St. Mary's Catholic Church

By dhowell - Posted on 03 January 2008

The Catholic Mission of Manchester was established in 1870 with the Rev. Fr. Edward Van Lauwe as pastor. On November 14, 1863, Fr. Van Lauwe was appointed resident pastor of St. Dominic's church in Clinton. As the congregations increased he was asked to take on the missions of Manchester, Milan, Freedom, Tecumseh and St. Joseph's in the Irish Hills. The first confirmation in the area was at Clinton in 1865 by Bishop Peter Paul Lefevre of Detroit.

In the early days Catholics walked or went by horse and buggy to the first Catholic church in Washtenaw county—in Freedom township. It was built in 1839. Two missionary priests, Fr. Kreutel and Fr. Bernick served the parish. But it was impossible for Mass to be celebrated every Sunday. Like in all other early parishes, services were held in homes until the churches were built. St. Thomas church in Ann Arbor was built in 1843 according to the Washtenaw County History. Members of that first Freedom church were: John Emmer, John Graff, T. Mosier, Adam Kress, Martin Cash, Paul Fritz, Adam Riedel, J. Blum, Adam Kramer, Conrad Seckinger, Joseph Weiss and their families.

In 1858, a new brick church dedicated to St. Francis de Borgia was erected in Freedom at a cost of $3,000. This was a short distance from the first one. In 1873, a brick rectory was built nearby. It cost $2,000.

Fr. Ferdinand Aligayer succeeded Fr. Van Lauwe in 1867. He built the first Catholic church in Manchester in 1870, near the intersection of Wagner and Macomb streets. The 30 x 50' church building contract was awarded to George W. Hoy and 0. Priest. The present Baptist Chapel is in the former church rectory. Rev. P. B. Murray of Ypsilanti was the visiting pastor in 1876-'77 when Rev. Fr. Andrew Leitner was appointed pastor of churches in Manchester and Freedom. Charter family names were: Kirchgessner, Cash, Coleman, Kelly, Kirk, Egan, McMahon, Green, Lehn, Haag, Singer, Cavanaugh and 10 others.

Rev. Fr. Joseph Staus was appointed to the parishes in 1880. The cost of the first church in Manchester was $1,200 and the furnishings were valued at $400.

In 1890, St. Mary's became a parish with Fr. Peter Ternes as its first resident pastor. Clinton was its mission. Fr. Frederick Heidenreich was pastor from 1895-1900, and Fr. Daniel McGlaughlin, as his successor, were the two who kept Clinton as a mission. Mass was celebrated once a month. Clinton parishioners often came to Manchester for Mass.

Fr. Edwin Fisher, well known to many in the area, became pastor of St. Dominic's (Clinton) from 1906 to 1908, with missions at St. Joseph's (Irish Hills) and St. Francis (Freedom). In 1909, Fr. Fisher became pastor of St. Mary's (Manchester) and attended Clinton, though Clinton was listed as a parish with the two previously mentioned missions.

It was Fr. Fisher who built the stone church here on W. Main street. He was instrumental in having the village of Clinton set aside the small plot of land in the center of the village on US-12 as a memorial park. He also built field stone churches in Tecumseh and Brooklyn. Farmers and boys in the area of the churches worked long hours hauling in stones for the structures.

By 1917 Clinton had missions of Tecumseh and Blissfield but Fr. Fisher and his assistant Fr. James Carolan were the attending priests, and in 1918, Fr. John Hackett, pastor of St. Mary's, and Fr. Carolan had missions of Clinton and Tecumseh. For the next 25 years Clinton was a mission of St. Mary's. Fr. Joseph V. Pfeffer came in 1924 and Fr. David Cunningham was his assistant, followed by Fr. John Eppenbrock as Fr. (Now Msgr.) Pfeffer's assistant from 1927 to 1935.

When Msgr. Pfeffer came his missions included churches at Manchester, Clinton, Irish Hills, Tecumseh, Brooklyn, Freedom and Clark's Lake—2400 square miles in three counties. He is noted for erecting the Way of the Cross at the Irish Hills. He lived to see new roads built, telephone lines installed and electricity become commonplace. Monsignor Pfeffer is pastor of St. Elizabeth's, Detroit.

Fr. Wm. R. Schneider did much to improve St. Mary's. There are no missions with the church which has three Masses every Sunday. Under his artistic eye an extensive refurbishing program was carried on in the church and rectory. Fr. Raymond Schlinkert, well known television personality, is pastor of St. Mary's.