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Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church, or St. Mary’s, in Sault Ste. Marie was the first cathedral of the Diocese of Marquette, originally named the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette. Today the people of the parish take great pride in furthering the faith traditions begun by Jesuit missionaries there more than 350 years ago.
Founding: St. Mary’s is the oldest Catholic Church in Michigan. Only two churches in the country are older, in St. Augustine, Fla. and in Santa Fe, N.M.
In 1641 Isaac Jogues, S.J. and Charles Raymbault, S.J. named the St. Mary’s River Riviere Sainte Marie and said Mass here on the bank of the river Sault Sainte Marie’s first permanent mission was started in 1668 when Jacques Marquette founded the Sainte-Marie Mission and Le Sault de Sainte Marie. Jesuit missionaries had served the people for nearly 200 years when in 1853 Father Frederic Baraga became the first bishop of the Vicariate Apostolic of Upper Michigan in Sault Ste. Marie. In 1857 Frederic Baraga was named bishop of the new Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette until 1865. In 1865 it was renamed the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette and the see was moved to Marquette. 1895-1937 William F. Gagnieur, S. J was the last Jesuit at the Sault as Missionary to the Chippewa Indians. As the last of the “Black Robes” he used the Sault as his base for 42 years, traveling to the many Indian missions in Michigan and Ontario.
The present structure is St. Mary’s fifth church building. It was constructed in 1881 and dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary by Bishop John Vertin on September 12, 1882. The present rectory was built in 1922.
Parish School: The first Catholic school in Sault Ste. Marie was started in 1885. The present St. Mary School began in 1937. The elementary school on Maple Street served first through eighth grades for 34 years until its closure in 1971. The school was reopened in 1993 after a 22-year hiatus. The school now serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Prior to 1937, girls in grade school through high school attended the Loretto Academy, opened by the Loretto Sisters in 1896. The Loretto Academy became a co-educational high school in 1945.
In 1971, both the Loretto High School and St. Mary’s Grade School were closed due to financial constraints. The Loretto building was sold to the public school system. Until it was reopened as a grade school, St. Mary’s was the site of a successful religious education program that served seven parishes including those in Sault Ste. Marie, Brimley, Bay Mills and Sugar Island.
Parish Life: In 1968, the people of St. Mary’s had a bell tower constructed that also served as a shrine to the many missionaries who served the church. In 1981, the Tower of History, as the structure came to be known, was given to Le Sault Sainte Marie Historic Sites, which operates the tower as an observation site.
The parish observed the 100th anniversary of the present church in 1981. Bishop Mark Schmitt celebrated a commemorative Mass Oct. 25.
After more than a century in the same church the people were faced with the question of building new or renovating. In the mid-1980s, parishioners voted to renovate and restore their historic church.
From 1985 to 1987, initially due to a furnace breakdown in the church, services were held in the St. Mary school gym. In the meantime, the first part of what would become a three-phase renovation project got under way. Bequests and successful fund-raising efforts made it possible to correct years of wear on the structure and to update the utilities. The second phase of renovations included remodeling the interior space to conform to the new standards set forth by the Second Vatican Council. The restored St. Mary Church was rededicated Sept. 6, 1987.
In January 1996, a third phase of restoration began. Interior plaster and stained glass windows were repaired and the interior was redecorated in the original Gothic-style.
The building was named to the Michigan Register of Historic Places and a marker denoting the designation was erected on the front lawn of the church grounds and unveiled during a May 1990 ceremony.
In addition to supporting extensive improvements to their historic house of worship, the people of St. Mary’s also continue to further their spiritual lives. Active parish organizations and spirited adult, youth and hand bell choirs are part of parish life.
In 2005 St. Mary’s was linked with St. Francis Xavier Parish in Brimley, Sacred Heart Mission on Sugar Island and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Mission in Bay Mills. The linkage with the Brimley parish and Bay Mills Mission was discontinued in 2007, after Theodore Brodeur was assigned there. The linkage with Sacred Heart Mission continues to this day.
The Jesuit Superiors of the Mission of Sainte-Marie du Sault
1669-1671 Claude Dablon S. J.
1673-1676 Henri Nouvel, S. J.
1676-1679 Gabriel Drouilettes, S. J.
1679-1683 Pierre Bailloquet, S. J.
1683-1696 Charles Albonel, S. J.
Pastors of St. Mary's Parish
1834-1836 Francis Xavier Haetscher, C.SS.R
1836-1838 Francis Xavier Pierz
1844-1846 Pierre Point, S. J.
1846-1861 Jean Baptiste Menet, S. J,
1864-1868 Jean Baptiste Menet, S. J
1868-1869 Alphons Baudin, S. J.
1870-1871 John Blettner, S.J.
1872-1872 Christopher Kottman, S. J.
1872-1873 Thomas Ouellet, S. J,
1873-1878 Martin Ferard, S.J.
1878-1890 Remigius Chartier, S. J.
1891-1891 Louis Thomas Garceau, S. J.
1892-1893 Peter Hamel, S. J.
1893-1895 Daniel Donovan, S.J.
1896-1899 John J. Connolly, S. J.
1899-1900 Edmund Rottot, S. J.
1900-1901 Francis Xavier Renaud, S. J.
1901-1904 Daniel Donovan, S.J.
1905-1906 Alexander A. Gagnieur, S. J.
1906-1907 Aloysius Webeler
1907-1910 Timothy Malone, S. J.
1910-1914 Edward T. O’Gara, S. J.
1914-1934 John J. Stenglein
1935-1941 Raymond G. Jacques
1941-1945 John T. Holland
1945-1954 Joseph Guertin
1954-1954 John G. Hughes
1954-1974 Robert J. Monroe
1974-1979 Terrence F. Donnelly
1979-1981 Daniel Zaloga
1981-2007 Theodore J. Brodeur
2007-2020 Sebastian Kavumkal, M.S.T.
2020- Nick Thompson
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