History of St. Mary Parish & School
Construction of a new church building began in the fall of 1865. In 1871 the St. Mary Mission came under the administrative jurisdiction of Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn. The church, which had slowly been taking shape, was at last completed and dedicated in January of 1873. From 1887 until 1912, Sr. Mary continued in its mission status, served by the various pastors of St. Paul in Grosse Pointe and St. Mary in Milford, until Bishop John Foley elevated the Wayne church to full parish status in July 1912 and appointed Father Joseph Connors as the first resident pastor. Area Catholics welcomed the promotion and were now interested in adding to the ranks of the congregation, which meant the need for a larger church.
Fr. Connors initiated a series of fundraisers that led to construction of the new church (the present St. Mary) in 1923. The older frame church became the first parish school, with an enrollment of 125 students for the students for the start of classes in September 1924 and a faculty composed of IHM Sisters. Continued growth at St. Mary prompted Fr. Connors’ successor, Father Leo Roberge, to build a more suitable, permanent school by January 1929, while the still useful frame church was converted into the parish hall.
When the national economy tumbled during the Great Depression, most of the parishes in the Detroit diocese were forced to cut expenses wherever possible. Fr. Roberge’s strategy seemed to go in the opposite direction. Undeterred by financial calamity, he purchased a section of vacant property on Michigan Avenue adjacent to the school building for the sum of $2,800. Although at first the land served solely as a recreational field for St. Mary’s school children, in retrospect it proved to be a shrewd acquisition when the parish needed space to expand decades later.
The years during and after the Second World War saw renewed growth at the parish as more residents flocked to western Wayne County to live near the industries that developed in the area, particularly the Willow Run assembly plant in Ypsilanti. In October 1948, St. Mary’s pastor, Father John Haney, embarked on a program to upgrade the parish physical plant, adding ten additional classrooms to the existing elementary school for use as a high school, with the first senior class graduating in 1951. In June 1954, the church was enlarged, and a larger convent was completed in 1958. By the early 1960s,
the parish’s student body exceeded 1,000 students.
In June 1971 St. Mary High School closed after twenty-four years. Increased tuition, fewer religious educators and the failure of Proposal C (Parochiaid) in November 1970 led to the decision. The grade school remained open and continues to serve students from kindergarten through
the eighth grade. St. Mary also has a comprehensive Religious Formation Program designed to complement and supplement the family environment. The program also provides complete religious education for students attending public schools.
Fr. Haney retired in December 1972, but remained in residence in the parish rectory. Fr. Sayers continued at St. Mary as pastor until August 1975, when Fr. John J. Sullivan succeeded him. During Fr. Sullivan’s administration, many capital improvements were made in the parish and the role of the laity in the mission of the church was encouraged. The most notable undertaking during the tenure of Fr. Sullivan, however, was the extensive restoration and renovation of the church.
With the able assistance of Fr. Timothy R. PeIc, who came to St. Mary in June of 1979, and the firm commitment of the Parish Council, the project started in 1980. January of 1981 saw the beginning of the relocation of church appointments. By the end of the year, the project was completed. On December 12, 1981, Archbishop Edmund C. Szoka conducted a Church Rededication Ceremony and blessed the newly renovated structure.
In 1983, Fr. Sullivan left St. Mary for a new assignment. Fr. John F. O’Callaghan succeeded him and was installed as the tenth pastor of St. Mary of Wayne on August 6, 1983. In 1985, Fr. PeIc left St. Mary for a new assignment and Fr. Brian J. Chabala replaced him. Also in 1985, St. Mary School celebrated its sixtieth anniversary.
1987 had its bittersweet moments. In March 1987, St. Mary (of the Immaculate Conception) Parish in Wayne celebrated its 125th Anniversary. In August, Fr. Chabala received a temporary transfer to St. Mary Parish in Monroe. Sr. Pat Hergenroether also arrived that same month as the parish’s Pastoral Assistant. In October, Fr. Chabala’s transfer became permanent and Fr. John Crepeau arrived as a temporary assistant. Sadly, Fr. O’Callahan suffered a debilitating stroke that November. While Fr. O’Callahan underwent rehabilitation exercises he continued to hold the title of Pastor and Fr. Crepeau served as Parish Administrator. In June 1988, Fr. Crepeau received an assignment as pastor of St. Mary, Port Huron. That same month Fr. Thomas Rice received a one year assignment as Pastoral Administrator. Later that year Cardinal Szoka accepted Fr. O’Callahan’s request to be removed as Pastor.
In June 1989 Fr. Raymond Bucon became the Parish’s tenth Pastor. In June 1990, Fr. Paul Panaretos became the full time associate pastor. Fr. Panaretos remained at St. Mary until his appointment as pastor of St. Irene Parish in Dundee, Michigan. Fr. Panaretos was the last Associate Pastor assigned to St. Mary. An avid golfer and a chaplain in the Army Reserve, Fr. Bucon brought considerable changes to the parish. During his tenure the old high school gymnasium was razed. Several houses on Sims were purchased. A committee called F.A.C.T. (Feasibility of an Activities Center Team) formed to look into replacing the old gymnasium with a new structure. In 1995 Fr. Bucon received permission from the Cardinal to continue as pastor of St. Mary for another six years.
In January 1997, the St. Mary Choir, under the direction of Dr. Richard Schneider, traveled to Rome, Italy. The choir sang at a High Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, and performed in Rome and Assisi. On January 29, the choir had an audience with Pope John Paul II. In subsequent years the choir also toured Spain and Ireland.
In March 1997 Fr. Bucon received permission from Cardinal Maida to take a medical leave of absence. Fr. Jack Baker arrived as the eleventh pastor on July 1, and was formally installed on August 16. Under Fr. Jack, The F.A.C.T. Committee was reinstated and in May 2000, the new Parish Activities Center opened. St. Mary also became increasingly involved in the community. In 2001, the parish purchased a former credit union building and opened the St. Mary Community Outreach Center. The lower level was converted into the John Bolde Memorial Food Depot. Later the upper floor became an “open closet” which made it possible for people to get used items at no charge. Thousands of families have been helped by the Outreach Center.
In June 2008, Cardinal Maida assigned Fr. Baker to St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford and Fr. David Burgard arrived as the 12th pastor.
On May 5, 2011, Archbishop Allen Vigneron ordained Monsignor Donald F. Hanchon as an Auxiliary Bishop. Bishop Hanchon attended St. Mary as a youth and continues his ties with the parish. While a number of men of the parish entered into the priesthood, Rev. Hanchon is the first to attain the position of Bishop. On December 27, Pope Benedict XVI has conferred the title of “Monsignor” upon Fathers Thomas Johnson and Daniel Trapp. Father Johnson was a 1969 graduate of St. Mary High School, and Father Trapp was a weekend assistant under Fr. Raymond Bucon.
On November 27, 2011 St. Mary kicked off its 150th anniversary with an all-Gershwin piano concert by Mr. Kevin Cole. Additional events during the first part of the Sesquicentennial Year included an International Smorgasbord in January, and a silent and live auctions in April to benefit St. Mary School. On June 3, the parish had its official Sesquicentennial Mass with The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, officiating. Former Pastors Raymond Sayers, John Sullivan, and Jack Baker and Assistants Brian Chabala, Paul Panaretos, Terrance Treppa, and Bernard Pilarski and current Pastor David Burgard concelebrated. The Mass was immediately followed by a dinner dance.
Other Sesquicentennial events included an Ice Cream Social in July, the annual Parish Picnic in September, this time with an 1862 theme, and a second concert, featuring the Novi Concert Band and the St. Mary Adult Choir on November 18. The year ended with a special mass officiated by Bishop Hanchon on December 8.
In May of 2013, after five years at St. Mary Wayne, Fr. Burgard accepted a request from Archbishop Allan Vigneron to become Pastor of St. Mary Parish in Monroe. On July 1, 2013, Fr. Jerry Cupple, formerly Pastor of St. Henry in Lincoln Park, became the 13th Pastor of St. Mary Parish. Permanent Deacon, Ralph Luddecke; Director of Religious Formation, Priscilla Steenburg, Christian Service Coordinator and Minister of Pastoral Music, Dr. Richard Schneider also served with Fr. Cupple. St. Mary School celebrated its 90th Anniversary in the Fall of 2014 with Mrs. Kathy J. Sparks as principal. In August of 2016, Retired Bishop Walter Hurley became the Financial Administrator. Fr. Jerry Cupple was assigned to St. Gabriel Parish, Ida in July of 2017 and Associate Pastor Sean Bonner came to St. Mary to assist Bishop Hurley who remained the Financial Administrator.