catholic newspaper from Detroit, reported the fire and said, "It is thought to be the work of an incendiary." The exact cause of the fire
has never been determined.
Fr. Quinn's tenure at the Grattan parish was filled with contrasts. The pleasure shown by the Church Committee in 1874 turned to anger and sadness by 1876. The
parish records kept by Fr. Quinn were saved from the fire. They were very complete and clear (a treat for modern historians). But this same priest who kept such
good records had also left the church's fire insurance unpaid. Luckily for the people of the Grattan parish, the Bishop had discovered this lapse and had paid the
premium before the fire.
With the fire and the controversy surrounding Father Quinn, the parish had reached one of the lowest points in its history. The people, though, did not give up. They
remained strong in their Catholic faith, and they met in the old first log church to plan their future as a parish. Denis Driscoll presided over this meeting, and James
Gahan served as secretary. The assemblage decided that they first needed to rebuild the rectory in hopes that the bishop would soon send them a new pastor. A
building committee consisting of Denis Driscoll, Dennis McCarthy, Patrick Abraham, and James Jones was appointed. This committee reported on July 1, 1877 that
the new rectory was completed and paid for. The parish, though, was still without a new pastor.
Throughout the months while the new rectory was under construction, Dennis McCarthy had been writing to Bishop Borgess on behalf of the parish asking for a new
Unable to find someone to serve as a full time pastor, the Bishop in January of 1877 asked Fr. Andrew Leitner of Otisco (present-day Miriam) to assist the people
of Grattan in the building projects. The bishop instructed Fr. Leitner to not allow the cost of the new church to exceed six thousand dollars and also to make sure that
the church was rebuilt in the same place as the previous one. (There seems to have been some division among the people of the parish concerning the location of the
new church.)
On June 1, 1877, Bishop Borgess approved the plans for the new church, and work was begun. William Farrell, James Gahan and Dennis McCarthy served as the
building committee for this forth church (which still serves the parish today). This church was built on the same spot and to the same dimensions as the previous
church. The architects were Robinson and Barnaby of Grand Rapids, and the builders were P.W. Griswold and T.P. Fitzgerald of Grand Rapids. On June 18, 1877,
the builders signed the contract and began construction. Two months later, on August 15, Fr. Camillus Maes of Detroit blessed the cornerstone of the new church.
As construction continued through the fall and winter months. Bishop Borgess was finally able to supply the parish with a pastor of its own. Fr. John Lynch was
appointed on October 18, 1877, and Fr. Leitner was relieved of his administrative duties. During his pastorate, Fr. Lynch kept what he called a "Journal and Day
Book" and he recorded not only parish receipts and expenditures, but also important historical data. On March 1, 1878, Fr. Lynch wrote, "Paid building committee for
Contractors Fitzgerald and Griswold, being last payment on St. Patrick's New Church, Grattan, Mich." This last payment amounted to $1260. The total cost of the
church is unknown. On the same day, March 1, Fr. Lynch also recorded, " I received the keys of New St. Patrick's Ch. To-day from the building committee." The
church was soon ready for occupation. On March 16, Fr. Lynch paid John Murphy ten dollars for building an altar, and the church was ready to be used.
On March 17, 1878, Fr. Lynch recorded a momentous occasion in the history of the parish. "First Mass in St. Patrick's Chruch, Grattan by the Pastor Rev. John
Lynch. No glass being yet in the Ch. Windows."
Although Mass could be said in the church, as Fr. Lynch indicated, the furnishing was not complete. Over sthe next few months, Fr. Lynch recorded the purchases
of necessaryh furnishings. On March 29, he paid fifteen dollars to St. Vincent's Orphan Asyllum in Detroit for two altar stones. On May 27, he reported the arrival of
the first load of pews for the church from the manufacturer, R.T. Hambrook and Sons of Belding (These pews served the parish until the 1960's).
Parish life had returned to a normal state during Father Lynch's pastorate. Fifty-one children made their First Holy Communion on June 9, 1878. At the time Father
Lynch was replaced by Father James Savage in November of 1878, the first records of an altar society begin. Early dues were ten cents a month. Almost one
hundred women had paid dues by the end to the society's first year.
Fr. Savage completed Fr. Lynch's work of furnishing the church, and on March 25, 1879, Bishop Borgess came to Grattan to formally dedicate the church. The
Grattan correspondent, Margaret (Weeks) Lessiter, described the dedication in the Grand Rapids Daily Democrat on march 29:
The Catholic Church in Grattan township, was dedicated March 25, Annunciation Day, the interesting ceremony being performed by Bishop Borgess of Detroit,
assisted by Rev. Father O'Reiley of Detroit, and Rev. Father Savage, who for some time past, has been the officiating priest of this church, and is greatly beloved
by all his people. The dimensions of the church are 60 x 125 feet, the seats are elegant and easy, and will accommodate over six hundred people. The gallery is
above the main entrance and is situated back of the audience. The windows of stained glass are truly beautiful. I noticed that the names of those who had
borne the expense of each were engraved on the lower part of the window. It is intended to have the plastered walls finished with fresco, which with the addition of an
altar - the same one now being used is only temporary, will complete the imposing structure. On March 26, commenced what is termed "Forty hours' devotion",
conducted by four priests, services being held three times daily and concluded with Friday evening. Vast throngs of people have been in attendance each day.
Bishop Borgess returned to the parish on August 27 of the same year to bless a new bell for the church. The bell cost $215 and was paid for by a special collection.
Month after month, the parish account ledgers list improvements made to the buildings and grounds: windows purchased, the church walls frescoed, and the horse
sheds built. These improvements were paid for by a combination of the general income from pew rent, special collections, and fundraisers. A sewing machine was
raffled in March of 1880, and it made a profit of $190. Margaret Lessiter reported in one of her correspondence columns that "Mrs. Thomas Hughs drew the lucky
number." In December of the same year, a horse was the prize for a raffle about which lessiter wrote, "Mike Farrell of Ada drew the prize. The horse brought about
$500 which goes for shed-building at the church."
The construction of the horse sheds was actually completed during the pastorate of Fr. Thomas Flannery. Fr. Flannery was appointed in February of 1881 to take
the place of Fr. Savage who had been recalled to Detroit. During the two and a half years that Fr. Flannery was pastor, the parish continued to find ways to improve
itself, both spiritually and physically Margaret Lessiter reported about lectures and missions held at the church at this time. New altars were acquired in August of
1882. At about this same time, the people and pastor showed the strength of their faith during an incident described by Lessiter in the Lowell Journal, 8/11/1882:
Greatly as we dislike to pass "sweeping condemnations" on "our boys", still it is a sad fact that over thirty young men and girls "strangers" came to the Grattan
Catholic Church tow weeks ago Sunday morning, to have their own fun during services, laughing and talking aloud, and mocking the members in their devotions.
To the credit of Rev. Father Flannery, be it said he kept the even tenor of his way during the entire service, not noticing the offenders. To say the least these boys
and girls too were "lost to a sense of decency, know not the golden rule, neither regarded the sacred ties of humanity to say nothing of higher obligations.
A momentous occasion for the whole Church in Michigan occurred on April 22, 1883. On that day, Henry Joseph Richter was consecrated Bishop of the newly
established Diocese of Grand Rapids. Margaret Lessiter reported that Fr. Flannery and Patrick Keathing represented the Grattan parish at this event. St Patrick's
Parish was immediately transferred to this new diocese from the Diocese of Detroit.
Later that same year, one of the first priests to be ordained by Bishop Richter in Grand Rapids, Fr. James Cromley, was assigned to the Grattan parish. Fr. Flannery
was assigned to the Grattan parish. Fr. Flannery was assigned to Alpena, where he remained until his death. In the first weeks of Fr. Crumley's pastorate, the
church cornerstone was robbed of the coins, records, and papers which had been placed in it during its blessing in 1877.
During his first full year in the parish (1884), Fr. Crumley undertook a major fundraising drive in order to raise money for Stations of the Cross and a baptismal font
for the church. Over fifty families pledged from fifty cents to five dollars apiece to help purchase these furnishings. The Stations were purchased from Benziger Bros.
of Cincinnati for over four hundred dollars. (It is assumed that these are the Stations still in the church in 1994.) In January of 1885, Fr. Crumley also purchased a
pulpit for the church. All of these improvements were made with the full support of the people, even though their parish began the year with an eight hundred dollar
debt. Running a deficit for a number of years did not seem to bother pastor or parishioners as long as it meant that the church was being improved.
The pastor at this time also had responsibilities outside of this parish when the mission of Greenville was assigned to his care. Throughout Fr. Cromley's pastorate,
he had to spend some of his Sundays miles away ministering to the Catholic people of that city. It was not the first time that the Grattan pastor had such duties.
Fr. Lynch helped to found the church in Lowell, and he and his two successors, Frs. Savage and Flannery had charge of that mission in addition to their duties in
In Grattan in 1889, a collection was taken up on St. Patrick's Day for the purpose of purchasing a statue of St. Patrick. This statue was later donated by Thomas and
Mary (Byrne) Doyle. In 1890 Fr. Crumley noted in the parish ledger that he had paid $145 for replacing the cross on the church steeple. Over the next few years, the
parish succeeded in eliminating its debt, and it was ready to embark on a new project.
A new era for the Grattan parish can be linked to the events of January 4, 1889. On that day, a post office for the area was established. The area needed a name of
its own, and Fr. Cromley was the person who chose that name. The area became known as Parnell, after the great Irish orator and statesman. Charles Stewart
Parnell. The church was now officially at the center of a community of its own. No longer was it connected t and named after Vergennes or Cannonsburg or
Grattan. Now the parish became forever known as Parnell.
As the Parnell community continued to prosper. Father Crumley began to believe that the parish could support a school of its own. The bishops of the nation had
called for Catholic schools in every parish that could support them, and Fr. Crumley decided that Parnell was ready for a Catholic school. In 1893, Fr. Crumley
oversaw the construction of St. Joseph's Academy, and he contracted with the Sisters of Mercy from Big Rapids to teach the school. Classes opened for the first
time in the fall of 1893. (The details of this school and its successors up to the present will be discussed at length in a separate section.)
Fr. Crumley was reassigned to the Cascade parish on February 9, 1896. In the final years of his pastorate there seems to have been some split in the parish.
Disagreements over matters of personality and finance caused factions to be created and some parishioners finally refused to pay their pew rent. The matter was
eventually settled by Bishop Richter when he reassigned Fr. Crumley and appointed Fr. James Byrne as the new pastor of the Parnell parish.
Fr. Byrne immediately won the admiration and love of almost every parishioner in Parnell. He earned for himself the position of being one of the best loved pastors
in the parish's history. At the end of 1896, he recorded the following "Historical Data": "Father Byrne was appointed by the Rt. Rev. H.J.Richter Bishop of Grand
Rapids Diocese to take charge of St. Patrick's Church Parnell the 9th of Feb., 1896, and he came here the 12th of Feb., 1896, and found everything in a dilapidated
state. The Pastoral Residence was renovated, Barn rebuilt, new side walks and fences built, Cemetery, cleaned and fenced, School House repaired and painted. In
a word, all church property refurbished at cost of about $900.00."
Even after completing all of the improvements which he reported at the end of his first year, Fr. Byrne did not stop. He raised $131.50 in subscriptions toward
painting the church in 1897. At the same time, he also raised $176.85 toward the purchase of a new bell. The bell was forged at the Buckeye Bell Foundry of
Cincinnati, Ohio, and it cost $315. Bishop Richter blessed it on June 6, 1897. Alex McCann was then hired to install it in the church belfry. The names are
engraved on the side of the bell. James Gahan, J.J. McCarthy, George McCabe, Michael Downes, Edward McCormick, and Fr. Byrne. (This bell is still rung every
week to summon the parishioners to Mass.)
As the Twentieth Century opened, the parish was still constantly improving itself. More subscriptions were taken up among the parishioners for carpeting in the
sanctuary, new furnaces, roofing, and plastering. In 1905, the parish decided to undertake a major expense and build a modern school. When completed, the
cost of the new school was $7217.04. (More details on this school will be given in a later section.)
By 1908, the parish had a large church and a large school, but the cemetery was too small. Father Byrne arranged for the acquisition of the land directly south of the
cemetery in order to enlarge the cemetery. Unforeseen by him, Fr. Byrne became the first person to be buried in that new section of the cemetery. In the summer of
1908, Fr. Byrne became ill and traveled to Mercy Hospital in Manistee for treatment. He died there on August 10. the people of the parish demonstrated their love
for Fr. Byrne to all who came for his funeral services. Local newspapers devoted large portions of their front pages to descriptions of the events surrounding the
funeral. The Michigan Catholic guessed that Fr. Byrne's funeral was "probably the largest ever held in the country." Bishop Richter officiated at the Solemn Requiem
Mass. As he eulogized Fr. Byrne at the end of the mass, the bishop had to pause in his speech as he was overcome with grief. The executor of Fr. Byrne's estate
Fr. John Troy, figured the total funeral expense to be $385.90. In the months after Fr. Byrne's funeral, the parishioners continued to show their devotion be erecting
a massive Celtic cross above the grave of their beloved pastor.
The same Fr. Troy who was named by Fr. Byrne as executor of his will was named by Bishop Richter as Fr. Byrne's successor as pastor of the Parnell parish. Fr.
Troy was no stranger to the people of Parnell. In addition to being a close friend of Fr. Byrne, Fr. Troy's sister and cousin were members of the parish.
Fr. Troy immediately began projects of his own in Parnell. He solicited subscriptions for the construction of a new rectory. $6142.50 was raised for the construction
project. The fieldstone residence was begun and completed in 1910 at a total cost of $6274.20. Nellie Shine Alberts remembered her father, Tim Shine, coming home
the day after helping to dig the basement for the new rectory. He reported to the family that while digging the workmen had come upon the decaying body of a
horse. After this initial discovery, the building was completed without any other surprises. The old rectory was sold and moved to Gavin Lake Avenue (currently
the Seif residence).
Fr. Troy effected another lasting change for the parish when, in 1914, he traveled to Europe and purchased a new main altar. The next year, he also purchased a
baptismal font (the large font with the statue of St. John the Baptist on the top) and a sanctuary lamp (recently restored to a place in the sanctuary).
The passing of time continued to bring a new way of life to the people of Parnell. Fr. Troy was presented with a thousand dollar purse at the time of his silver jubilee
in 1916. He used the money to purchase an automobile, becoming the first pastor in Parnell history to drive a car. A very large celebration was held on the occasion
of this jubilee, and a large group picture was taken of all those in attendance. During the same month, Bishop Michael Gallagher also blessed the parish cemetery.
Bishop Gallagher appointed Fr. Dennis Behan to the Parnell Parish to replaxce Fr. Troy. Unlike Fr. Troy, Fr. Behan did not drive a car until 1925. By 1927, the use
of horse and buggy had become rare enough that the parish horse sheds were dismantled and sold.
Fr. Behan saw other changes in the parish during his years as pastor. The parish school expanded to twelve grades in 1919. In 1925, the interior of the church was
frescoed at a cost of $2100.00 in 1928, the church was wired for electricity, and the lights were first turned on for the graduation ceremonies. The church was able
to get electricity long before other rural areas thanks to the fact that a native of the parish, Frank J. McMahon was Superintendent of Lowell Light and Power.
Another improvement made during Fr. Behan's pastorate was the installation in 1926 of new stained glass windows. The previous windows had been installed soon
after the completion of the church in 1878. The new windows had a simple diamond pattern that can be seen in some old photographs. The new windows depicted
scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. Subscriptions were taken and windows could be donated by parishioners in the memory of family members.
The total cost of the current stained glass windows was $4655. The following list names the donors of the windows (as recorded by Fr. Behan) and the instructions on
the windows.
Sanctuary Windows
Cavanaugh Family: "James Cavanaugh & Family"
George and Joseph Gahan: "In Memory of James & Mary Gahan"
Nave Windows
Collection in Church "In Memory of Rev. James Byrne"
Nugent Family: "In Memory of Emanuel & Mary Nugent"
James Doran: "James Doran"
W.J. McCarthy: "In Memory of Denis & Ellen McCarthy"
Mrs. Tobin: "In Memory of John Tobin"
Farrell Family: "In Memory of Michael & Mary Farrell"
Julia and Margaret Keena: "In Memory of John Keena"
Andrew Farrell: "In Memory of Garret & Ann Farrell"
Joseph Downes: "In Memory of Michael & Hannah Downes"
Holy Name Society: "Holy Name Society"
George and Bernard Fingleton: "In Memory of Patrick & Bridget Fingleton"
D.A. Doyle: "In Memory of Martin & Susan Doyle"
Keating Brothers: "In Memory of Patrick Keating"
Albert Hefferan: "Albert Hefferan"
Mrs. Thomas Byrne: "In Memory of Thomas Byrne"
Michael Downes: "In Memory of Thomas & Mary A. Doyle"
Family of Arthur Byrne: " In Memory of Arthur Byrne"
Frank Cary: "Memory of Patrick & Catherine Cary"
Byrne Brothers: "In memory of Michael & Maria Byrne"
Harry and Ed Loughoin: "In Memory of William & Bridget Loughlin"
Altar Society: "Altar Society"
Young Ladies Sodality: "Young Ladies Sodality"
Vestibule Windows
Patrick, Michael, Mary Mooney: "Patrick, Michael & Mary Mooney"
Family of John Cary: "In Memory of John & Mary Cary"
Sacristy Windows
Edward Finn: "In Memory of James & Ellen Finn"
Owen Howard: "In Memory of Mrs. T. Howard"
Bert, John and William malone: "John & Julia Malone"
Mark Byrne: (No inscription)
Aquinas and Henry Sullivan: "Aquinas and Henry Sullivan"
In 1929, Fr. Behan was assigned to St. Simon's Parish in Ludington, and Bishop Joseph Pinten named Fr. John W. McNeil to be the next pastor of St. Patrick's
Fr. McNeil served the parish fifteen years, the longest pastorate in the history of the parish. During these fifteen years, many changes occurred within and
without the parish. In the world at large, the hardships of the Great Depression and the Second Worked War affected all of the parishioners, but the parish was
able to work together and overcome all challenges.
By the 1930's and 1940's the parishioners of Parnell were content to reap the rewards of their predecessors' labors. They had a beautifully furnished and decorated
church and rectory. They had a fully-accredited twelve grade school. The parishioners had a parish which they could be very proud of and which they worked very
hard to maintain.
The interior of the church had been redecorated and repainted from time to time since its construction. In the 1920's many different religious symbols were painted
these paintings included a large "Agnus Dei" in the center of the ceiling and portraits of saints and prophets along the edge of the ceiling. By the 1940's, the plaster on
which these pictures were painted had begun to deteriorate. In 1942, modern ceiling tiles were installed over the painted plaster. This work was done by Jack
Loughlin. At this same time, some new painting was done in the church. Over the confessional, a scene was painted depicting the story of the Prodigal Son. A
picture of the Sorrowful Mother was painted above the Blessed Virgin's Altar, and a picture of Jesus crowned with thorns was painted above St. Joseph's altar. Also,
the words "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" were painted above the sanctuary arch.
This work on the church was done during the Second World War. Many young men and women from Parnell were called to serve in the armed forces during these
years. The parish suffered in a special way by the loss of two of its members. John c. (Jack) Loughlin and Robert Howard. After the war, though, the other soldiers
all returned home to a time which is now recognized as a peak for Catholic culture in America.
Assignment of Pews at St. Patrick's Church as of 1914
North Isle
52 - Mr & Mrs. John Parle
53 - Mts. Elizabeth Weeks & Wm.
54 - Mr & Mrs. Alban Fish
55 - Mr & Mrs. James P. Norton
56 - Mr & Mrs. Frank Bergin
57 - Mr & Mrs. John Grabinski
58 - Mr & Mrs. Richard Verlin
59 - Bernard & Anna Scally
60 - Mr & Mrs. Michael O' Donnell
61 - Dennis Driscoll
62 - William Jones
63 - Mary Downes, Michael Downes, Se., Joe Downes
64 - Frank, Martin & Mary Keating
65 - Mr & Mrs. Thomas Loughlin
66 - Mrs M. McCauley, Mr & Mrs Wm. McCormick
67 - Mr & Mrs. Daniel Verlin
68 - William, Hellen & John, Mr & Mrs James Cavanaugh
69 - Mr & Mrs. Charles Collar, Mr & Mrs. Thomas Malone
70 - Mr & Mrs. Patrick Loughlin
71 - Bert & Katherine, Mr & Mrs. Wm. Malone, Mrs. J.M. Malone
72 - Marie Byrne, Mr & Mrs. Arthur Byrne
73 - Mrs. Mulia Steele, Mr & Mrs. Milo Donovan
74 - Mr & Mrs. Michael Downes
75 - Joseph, Anna & Theresa, mr & Mrs. Martin Vierley
76 - Mr & Mrs. James Jones
77 - Mr & Mrs Charles Doyle
78 - Mr & Mrs. Terrence Bresnahan
79 - Mr & Mrs. Frank McCormick
80 - Mr & Mrs. George Weber
81 - John murphy
82 - Mrs. Frank Corrigan
83 - Patrick & Margaret Driscoll
84 - Mr & Mrs Frank Byrne
85 - Mrs Mary O'Brien, Patrick Walsh, Mrs Ed Walsh
86 - Mr & Mrs John K. Gavin
87 - Mr & Mrs Richard Bowler
88 - Mr & Mrs Frank Carey, Mr & Mrs Charles Malone
89 - Thomas Byrne, Mr & Mrs Frank Bowler
90 - Mr & Mrs John Carey
91 - Mr & Mrs John Zahm
92 - Katherine Byrne, Mrs Tobias Byrne
93 - Mr & Mrs Wm. Farrell
94 - Mr & Mrs Michael Farrell
95 - Mr & Mrs Joseph Gahan
96 - Mr & Mrs James H. Heffron
97 - Lucille Seeley, Mr & Mrs Michael J. McCarthy
98 - Frank Donovan, Mrs Wm. Donovan
Center Aisle
1 - Mrs Ellen Abraham, Timothy Shine, Dan & Margaret
2 - Arnold Feutz, Mr & Mrs Frederick Feutz
3 - Mr & Mrs James Doran
4 - Willima, Julia & Margaret Keena
5 - Miss Mary Hennessey, Mrs Mary Hennessey
6 - Helen Nugent, Mr & Mrs Emanuel Nugent
7 - Mr & Mrs Simon Ligney
8 - Mrs Bridget Conway, James Sullivan, Frances
9 - Mr & Mrs Henry Mooney
10 - Miss Marie Doran, Mr & Mrs Richard McGee
11 - Mr & Mrs Patrick McGann
12 - Mr & Mrs Michael McAndrews
13 - Luella and Ruth Cary, Mr & Mrs John Cary
14 - Mr & Mrs John Abraham
15 - Margaret and Katherine McCormick, Mr & Mrs Ed McCormick
16 - Mark and Eva Bryne, Mr & Mrs Peter Byrne
17 - Mr & Mrs Albert J. Hefferan
18 - Margaret, Abraham & Marie, Mr & Mrs William Loughlin
19 - Johanna McCarthy, Mr & Mrs William Costello
20 - Michael Byrne, Mr & Mrs Arthur Byrne
21 - Edward & Kate Loughlin, Mr & Mrs james Loughlin
22 - Marie & Madge Bresnahan, Mrs P. Bresnahan
23 - Mr & Mrs George McCabe
24 - Ethel McGinnis, Mr & Mrs James McGinnis
25 - Mrs Joseph Hefferan, Mr & Mrs James Downes
26 - Mr & Mrs James Abraham
27 - Philomena McCormick, Mr & Mrs James McCormick
28 - Zita Downes, Mr & Mrs John Downes
29 - Mrs Mary Byrne, Mr & Mrs John McCarthy
30 - Mr & Mrs Joseph Nugent, Mr & Mrs Vincent Nugent
31 - Emanuel and John Jr., Mr & Mrs John Loughlin
32 - Mabel Byrne, Mr & Mrs John A. Byrne
33 - Mary Byrne, Mr & Mrs Michael Byrne
34 - Mr & Mrs J. Clayton Ladner, Mr & Mrs James Ladner
35 - Mr & Mrs John Jakeway
36 - Mr & Mrs Frank McGarry
37 - Julia Farrell, Mrs Garrett Farrell
38 - Mr & Mrs Melvin Byrne
39 - Mr & Mrs Garrett Downes
40 - Josephine & Helen McCormick, Mr & Mrs Patrick McCormick
41 - Mr & Mrs Daniel Howard
42 - Margaret Cuddihy, Mr & Mrs John McGann
43 - Mr & Mrs George Gahan
44 - James Morrissey, Hugh Nugent, Martin Byrne
45 - Mrs John Byrne, Edward Byrne
46 - Mr & Mrs John C. McCarthy
47 - Katherine Keena, Mr & Mrs James Keena
48 - Mrs J.F. Murphy, Michael Driscoll, John F. Byrne

Transcriber: Karen Blumenshine
Created: 13 July 2004
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/churches/catholic/stpatsparnell/history.html