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Our Past


Old Mission was first settled in 1841 with a few Indian wigwams and four log homes. Father Ignatius Mrak was the first Catholic Priest to say Mass on Old Mission. Two or three times a year, Mass was held in a few houses and wigwams for the next few decades.

Mapleton was the location selected by local Catholics to build a chapel in 1880. Oliver and Elizabeth Lardie donated the land at corner of Blue Water Road and Center Road, and in 1881 Rev. George Ziegler blessed the 24x30 foot chapel. Sunday services were held every alternate month. By 1897, the St. Joseph Mission consisted of approximately 35 families. St. Joseph Cemetery was established in 1898 on the west side of Center Road, between Island View Road and Cherry Hill Road. 1/2 acre of land was donated by John and Matilda Hoffman, and another 1/4 acre was donated by Lawrence Carroll. Frederick Zoulek was the first buried, August 12, 1899. The cost of a burial plot was five dollars.

Following an undocumented wind storm that damaged the chapel, a larger church was constructed in 1907 by Pastor Fr. Faucher. Builder O.J. Benson was assisted by members of the Swaney family and various parishioners. There was an ornate stamped tin ceiling, and a heavy wood cross topped the tall steeple. The bell tower remained empty for two years until a bell was obtained and blessed. The Stations of the Cross were made of plaster of Paris, horsehair, straw, and burlap around 1911.

St. Joseph Church obtained electricity in the early 1930's. Bishop Haas gave permission to enlarge the church in 1948. The Nave, Sanctuary, a Confessional, two Sacristies, and oil furnace, flooring, side entrance, a basement, landscaping, and other improvements were completed. The church expanded to 30x77 feet and 46x77 feet, and Fr. Winikaitus' Sunday and Holy Masses were never disrupted during the reconstruction.

The St. Joseph Rectory was built by Oakley Lardie in 1951. The rectory was an addition built between two small cabins moved from a Traverse City resort, known as Hick's Tourist Cabins. In December of 1957 a parcel of land was donated by Tom and Irene Hoffman, and Fred and Lillian Cooledge. The cemetery size was now one acre. There were St. Joseph and Blessed Virgin Altars in the church since its construction. However, there was a gold Tabernacle in the right side St. Joseph Altar installed by Fr. Barrett in the late 1950's. The Communion Rail was removed in December of 1965. The bell tower was removed in 1968 as construction began on a new front entrance to the church. The original bell was secured in a new bell tower made of Onaway Stone. There was a balcony stairway, outdoor lighting, and a second Celotex church ceiling added, among many improvements.


In 1971, one of the cabins was removed, and the rectory was enlarged for Fr. Linus Schrems. Fr. Schrems was the first pastor to use the rectory as a permanent residence in 1972. Around 1975, the church foundation was renovated after flooding from heavy rain. Under the direction of Fr. Denay, a new gas furnace was installed in the church basement. The previous oil furnace blew up, and everything was covered by a fine layer of black soot.

The old church parking lot was paved in 1984. (The old church location and parking lot are currently the location of a lavender farm.)  In 1982, Oakley, Ken , and Charlie Lardie donated the land where Denay Hall would be constructed over the next few years. Occupancy of Denay Hall was granted in 1985.  At the direction of Father Edwin Frederick (Fr. Fred), a handicap access ramp was installed in 1990. And each year, from 1990 to 2007, summer Parish picnics were held at Bowers Harbor Park.

Due to a marked increase of nearly 200 families in the parish while Fr. Denay and Fr. Fred were Pastors, an extended parking lot was added in 1991. Later that year, an additional 26 acres of land was added to the cemetery property. One acre was plotted as an addition to the existing cemetery.  In 1992, Fr. Fred held the first Memorial Mass at the cemetery on the 4th of July weekend. This Mass has been an annual tradition. Bud Johnson made all the wooden hymnal racks for the church pews in 1993.

The first recorded desecration of St. Joseph Church occurred during a break-in by three men on Thanksgiving evening, November 25, 1993. The St. Joseph Statue was damaged, a small fire was started, and many items were confiscated. The first telephone in the church was installed in 1994! (editor's note: Obviously, God calls us in other ways.) The current cedar wood ceiling was installed in 1995. After Fr. Fred's retirement in 1996, Fr. Jim Holtz held weekly Mass until Fr. Patrick Barrett's return to St. Joseph. Their was an oak Altar donated by Holy Family Church in East Tawas on December 3, 2000. Bishop Patrick Cooney announced at the Masses on June 1st, and 2nd, 2002, that Fr. Pat was placed on administrative leave. Fr. Edwin Thome was appointed Administrator, June 29, 2002. As well, Deacon Jim Krupka joined our parish in 2003.

The field stone and arched iron entrance to the cemetery was completed by the Cemetery Committee in 2003. The committee received a donation of a stone Altar for the cemetery, which was blessed by Fr. Thome at the annual Memorial Mass in 2006.

On Saturday, January 22, 2005, Fr. Ray Garcia celebrated the first weekly Spanish Mass at St. Joseph Church. Later that summer, the Mass was moved to Sunday afternoon, and continued until the Summer of 2008. The Spanish Mass is now celebrated at Immaculate Conception Church in Traverse City.

With advice from the Diocesan Task Force, and before his retirement, Bishop Cooney appointed Fr. Anthony Citro of Immaculate Conception as Pastor of St. Joseph Church in July of 2009.  Fr. Thome remained our Sacramental Minister.

Monsignor Bernard Hebda was ordained and installed as our new Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord on December 1, 2009. The kitchen in Denay Hall was renovated, with new stoves and a new "commercial grade" dishwasher, in time for the annual Parish Christmas Potluck Dinner in December of 2009. Father Thome was installed as our Pastor again by Bishop Hebda on November 7, 2010 and later elevated to the Honorary Prelate title of Monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

An asphalt driveway was completed south of the Cemetery, the Father Fred Memorial Entrance to the Cemetery was closed, and the gravel driveway removed in the autumn of 2010. The Columbarium at the cemetery was blessed by Bishop Hebda on June 4, 2011. The stone Altar was moved from the area adjacent from the graves of former priests of St. Joseph to the Columbarium area. The Father Fred Memorial entrance was moved from Center Road to the south side of the cemetery on June 17, 2011.  With the contributions of parishioners, Bob and Nadine Begin, vineyards were planted to the north of the future church, then to the sides of the entrance driveway in preparation for the harvesting of our own Sacramental Wine and table wines.


On June 17, 2013, parishioners began to remove items and sacramentals from the church in preparation for the building to move to the cemetery property. Masses resumed in Denay Hall on June 22, 2013, and the split-rail fence was installed around the cemetery in late-July. At 7:30 A.M. on Tuesday, August 13, 2013, Deitz Building Movers of Muskegon, Michigan, moved the 105 year-old church over 3/4 of a mile down Center Road in 2 hours 15 minutes to the entrance driveway at the cemetery. At 5:15 A.M. on August 14, the church was moved under the power lines at the cemetery driveway, then made the rest of the journey to its present location later that afternoon. Wings with new pews were added to give the church its cruciform shape. Most of the sacramentals, including the tabernacle, ambo, and candle holders were purchased new.  But, the back Altar base was the previous base of the St. Joseph/Tabernacle Altar from the previous church.  And, the base of the Main Altar was the previous Back Altar, removed after Vatican II.  The grape vine-themed glass and iron work that adorns the Altar was commissioned from a studio in Detroit.  As well, a section of the original pre-Vatican II altar railing was re-installed on the south side of the newly enlarged Sanctuary, and the century-old horse hair and plaster baptism font was restored to become the holy water font in the Narthax.  One year after the old church was moved to its current location, the first Mass was celebrated at the new St. Joseph Church on August 14, 2014, for the Feast of The Assumption of Mary, but construction continued to complete the remainder of the complex for another year.



Monsignor Thome retired in 2015, shortly before his death.  The parish was once again led by the guidance of Fr. Citro as we celebrated weekly Masses with a rotation of visiting priests until Fr. James Bearss was installed by Bishop Stephen Raica as our pastor in 2016.  With Fr. James’ enthusiasm, St. Joseph blossomed in our still new surroundings for the next three years.  The number of parishioners grew while other congregations declined in Northern Michigan.  Website, video, and a much-delayed installation of a new digital organ proceeded.  Parish ministries flourished, and the debt from the construction was paid. Whitney and Mary Lyon were presented the first Discipleship Award, named in their honor, on August 5, 2017, for their decades of contributions to St. Joseph Parish.  The Our Lady of Mount Carmel statue in the parking lot median was dedicated to Fr. James before he was re-assigned in July, 2019, and Fr. Benjamin Rexroat became our current Parish Administrator.  Fr. Rexroat is also one of the vicars of seminarians for the Diocese of Gaylord.  We are blessed to have the assistance of the seminarians and strong leadership of Fr. Rexroat during the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic that closed the church to public Masses during the Spring of 2020. Our relatively small parish hosted tens of thousands through video streaming of daily Masses while Catholics around the world could not physically attend Mass.


There has been continued support for St. Joseph Church and vocations of the parish over the years. The Altar Society contributed greatly to the parish from 1925 to 1973. The St. Joseph Guild has continued to sustain parish life from 1955 to the present. And, the first members to represent our parish in the Knights Of Columbus were inducted in January, 2010. Other groups, past and present, include: The Sunshine Committee, St. Joseph Red Cross Group, Holy Name Society, Mary's Prayer Group, The Apologetics and Bible Study, Vacation Bible School, Medjugorje, Right to Life, Mothers In Christ, Christ Renews His Parish, Quilting Ministry, Catholic Daughters of America, That Man Is You, Vineyard Ministry, The Parish Council and Pastoral Council, Catholic Services Appeal, Father Fred Foundation, Ushers, Cleaning, Hospitality, Ministers to the Sick and Shut-ins, Funeral, Sunday Coffee & Donuts, and many more. Our parish is truly a reflection of its family members and their contributions.

My sincerest thanks and gratitude to Mary Lyon. Without her extensive work to document the history of St. Joseph Parish, this summary would not be possible. Thank you, Mary!
Howard Byrne