St. Francis celebrates anniversary with simplicity, faith
by Joe Bollig
LAPEER — St. Francis of Assisi Parish here celebrated its 150th anniversary in a way that its patron, no doubt, would have appreciated: with simplicity, humility and faith.
The anniversary Mass was celebrated on the patronal feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on Oct. 4. Following the Mass, a potluck supper was held in the basement parish hall.
“One hundred and fifty years is a long time,” said Father Farrar, pastor for two years. “No one here was, obviously, alive. One hundred and fifty years — it speaks in some sense to the same thing as simplicity, poverty and humility that Saint Francis does.”
“It’s the one thing that allows us to perdure,” he continued. “When one latches on, through faith to God, existence does not cease. In 150 years, our physical life will have long gone — in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years, certainly 150 more years. Well, what persists? The contact that faith makes with God persists. . . . The only thing that matters is what draws us here this night, which signifies the simplicity, the meekness, the humility . . . and you — who have seen the ‘here’s the pearl of great price, here’s what matters.’”
Originally, the parish was located on land donated by the McKenzie family for a church and cemetery. The Rock Creek Cemetery is still there, a rectangular plot located were East 250 Road and North 750 Road meet and make an “L”. This is slightly north of Rock Creek. The first priest to serve the parish was Father William Smith from the Catholic mission at Prairie City (now part of Baldwin).
The first church was built of native stone. An early disadvantage of the site was that, when Rock Creek flooded, no one to the south could get to the church. By 1884, only three Catholic families lived north of the creek, so the decision was made to reestablish the parish farther south.
The old stone church was torn down and a new wood frame church was built on a half-acre of land donated by the Fawl family, near the site of the present church, in 1885.
The current church has been improved over the years. In 1953, the church was extended in length from 30 feet to 54 feet, a vestibule was added at the entrance and the sanctuary was remodeled (adding “wings” for a sacristy and choir room). A basement was dug and given concrete walls and floor. Then, the whole church was moved a few yards north and placed on the new basement. Most of the renovation work was done by parishioners.
On June 24, 1954, Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler and other priests visited the parish to celebrate the remodeling, the parish’s “98-year anniversary,” and confirm seven-year-old Danny Radcliff Jr.
The archbishop was so impressed by Danny’s answers that he suggested the boy look him up in “about seven years” and have a talk about the priesthood.
St. Francis Parish has always been a mission of other parishes, being served by priests based in Prairie City (Baldwin), Lawrence, Edgerton, Ottawa, Garnett, Topeka, Waverly and Osage City. In a historical sense, the parish returned to its pioneer roots two years ago when Father Farrar, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Baldwin, also became pastor of St. Francis Parish.