This is a short story of a church and its people. It reflects the dedication and sacrifices of many parishioners, priests, and bishops over 150 years of growth and development.
In the 1850’s, Mass was said once or twice a year by Father Rivers in the home of Charles Allen. Then in 1866, the first St. Mary’s Church was built at 208 N. Division Street. This church seated only 50 people. The church was actually not dedicated to the Mother of God and named St. Mary’s until 1870. An elderly Belgian priest, Father Tachen, was the first pastor at this new parish of St. Mary. In 1883, Father James Dalton transferred the parochial residence from St. Mary’s to St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s became a mission of St. Pat’s.
In 1905, St. Mary’s closed and parishioners and summer visitors had to attend St. Patrick’s. Then, in 1911-12, Father D.J. Hyland arranged for two Sunday Masses to be said in Spring Lake from July to September. In 1919, property from Exchange to Savidge Street was purchased for a new church to be built. This purchase was made at a cost of $2,700. Then, in June of 1924, Bishop Kelly dedicated the new St. Mary’s Church which seated 280 parishioners and cost $25, 000. Finally, Mass was celebrated every Sunday. A rectory (priest’s home) was erected in 1931 at the cost of $9,000. This building is now the parish office building while the rectory is now a home that was purchased on River Street, only a few blocks away.
In 1953, groundbreaking for the new school was held. The school construction would cost $108,850. School doors opened for the first time in September of 1954. There were 150 students for grades 3 through 8.
In 1966, the building of a new church began. On Palm Sunday of 1967, a procession from the ‘old’ to the new church was held and the first Mass was celebrated at 11:00 am. On June 4, 1967, Bishop Allen Babcock dedicated this new church, which seated approximately 765 people. The cost was $400,000. Today, St. Mary’s has approximately 1300 families. The old church was later torn down and in 1976, the beautiful statue of the Pieta was blessed and dedicated on the corner where the old church had stood. The Pieta represents the Virgin Mary cradling Christ after He had been crucified, died and was taken down from the cross.
Many years have passed since the first people gathered to worship in Spring Lake at St. Mary’s Parish. The great wilderness is now a peaceful village with modern conveniences. The little mission that once struggled for existence is now a comfortable parish. Pastors and people have and are enjoying the fruits of the laborious efforts of a long line of faithful who gave generously of their time, treasure and talent to the building of not only a church of stone but also a spiritual edifice. They left to the present and future generations a precious heritage- the Faith.