Interesting Lansing Roman Catholic History event at St. Mary’s Cathedral tonight

Thought I would drop some tidbits here collected from my notes, that others might find interesting in the future.  If you would rather read this in Twitter-feed format, that is also available!  The event was sponsored by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, and the speaker was Rev. Msgr. George C. Michalek .  Any factual errors should be assumed to be my fault, and not those of anyone else.

Here is the church itself, pre-event, St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Lansing, MI.  The cornerstone of this church was laid in 1911, the church became a cathedral in 1937.  Was mentioned later that St. Mary’s was chosen to be the cathedral because it was the only Roman Catholic church in Lansing that was above ground – all the rest were below ground, with schools above them.  Found that interesting.  Was also mentioned that the sanctuary used to be much more ornate, but much was removed following Vatican II.

Here some stained glass windows that would be to the right in the sanctuary photo above.  Most of these were brought from Munich following WWI, the congregation being too poor to afford such things when building a brand new church.

This is now underneath the sanctuary, this a smaller meeting area used today for a twice-a-week Latin mass.  The speaker mentioned there seems to be especial interest by the young in the Latin mass.  Found that interesting.  The museum is through that door.

And here we are in the museum – as you can see, it’s a great space, and there was a great crowd for the event.  Be wonderful if more churches could offer a space like this (and have the history and people to do so).  And now, a closer look at a few items…

Here a very elaborate wood-carved bishop’s throne from early in the history of the diocese.

Here a miter worn by Bishop Zaleski at Vatican II (“when all the trouble started” ~ most of my Roman Catholic friends).

Apostolic letter creating the diocese of Lansing, 1937.

And finally just one more general, less crowded shot of the museum.

And then, sans photos, just some other things I found interesting:

1. The first RC church in Lansing was built in 1859, also called St. Mary’s.  Funds were short, and at one point contractors removed the window frames for non-payment!  The first baptism at a church in Lansing is recorded in 1865, first resident priest in 1866.  The first school, still standing, was built in 1873 for $3700, and Sisters of Charity arrived from Cincinnati to teach at it, and stayed for 95 years.

2. Found it interesting that early on, an offering was *not* taken, the church was funded by “pew rent”, paid quarterly, with the more expensive seats toward the front.  (Think the Bible might have something to say about that…).  Even after offering envelopes began, often a seat fee would still be collected.

In the 1890s, there were accusations that one unpopular priest was raising the seat fee for families who opposed his policies.  When they wouldn’t pay, he had their pews boarded up.  When that didn’t work, he had the seats removed.  And then began refusing communion to their daughters.  Eventually a group of armed men congregants forced him out of town.  The bishop ordered him back.  He resigned shortly thereafter, church attendance having dwindled to almost nothing.

3. There was a desire to create a Roman Catholic church downtown, as so many other Protestants were already near the Capitol and, presumably, had influence accordingly.  (This despite the fact that many Catholics had settled near the existing church, as they walked to services.)  In 1899, a Protestant attorney bought the site and then sold it to the Catholics, as many would have been unwilling to sell to them directly.  Catholics were often considered almost-foreigners, whose real king was in Rome.  (“As it darn well should be” ~many Catholics I talk to today, probably.)  🙂

4. The cornerstone of the new church (not yet cathedral) was laid in 1911, on July 4th, again to help send the message that “Catholics are Americans too!”.  In 1913, the church was consecrated, interesting because the church could not be consecrated until it was completely paid for.  The initial cost was around $140,000.  The face is mostly Sandusky limestone, and the walls are five feet thick.  The entrances are New Hampshire granite.  Remind me to tell me classes that when we do our downtown geology field trip.

5. The churches in Lansing had various times of trouble with the (anti-Catholic) KKK.  In the 1920s, the KKK fought to close all parochial schools, and were opposed not just by Catholics, but also many Protestants.  One audience member mentioned that as late as the 1950s, he can remember a KKK march down Michigan Avenue in Lansing.  He said it was a hot day, and the priest of Church of the Resurrection had women on the sidewalk staffing a lemonade stand.  But nearby and inside were men with guns, in case the situation should grow worse.

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