Daily Times News
October 28th and 29th, 1974

St. Henry's 'building the faith' in observing 100th anniversary.

By Maryann Kryzanowicz

     St. Henry's Catholic Church, Rosebush, will kick off its second century of existence with a major building
program - but it won't cost parishioners or the Saginaw Diocese any money.

     There won't be any construction equipment or earthmoving involved, either.

     "We're going to be building the faith," say Father Leonard Susalla, pastor at St. Henry's.  And the ground
breaking will consist of education classes for adults who are not yet "tuned in" to updated Catholic
philosophy developed by the Second Vatican Council.

    The 100th anniversary of St. Henry's will be celebrated Oct. 30 - Nov. 3.

Festivities begin

     Festivities will begin with teen night Wednesday at the church hall.   The mixer will be from 8 - p.m.,
featuring radio disc jockeys.

     A Hallowe'en party will be sponsored for children in eighth grade and under from 7-9 p.m. Thursday in the
church hall, and Friday will feature an old time dance for adults.  The dance will be from 9 p.m. - 1 a.m. at
the American Legion Hall.  Old fashioned attire will illustrate the theme of the dance.

     Saturday will be devoted to programs for senior citizens.

     At St. Henry's school, photo displays will be available beginning at noon and opportunities for socializing
will be offered.

     A Eucharistic Liturgy will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Sunday at the church.  Bishop Francis Rey, Saginaw
Diocese, will attend and some 25 priests from the Dioceseare expected to participate.

     Several former pastors of St. Henry's including Fathers Francis Branigan, John McGee, James Cusack
and Max Frego will concelebrate the mass with Father Susalla.

     Concluding the centennial celebration, an old fashioned chicken dinner will be served from 3:30 - 7:00 p.m.
Sunday at the church hall.

     St. Henry's, established in October 1874, initially was known as the Vernon Catholic Mission.  The first
baptisms in the mission were recorded Oct. 15, 1874.  On that date, Rev. Father Richard Sweeney, pastor
of the newly organized parish of St. Joseph, East Saginaw, visited the Vernon settlement to say mass.

Few families

     According to church records, only five or six Catholic families (primarily of Irish descent) were settled
in Vernon, but several baptisms were recorded prior to the mission's establishment, indicating the presence
of a priest in the area.

     Today there are more than 150 families on the membership rolls at St. Henry's.

     In 1879 Mount Pleasant received its first resident pastor, Rev. James J. McCarthy, and the Vernon Mission
came under his authority.

     Masses originally were said in Vernon in the homes of Catholic families.  Later in the mission's history,
however, masses were said only on a farm east of the present church.

     The farm was centrally located, and masses usually were said once a month during the week.

     The congregation would spread the word of the priest's arrival.  He traveled by train as far as possible, and
a team of horses was sent to bring him to the farm for the Mass.

     March 7, 1882, marks a historic date in the growth of St. Henry's Mission.  Father McCarthy met with the
men of the parish to develop plans for the construction of a church.

     With little money available, members of the mission traveled to Saginaw and Bay City to "solicit funds from
several of the prominent lumbering barons..." the church history states.

     Father McCarthy died unexpectedly in June 1885 and was replaced by Father John A. Crowley, who
founded what is now Sacred Heart Church in Mt. Pleasant.

Construction begins

     Actual construction of St. Henry's began during the fall and winter of 1866.  Parishioners hewed most
of the timbers for the building, and farmers hauled sand and stone to the church site.  Teams of horses were
used to help dig the foundations.

     The frame structure was completed except the bell tower and front facade, which was added later.  Stained
glass windows also were installed later in the church's history.

     The dedication and first Mass in the church were held the first week in December 1887.  The Dec. 9, 1887
edition of the Isabella County Enterprise (now known as the Daily Times-News), stated: "The new Catholic
Church, dedicated at Vernon last week, will seat over 300, and cost $1,000".

     Bishop Henry J. Richter, Grand Rapids Diocese, decided the church should be dedicated to his patron
saint, St. Henry the Emperor.

     In 1889, the Mission of St. Henry at Vernon was turned over to the authority of St. Bridgid's Parish in
Midland.  Until 1905, when St. Henry's became an independent parish, the people of Vernon were served
by the pastor of Midland, who came at regular intervals during the week.  Sacramental records from 1889 -
1905 are kept at Midland.

Church enlarged

    In 1893, Father Thomas Whalen was appointed to Midland and its missions.  He was responsible for
remodeling and enlarging the church, which already had been outgrown.

     Development of the church cemetery began in 1895, when men of the parish brought teams of horses
to help clear the land of stumps.

St. Henry's church marking centennial

     It was Rev. Father Dennis E. Malone who first thought St. Henry's Catholic Mission at Vernon could be
organized as an independent parish just before the turn of the century.

     Malone took charge of St. Brigid's in Midland and its missions, including St. Henry's.  Since St. Henry's
had the only mission with a church building, cemetery and a "group of active families," it clearly had
advantages over other missions in the area.

     In 1900, the church history states, a bell was purchased to "call the parish to mass."

     Visited farms

     By 1903, Father Malone had developed plans for the construction of a rectory.  He drove from "farm to
farm" the history states, "collecting whatever the families could give towards a home for the new pastor".  Actual
construction began late in 1903 and continues into 1904.

     In early 1905, Rev. Timothy O'Connell, assistant at Sacred Heart, took over St. Henry's.  When the $4,500
rectory was completed, he and his sister came to occupy the building.

     In 1907, O'Connell was replaced by Rev. Father John J. McAllister, who served at St. Henry's until 1921. 
He was responsible for building St. Henry's school.

     In 1908 under Father McAllister's administration, the Vernon Church was raised on blocks and a basement
was built to serve as a social hall.  The following year windows - costing $130 - were installed.

     From that time, St. Henry's was pieced together until it was considered one of the best equipped churches
in the area.  In 1909, a new furnace was installed (and enlarged two years later).  New stations, in 1910,
cost $164, and a new baptismal font cost $53.

     Horse sheds to accommodate 33 animals were built in 1909 at a cost of $582.  Each family contributed $20
for the sheds.

                                                                                               Membership grows

     The introduction of sugar beet farming in the area resulted in a significant influx of settlers who increased
the membership rolls at St. Henry's.

     In 1914, construction began on St. Henry's school.  Father McAllister had envisioned the school as an academy
serving grade and high school children from a wider area than the parish.  He had hoped for boarding students
as well as day-school children.

     Work began April 27, 1914, and the school's foundation was completed three months later.  Father McAllister
termed 1914 "the most successful year in the history of our little community" as the school was completed for
$4,576, and confessionals and lighting had been installed.

     St. Henry's Academy opened in August 1915 to "nearly 100 pupils and six instructors".

     Boarders at St. Henry's were supervised by the sisters.   A windmill was located behind the school to provide water,
an acetylene plant generated lighting, and a garden plot, chickens and a cow provided vegetables, milk and
eggs for the children.

      The first graduating class was recorded in 1918.

      In 1921, Father George Flanagan took charge of Vernon.

Major tragedy

     A major tragedy was recorded on Feb. 21, 1922, when the wooden church burned to the ground.  The fire
broke out shortly after the last mass on Sunday morning.  It was believed to have been caused by an overheated
stove pipe.  The rectory and school were unharmed, and masses were held for the next 18 months in
the school's auditorium.

     Father Flanagan immediately began plans for a new brick church, to be built east of the cemetery, and in
1923 the cornerstone was placed.   The outer shell of the church was finished late that year, and masses were
celebrated in the basement.

     The interior of the upper structure was not finished until 1941 because of setbacks during the depression.

     Because of economic difficulties leading to declining school enrollments, St. Henry's Academy closed in

     Father Flanagan was succeeded in 1929 by Father John Fons, who decided the school should be
reopened immediately as an eight-grade institution.   Father Fon's administration became known for
renovating and financially strengthening St. Henry's.

     Father Aloysius Tomaszewski took over Vernon in 1933 and was faced with declining revenues and
membership.  The school was closed and did not reopen until 1946.

  50th year

     St. Henry's celebrated the 50th anniversary of its original dedication in 1937.

     Father Gordon Grant was appointed to St. Henry's in 1940, and plans were started for completion of the
church building.  Father Grant's first project was to distribute forty head of cattle among the farmers, and
sold one year later.  Profits were used to complete the building.   The new church was dedicated in July

     In 1943 and 1944, some repairs were made, and 1946 saw repairs which led to the reopening of
St. Henry's Academy.

     Father Francis Branigan was appointed to St. Henry's in 1948.  His initial projects were the
remodeling of the church kitchen, installation of cupboards, water and stoves.   He also took charge
of a program to restore the cemetery.

     Father John McGee became pastor at St. Henry's in 1957.  Renovations continued, school
enrollment rose, and the church's 75th anniversary was celebrated.

     Following Father McGee, Fathers James Cusack, and Max Frego served as pastors at the
church.  Father Leonard Susalla was appointed in 1973.

     Joy, tragedy

     Since 1958, members of St. Henry's have experienced joys and tragedy.  The church mortgage
was burned in 1971, the building's interior was remodeled, and a board of education was organized.

     In 1966 Sisters Adolpha and Blanda were killed in a traffic accident.  Sister Adolpha's brother
and sister-in-law are expected to attend centennial festivities, which begin tomorrow.

     What's in the future for St. Henry's?

     The board of education is looking into school programs to increase enrollment, Father Susalla said.
And adult education classes are being offered to acquaint parishioners with new Catholic philosophy.

     And that's only the beginning of St. Henry's second century.   

 2009 - 2012 by Donna Hoff-Grambau

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