History of St. Mary's Parish
The history of St. Mary Catholic Church in Port Sanilac, Michigan is a story of loving hearts and willing hands. St. Mary’s is a lasting memorial to the living faith of ordinary people who, over the years, have put an immense value on their identity as Catholics. They were willing to stand up and be counted as followers of Christ, not by what they said, but by what they did, by the lives they led, by the ideals they sacrificed for. May we, who follow in their footsteps, learn from their generosity.
The first Saint Mary Catholic Church was built in 1864 about three and one half miles west of Lake Huron on what is now M-46. However, Catholic settlers had first came to the area as early as 1837. Their numbers increased between 1850 and 1860 causing missionary priests to make long journeys to minister to the people. Fr. Lawrence Kilroy offered the first Mass in the Sanilac area in the home of William Griffin in 1854, the same year that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined in Rome. By 1882, so many Catholics had settled nearby that the church building became too small. The addition built on to the church in 1884 doubled the size of St. Mary, making it the largest church edifice in Sanilac County at the time. Its 84 foot spire served as a landmark for sailors on Lake Huron.
For many years a “mission church” of St. Denis in Lexington and then of St. Patrick in Croswell, St. Mary’s of Carsonville, as it was known, did not have a resident priest until 1945. The people appreciated the efforts of the missionary priests and continued to grow in their faith. The Most Reverend William F. Murphy, first bishop of the Saginaw diocese, canonically erected St. Mary as a parish and appointed Fr. Herbert Zacharias pastor.
Just three years later, Bishop Murphy expressed the desire to have a church close to Port Sanilac where summer visitors needed a place to worship. Although the people loved St. Mary where it was, they acceded to the bishop’s request. The parish purchased some land within the village and in the spring of 1950 readied the church for a trek down the road. Even though M-46 was closed to all traffic, it took ten days to move the church three miles in mud and rain; the movers almost losing the church to a ravine along the way. Perhaps cutting down some trees along the way and moving the church helped get M-46 paved soon afterward. Once the church was moved, the parish thought that a rectory was in order and began to build one in 1953. The rectory served as the center for parish activities and meetings until a parish center could be completed.
The year 1954 marked the centennial year of the first Mass in Sanilac County and the beginning of fundraising for yet another new St. Mary Church for the growing Catholic community. Under Father Fitzpatrick, a new church was begun. It was finished in 1960 and dedicated by Bishop Woznicki, bishop of Saginaw. By 1961, the old Saint Mary church had bid farewell to the people and was buried under what became the west parking lot. However, the bell from the old church, now in the new bell tower, still called the parish to worship.
In 1968, work was begun on the parish center to be used as an education facility, social center, office and special events building. In 1985 a new wing was added to parish center to be used as an education center and meeting rooms.
In 2004, the prayer and meditation garden was dedicated. It is a tribute to the loving hearts and willing hands of the many parishioners who give of their time and talent to make something beautiful for God.
1945 - 1956: Father Herbert Zacharias
1956 - 1957: Father Kenneth Povish
1957 - 1960: Father Emmett Fitzpatrick
1960 - 1970: Father Mason Vaughn
1970 - 1973: Father Francis Murray
1973 - 1979: Father Henry Eickholt
1979 - 1985: Father George Garmyn
1985 - 1994: Father R. K. LFleur
1994-2001: Father Ron Dombrowski
2001-2010: Father Paul Bala
2010: As Pastoral Administrator: Sister Maria Inviolata, SMDG
Sacramental Minister: Father Don Eppenbrock