This history-conscious Sesquicentennial year in Ann Arbor is affecting St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church as it dusts off parish records in preparation for its Diamond Jubilee year. The St. Thomas spires span half of the city's 150-year history. The church building at 520 Elizabeth St. was built in 1899. Those parish records have been well preserved. For that, St. Thomas is indebted to Dr. Louis W. Doll, who wrote "The History of Saint Thomas Parish" in 1940. The book was written for St. Thomas' centennial observance as a parish in 1940. It traces the roots of Catholicism in Washtenaw County back to the early 19th century. Several parishioners are now working on updating that history to the present. This year's celebration marks the 75th anniversary of the church building while the one in 1940 marked St. Thomas' existence as a congrega tion. Dr. Doll, 63, is a native of Chelsea who now teaches history at Delta College in Bay City. He owns the apartment building at 615 Lawrence. To celébrate the Diamond Jubilee, "St. Thomas Festival Week" plans are being made by several committees within the church. The special week of activities will be May 18-25. That week will include a "Vaudeville to Video" parish show at Pioneer High School May 18, a family day at the Knights of Columbus grounds on May 19; the biggest bingo in the church's history May 22; the first annual Ascensión Thursday Field Mass May 23; Youth Night May 24; and Las Vegas Night May 25. Details of the activities, including a list of prizes, will be announced at a later date. After St. Thomas School recesses, Fr. William F. Meyers, pastor, and his associate, r. William Koenigsknecht, are planning to lead the congregation in the first refurbishing since l965. Fr. Meyers says a thorough cleaning and redecorating is planned. The baptistry, altar of sacrifice and tabernacle will be relocated. Designs for the ceiling also are planned. In a letter to the congregation, the pastor said the organ, floor and window areas are due for repairs. In 1965, when Msgr. Warren G. Peek was pastor, the parish took on a new look as the sanctuary walls were covered with a brilliant red Florentine mosaic tile, flecked with gold. New pews were installed and the church walls painted an off-white. New light fixtures also were installed. When parishioners weigh St. Thomas' heritage this year, they may focus their attention on Msgr. Peek's 29 years as priest, longer than any other St. Thomas pastor. Or they may consider the achievements of his sor - and close friend - Fr. Thomas Carey, who was pastor at the time of the church's centennial and spearheaded the building of a new St. Thomas School. But those who want to zero in on the construction of the current building, the event at which the Diamond Jubilee is aimed, will look back to the days of "Fr. Kelly's Dream." The parish building is a result of that dream. Almost from the day he set foot in tire church in 1891, Fr. Edward D. Kelly moved toward construction of a new parish building, the old one being overcrowded. According to Dr. Doll's history: "Parish affairs had gone along in a leisurely fashion during his predecessor's time, and some of the older parishoners, who feit that their accustomed calm would be disturbed by a younger man, petitioned Bishop Foley to leave Fr. Fierle in Ann Arbor. When Fr. Kelly heard about it he simply told the congregation from the pulpit that he was here to stay whether they likeditornot." At the first meeting of the church committee after he carne,. Fr. Kelly put his members to work collecting money for the purchase of a parish horse which they were to select, according to Dr. Doll's history. "He considered it entirely improper for the pastor of a parish as large as Ann Arbor to depend upon the unsatisfactory service of livery horses. He informed the congregation that he himself would buy the 'Fr. Kelly for the most part was his own adviser. When he did ask for counsel, it was mostly after he had made up his own mind.' - Dr. Doll's 'The History of Saint Thomas Parish' buggy. The committee collected $134.50 and as a result, 'Topsy' became a parish fixture. " 'Topsy' gave faithful service until replaced by the bicycle which Fr. Kelly used for years on parish calis until June, 1910, when the Ann Arbor Council of the Knights of Columbus gave him a substantial donation toward the purchase of an automobile." Less than a month after getting the horse 'Topsy' Fr. Kelly announced plans for a new parish hall to be erected at a cost of about $2,500. "The parish debt was estimated to be about $4,000, so it would be the goal of the parish to raise $6,500 during . the coming year. This must have taken the breath of his hearers, who were accustomed to a budget of about $3, 000 a year," according to Dr. Doll's history. Sunday Mass was said for the first time in the new hall Feb. 28,1892. Fr. Kelly's dream of a permanent church began to be realized early in the year 1896 when a subscription drive was launched. Since Fr. Kelly had taken the position that St. Thomas contained within its limits a state university, he went wherever he was permitted to speak in behalf of the parish. "The dedication service began at 10:30 Sunday morning, Nov. 26, 1899, followed by a solemn Mass by Bishop Foley before a large number of bishops, priests and members of the parish. Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul, Minn. preached the sermón on the 'Truth of Religión'," according to Dr. Doll's history. Fr. Kelly's tenure also saw the placing of St. Thomas High School' on the approved list of the U-M in 1908 for the first time and the opening of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in 1911. Of Fr. Kelly's character, Dr. Doll Wrote: "Fr. Kelly was a great administrator. The flourishing condition of the parish at the time he left it in 1919 in comparison with what it was in 1891, when he carne, is proof of this. It was due mainly to his ability and personality, supported by his people! Fr. Kelly, for the most part was his own adviser. When he did ask for counsel, it was mostly er he had made up his own mind. "Fr. Kelly was very businesslike in his relations with everyone, and he commanded almost universal respect. His influence with men in all walks of Iife was unusual. He was a close friend of President Angelí of the U-M and many of the facully. He counted many friends among the non-Catholics of Ann Arbor. He had the devoted affection of his parishoners." Dr. Doll wrote that the Roman Catholic Church was brought to North America chiefly by two national groups, the Frenen and the Spanish, with Quebec and Mexico as centers. U was the Irish, however, who gave a real ímpetus to the growth of the church and established it in practically every section of the United States. For many decades the Catholic Church in this country was the Irish church." A small group of these Irish Catholics concentrated in Northfield Township around 1823. Fr. Patrick O'Kelly, who later became St. Thomas' first pastor, settled among these people. Northfield became the first parish in Washtenaw County and the first English-speaking Catholic church in Michigan. It is now the historie St. Patrick's parish. The parisl es of St. Thomas and St. Patrick's have continued a close relationship through theyears. Dr. Doll's book includes a chapter on athletics by Edward F. Engle. Dr. Doll's conclusión, though written in 1940, still rings with a message, perhaps: "A century ago the parish was Irish. Today it is American, lts problems are American and not European. It is a democratie church in a democratie system. It owes its welfare to the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States and similar clauses in state constitutions. The maintenance of those enactments is vital to the church."
Rights Held By
Donated by the Ann Arbor News. © The Ann Arbor News.