Our Lady on the River
St. Mark
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HISTORY OF ST. MARK CHURCH

During the Civil War and the years of rebuilding that followed, Fr. Aioyslus Lambent regularly visited the French in and around what is now Algonac. By 1888 there were 29 Missions registered in the Catholic Directory. On the St. Clair River there were two of them St Catherine, Algonac and a Mission of the Holy Cross In Marine City.

It was in 1869 that Fr. Lambert built a church on St Clair Blvd. in Algonac, Michigan. He named It St. Catherine' - He continued to visit Algonac regularly, but no resident pastor was appointed until 1894 when Fr. Francis Kemper took over. On November 3, 1895 the church on St. Clair Blvd. burned to the ground. Fr. Benoit Gear (pronounced Ben-wah Jerry) who succeeded Fr. Kemper started construction on a new St. Catherine Church on Fruit Street. Fr. fiery continued at St. Catherine until Easter 1924.

On June 1, 1887, land on the South Channel of the St. Clair River was purchased from William C. and Patricia A Bennett by Peter Dederich, A.F. Fisher and Ferdinand Kuhn as a site for a church. Permission was granted by Bishop John B. Foley to erect a church which would be a mission of St. Catherine, Algonac. This church was to be called St. Mark after the man known to be a friend of St. Peter who subsequently became "Mark the Evangelist". The first service was held in July 1897. While Pastor of St. Catherine Church, Fr. Gory took on the additional duties of ministering to St. Mark, Mission of St. Catherine, Harsens Island, and remained Pastor there for 27 years.

Prior to Fr. Gory's pastoral duties on Harsens Island, the Harsen family attempted to bring a religious atmosphere to their home. In 1800 a missionary on his way to Mackinac island, while becalmed on take St. Clair, found himself the object of Harsen's attentions. They rowed out to meet him but were unable to convince the missionary to stay.

In the early days of St. Mark By-The-Sea, as it was affectionately known, people came to Mass by boat or chartered a tug. The tug would bring the faithful to a point in front of the Church where a scow was anchored. The scow would be loaded and maneuvered to shore by hand where everyone would get off and attend Mass. Some hardy souls came in their own boat but the docking facilities were woefully inadequate and their boats would get buffeted about by the waves. In 1926 a new dock was built in front of the present church. When the Island Road became a reality the need for cpming to church in a boat became obsolete and the dock was finally abandoned.

In 1935 St. Mark Church almost became a memory. The government proposed to straighten out the South Channel of the St. Clair River to make it easier for ships to navigate the Channel. This would have taken all of the property that St. Mark occupied. At the instigation of A.J. Saxer from Cleveland, who along with his mother owned a summer home on Harsens Island, a great hue and cry ensued. The St. Clair Flats and Harsens Island Improvement Association began a vast letter writing campaign and the plans were subsequently abandoned. Instead the Channel was dredged and St. Mark was saved.

Our original church seated 150 parishioners. It appears that the main part was the bell tower and the part of the current church that goes up to the side additions. In 1923 the church was extended to the back of the present altar. This increased the capacity to 250. In 1929 the two side wings were added which gave us room for 450 parishioners. In 1948 a new heating system was installed and the back, behind the altar, was made larger to accommodate lt. New bathrooms were added and the area on each side of the altar was changed to its present appearance. Much of the original wood can still be seen inside the church. The stained glass windows were added during the third renovation and were memorials donated by members of the parish. Some of these memorials were for members of families that were original settlers of Harsens Island. Their descendants can still be found in and around the area.

It was in March of 1972 that Charles Hasse wrote to Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton requesting that St. Mark be raised to parish status. With Fr. Lederman's help and a concentrated effort by the parishioners who wrote many letters to Bishop Gumbleton, St. Mark finally reached its goal and In November of 1974 became a full parish. Fr. Paul Lederman was assigned to be our first pastor. He served here part-time being assigned to the Archdiocese to work on the tribunal three days a week. While Fr. Peter VanderLinden was our Pastor we acquired two summer missions: The Old Club and Club Island.

Under the leadership of Fr. Peter VanderLinden our present rectory was built adjacent to the church. St Mark Church Prior to this time the priests who helped us at St. Mark stayed in the home owned by the parish on Donald Street, behind the Post Office. In 1983, while Fr. James Wysocki was administrator we put the first addition on the rectory called "The Family Room". We added four classrooms to this addition in 1993.

St. Mark Church is known all over the country. To some perhaps, it is just a landmark to be noted with interest as they get a fleeting glimpse of it while sailing up and down the St Clair River, but to many It is a "Heart" mark with memories of children's choirs, marriages, baptisms, parish picnics, dinners and friends made and lost.

~1897 - 1997 from the archives of St. Mark Church

"The Windows of St. Mark Church" by Marie Eidt

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This article is reprinted by permission of the author, and The Delta News, produced by Harsens Island St. Clair Flats Association, www.hiscfa.org.

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610 South Water Street ~ Marine City, Michigan 48039
Phone: (810)765-3568 ~ Fax: (810)765-2974

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