History of Immaculate Conception Parish

Historical documents set 1864 as the time when St. Charles area Catholics began to organize.  During 1873 Fr. Van der Heyden came from Saginaw to offer the first Mass in the Diamond Hotel on the corner of East Bell and Wayne Streets.  Later Mass was also offered in area homes.

In 1882 every community North of Genesee-Shiawassee County lines belonged to the newly established Diocese of Grand Rapids with St. Michael (Maple Grove) as the mother parish with missions in St. Charles, Chesaning, Oakley and Albee.

In 1880 property was purchased for a cemetery and in 1883 the St Charles Mission purchased the Presbyterian Church on the corner of Clinton and Charles Streets for $500.  From 1888 until 1900, St. Mary’s Hemlock was responsible for the Mission in St. Charles.  Our parish was originally dedicated to Mary under the title of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.  The name St. Mary’s was the shortened version of the original name.

In 19oo Fr. Alphonse Studer resided at St. Michael’s Maple Grove; he was responsible for the missions in Chesaning, St. Charles, Oakley and Albee.  In 1908 Fr. Studer bought the initial portion of the present site on Sanderson and Flint St. with his own money, ($2,300).*

The original church was moved to the new site.  The church was on timbers, but the move had to wait for the early morning wedding of Louis and Wilhemina Mahoney-according to relatives the workmen were standing outside even during the ceremony.  The moved church became the school.  A new church was built on to the school.

In 1909 St. Mary’s Catholic School opened with 90 pupils.  The school was staffed by Dominican Sisters.  The published Sunday Mass Schedule**  was:  1st Sunday Mass at Albee and St. Charles,  2nd Sunday Mass at Chesaning and St. Charles, 3rd Sunday Mass at Chesaning and Oakley, 4th Sunday Mass at Chesaning and St. Charles.

In December of 1927 St. Charles became a Parish with Fr. Studer using Our Lady of Perpetual Help as his home base.  Fr. Skowronski was the first Pastor of St. Mary’s (St. Charles).  A home at 201 W. Belle Avenue was purchased as a rectory.

In 1929 disaster struck-the Great Depression and a fire at the church a few evenings before Christmas.  Because of a severe snow and sleet storm, fighting the fire was hopeless and only a shell remained.

An Upper Peninsula company was building at Maple Grove and agreed to take the job of supervising the building of a new two story church and school with the church upstairs.  Virtually all the work was done by volunteer labor.  Each parishioner was assessed two weeks donated labor-personal or hired.  Neighboring parishes, businesses, and individuals donated funds.  In later years the basement of the building was the only official government approved bomb shelter in this area.

In 1945 the Parish purchased the plot where the parish hall is located.

After climbing 26 steps every Sunday for 25 years and sometimes attending Mass while standing on the stairs, a new church was built and the first Mass was celebrated in 1957.  Later the school building would be remodeled.

In 1960 a new convent for six sisters was built.  A pavilion was built which later was enclosed as a large hall.  The church purchased property to the east, erected a modular home for a convent, and converted the former convent into a rectory.  The dedication of the newly added school classrooms was in 1981.

On July 1st, 2013, Immaculate Conception Parish in St. Charles merged with St. Mary’s of Albee Parish.

Interesting Facts:

*Fr. Van der Heyden was the first Pastor for the whole Saginaw Valley.

**Like all Catholic Communicants, the parishioners in St. Charles could have no food or water after midnight.  During the years when Fr. Studer came from Chesaning, Mass was often delayed because of weather or the many confessions heard before Mass.

***Examination of the parish deeds showed that the entire church property was in the name of Alphonse Studer, a single man.  In 1910 Fr. Studer transferred the land to the Grand Rapids Diocese “for one dollar and other considerations”.

On and off over the years, the Irish Picnic was an important source of funds.  At the earliest picnics the parishioners home stove (with stovepipes) were taken out of their kitchens.  They were taken to Mahoney’s woods to prepare the food.