ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI PARISH
The founding of St. Francis Parish was August 6, 1946. the Most Reverend William Murphy, Bishop of the Saginaw, Michigan Diocese, directed that a mission church be established in the beautiful resort town of Lewiston in northern lower Michigan.
Prior to the founding of the parish, mass was celebrated in private homes by priests in the residence at Saginaw and Mio, Michigan.
Father Pancratius Mizera, a Franciscan Friar with residence at St. Leonard’s Friary, Saginaw, Michigan was assigned by the Franciscan Provincial to this work. To Father Pancratius was given the task of establishing and building a church for the area’s eight Catholic families and a number of vacationers.
Father Pan (as he became affectionately known) arrived walking into town carrying a battered suitcase. Someday, he thought, he would have one of the finest and best-known churches in the entire North Woods.
Father Pan arranged temporary shelter for himself with the few Catholic families. He conducted services in their homes and in a local quonset building until the church could be built.
Eight lots were purchased and Father Pan borrowed $3,000 at 2% interest to purchase a quonset building and other materials to erect the church.
Father Pan and a few volunteers, both Catholic and non-Catholic, soon went to work. The Masons, their own temply a main structure in Lewiston at the time, were a tremendous help to Father Pan.
External construction of the church was composed of corrugated steel window frames with cement block foundation. The interior was finished in rustic style-weld-tex on walls, pine on sanctuary walls-and half log slab finish on pew armrests. The floor was tiled and the church was heated by a hot air furnace. The ultimate seating capacity of the church was 120.
As time passed, with good automobiles and the gradual improvement of roads, the influx of summer visitors proved the church to be too small. Sometimes worshippers had to stand outside and hear mass over a loudspeaker. Another building was added to the rear of the church to accommodate the increasing number of vacationers and to serve as a sacristy.
Next, a four room rectory was erected with Father Pan doing much of the building. When complete, he maintained the buildings himself.
Three years later, Father Pan and his Church Committee decided a parish hall was needed. Faced with funding problems, the undaunted Father Pan, who never knew defeat, and his few volunteers, completed the hall. The hall’s exterior walls were composed of art block. The hall waas well furnished with the necessary equipment needed to enjoy dinners and all parish-sponsored activities.
In 1954, Mr. and Mrs. John Fredman of Birmingham, Michigan purchased a piece of land north of town and donated it to the parish to serve as a cemetery. The Fredmans also had a chapel and tool-room built on the cemetery property. A large cement cross was erected later in the center of the cemetery.
In 1959, Father Pan began to achieve his big dream, a spacious new church. With the normal population swelling to hundreds during the summer months and many of them contributing regularly to St. Francis, Father Pan asked approval to build a new church. Most Reverend Stephen Woznicki, Bishop of Saginaw, granted approval for construction of a new St. Francis church. This new church was started in 1959 and was used for the first time on May 8, 1960. Bishop Woznicki officiated at the dedication with many diocesan clergy, parishioners and townspeople in attendance.
Construction of the church features steel, glass and cement block. The roof is made from poured cement. Interior of the church is finished in block and brick. The altar is a beautiful Indiana limestone and weighs 1.5 tons. The church is finished with a large sacristy, utility rooms, rest rooms, a cry room, an usher’s room and a choir loft with a seating capacity of thirty.
The main portion of the church has a seating capacity of 420. At the time of its erection, many parishioners thought it much too large for such a small community, but Father Pan showed foresight and wisdom in building the church. He planned a knock-out panel for a future chapel, which today, saved our parish several thousand dollars.
However, because of ill health Father Pan obtained a leave of absence. Father Thaddeus Popek, O.F.M. was appointed administrator on July 27,1966. Only three months later, Father Pan died in Grand Rapids Monastery knowing he had accomplished his mission of building a beautiful new church in this lovely north woods area. Following Father Pan’s death, Father Thaddeus Popek (Father Ted) was named pastor. In early 1967, Father Ted engaged the services of an architect to draw plans for the rectory Father Pan had hoped to build. Sketches of the new rectory were approved by the Bishop and soon construction was underway in July, 1967.
The old rectory, old church and parish hall had to be removed to make room for the new rectory. It was hoped that the small old church would be preserved as a shrine, but eventually it began to deteriorate and preserving it for sentimental reasons was no longer feasible. Father Ted became an occupant of the spacious and comfortable new retory on Christmas Day of 1967.
Since the year of 1946, which marked a very humble beginning, the church of St. Francis of Assisi, Lewiston, Michigan, has not only progressed a long way, but by the grace of God, has marvelously developed and expanded. The material and spiritual blessings have been many and varied. The spirit and cooperation of the native parishioners and summer parishioners, have been remarkable and unwavering.
During the pastorate of Father Aurelian, the parish paid off its debt and begun to accumulate a large amount of money for future facilities. Due to the large number of tourists attending mass, the need for an overflow chapel became imperative. Also, there was an increasing need for a ground-floor social hall and classroomms for our C.C.D. classes.
more to come…