Written by C.T. Skowronski, Submitted by Julian Hopp
October 3, 2008
Historical High Spots of Catholic Societies in Presque Isle County
By C T Skowronski
The early Catholic history of the territory in Presque Isle County is very closely associated with that of Mackinaw
and St. Ignace. At the latter place, with Father Marquette as leader, the Jesuit missionaries established their headquarters.
From there set out the long-suffering Black Robes, as the Jesuits were called by the Indians, to wend their toilsome way along
the lake shores in search of the scattered Indians encampments. What those first-missionaries suffered, how they bled and died
to teach the aborigines the first principles of Christianity, what credit is theirs for the souls they won from paganism is another story.
On the northeast Huron shore, the Indians had established permanent settlements at Thunder Bay and Michillmackinac as
Mackinaw was then known. Temporary camps were also to be found at Hammonds Bay, Black Lake and at the mouth of the Ocqueoc River,
if the Indian burial grounds may be accepted as evidence. The first Catholic sermons, it is likely, were preached in these very
places and it was here that the local Indians learned for the first time that their Great Spirit was the God of the white man.
The missionaries traveled mostly by canoe, and they often portaged across the peninsula jutting out into the lake between
Hammonds and Thunder Bay. It seemed like a half island to them and being French they called it by the French name of Presque Isle
or “Almost an island. “ Hence, the territory which now more or less comprises the county, emerged from folk lore into history with
a name definitely established, that of Presque Isle. As such it was already known to Col. Rogers, an Englishman who acted as Governor
of Michillmackinac territory in 1760 and who traveled from the post at Detroit to Mackinaw. In 1832 or thereabouts, Schoolcraft on
his trip around the state mentioned the portage of Presque Isle.
When the white man finally came to occur the territory, the Indians had practically disappeared, having been decimated by the
“white mans disease” and “fire water”. Out of the number of one thousand at Thunder Bay and twelve hundred at Mackinaw only about
one hundred and twenty were to be found at the ladder place and not many more at Thunder Bay. Those in and about Presque Isle closed
up ranks and moved to the larger settlements, so that but few were found here when the county was surveyed in 1848 and finally opened
for settlement. Nevertheless, the Sacrifice of the Mass was offered by the Black Robes on many a morning and many a time instruction
was given in the Indian language in the territory of “the Presque Isle,” hence the story must be told.
In 1870 when white settlers finally arrived in numbers, they came with a rush and among them came many Catholics, both Poles and
Germans. A number of historical events contributed to the rapid settlement of the territory which seems to have filled over night, as
the years of history are counted. The Civil War was over at last, and the routes to the West stood open, for you know that even today
Michigan is the West to most New Yorkers. Other reasons were not wanting.
The Poles left the Providence of Posen, now under Prussian rule, because of the intolerable Kulturkampf of Bismark. On the other
hand, the Germans--of every kingdom and principality—came because of the Franco-Prussian and the Austrian wars were just over, and they
were tired of war. America promised liberty and freedom so on they came in four and five masked schooners, which made the trip from
Hamburg to New York in about three months time. Others more fortunate or probably because they set out a few years later, came by
steamboat and covered the distance in fifteen to twenty days.
But what most helped to settle Michigan and the middle west as well, was the Homestead Act passed by Congress in 1862. By virtue
of this Act, a settler was given a grant of land, either 80 or 160 acres, to have and to hold as his very own providing only that
he remained on his homestead for the period of five years. Such bargains proved very attractive to the emigrants. They were mostly
people of the soil and hankered to step behind the plow once more.
As the result, the ports of entry were crowed with friends and relatives of those already here and the new comers stopped but
long enough in Detroit, Buffalo or Berea, Ohio, to earn a few dollars, then hurried on to chose the best land that the country had to offer.
The “Marine City”, it is told, came up with its full quota of passengers on each trip and Presque Isle became well settled in
the space of ten years. Though at the time there was but one state road, the trials were many. Each trial was, to the new arrivals,
the golden path to a plot they could call their own. Thus sprang up the townships of Rogers, Posen, Molke, and others. Posen from
the very outset became the rallying point of the Poles, who brought their religion with them and made no delay in forming a
Catholic center. But let us go into this in detail.
When the Poles arrived in Presque Isle County, they congregated in the township of Posen (which at that time included what is
now Pulawski Township) and soon overflowed into both Krakow and Metz, homesteading approximately half of each. The first Pole to
come was Lawrence Kowalski (the father of the Sheriff) who arrived in September 1870, coming here from Indiana. In November
of the same year came Matthias Szymanski. Soon after that came many others, among them were Andrew Wyrembelski (still living in Posen),
Frank Rozer (living in Cheboygan), Jacob Strzelecki (88 years old and residing in Pulawski). “On the first boat.” Also came Valentine
Losinski, Frank Witucki, Przybyla (father of Valentine), Doyas and Stosik. Everyone soon came after that, each trudging over the old
state road to what is now Liske and from there by path and trial to the homestead they had selected. Many is the trip these folks made
back and forth to town, either Rogers or Alpena, but mostly Rogers. They walked all the way up and back, following the section lines and
often fording the swamps, knee deep in water. Later better roads were provided and the walking improved, though it was sometime before the
pocket book provided a two-third down payment on a yoke of oxen, as horses were scarce in those days.
The story is still repeated of a young couple, Yurek by name, who chose their homestead 7 ˝ miles southwest of what is the
station of Metz. After making their purchase at Rogers stores, they stood in the roadway and argued for quite a while before deciding
who would carry the 100 lbs. of flour and provisions and who the cook stove. The wife was finally persuaded to shoulder the
stove since; as the husband put it “she might just as well begin to get acquainted with it at once.” When nightfall caught them
in the woods they calmly settled down to housekeeping on the spot and tried out both the stove, flour and bread bowl. The “placek,”
a cake made of flour mixed with water and baked in an open oven, was enjoyed by both, so the story goes. They are both gone and
forgotten now, their homestead abandoned, the building wrecked or burned, their labors seemingly lost, unless these latter contributed
to the life long happiness of the two.
Such were the vicissitudes of the early settlers. The one and only bright spot in their bleak and toilsome lives was the
Sabbath Day, when free from work, they hurried to church; some walking willingly the ten to fifteen miles in order to thank
the good Lord for being good to them—and to exchange gossip with their new friends and neighbors. From the Chancery records of St. Casimir’s Church at Posen, it appears that long before any church organization was attempted the new born infants were taken to Alpena for baptism. Among the signatures in the baptismal files appear the names of Fathers Toaken (1871-78),
Genin, Murray and Domen, all long dead and forgotten. John Bronikowski was the first child born at Posen and Frank Zabczynski saw
the light of day there soon afterward. It is reported that the first marriage celebrated was that of Valentine Kieliszewski. However,
the first marriage from Posen recorded in this county is that of Anthony Soik and Helen Samp, united in wedlock April 21, 1878,
by Father Bogacki.
Father Szulak, a Jesuit, sent by Bishop Borghea of Detroit was the first to make Posen his regular port of call and continued
in charge from 1874 to 1878 inclusively. He made only two visits the first year but came often after that. During the winter months
when children multiplied and the lake traffic was at a stand still, Father Szulak could not come, but instead Father Murray drove out
from Alpena and baptized at the home of Mattias Szymanski, just across from the present church.
Father Szulak was quite an orator, preaching in both Polish and German, the people flocking from the surrounding townships to hear
him. It was due to his suggestion that the settlement took the name of Posen. He held the first Mass at the home of Valentine Losinski.
On his second visit Mass and service took place at the home of Lawrence Kowalski.
Under the leadership of Father Szulak a meeting of all the settlers was held and after considerable debate the present church
site was agreed upon. The most important reason for this location was that it was the highest point in the township. This has proven
to be true for the church can now be seen very distinctly from a distance of nine to ten miles. On a clear day it can be seen from
the hills of both Alpena and Montmorency counties. The land was donated by Mr. Fred’s Denny Larke.
In 1876 a post office was opened at Posen and Mrs. Clara Jezerska received the appointment as postmistress. For lack of other
accommodations, the post office was located in the school building. This same building or at least a part of it, stood until 1916
being at one time used for school purposes and later as the schoolmasters residence. Later the post office was moved a mile south
to where the village of Posen had been started.
The first resident pastor of Posen was Father Bogacki (1876-1898). When he arrived the Posen Society had become quite a good
sized congregation and with his customary energy, he immediately set about erecting an appropriate church building which stood on
the site of the present school. After some years this burned and as the parish now numbered about three hundred families, a large
brick edifice was erected. The parsonage was built about the same time. The interesting fact in this connection is that the brick for
the building was made at a clay bank in Presque Isle and hauled over the corduroy roads to Posen by ox carts. This is just one example
of the spirit shown by the pioneers who found no labor too arduous in providing a suitable church to house the tabernacle of the lord.
On the night of March 3, 1896, the church again caught fire and went up in flames. Not in the least discouraged by these
misfortunes, the parishioners got together and constructed the fine church which now stands. In 1901 the present brick school
superceded the former frame structure. It might be stated at this time that the first full time school to be conducted in
Posen and for that matter, the only such school for many years was the parochial school. Anthony Kwilinski was persuaded to
come from South Bend, Indiana, to act as schoolmaster and organist. He married Josephine Kowalski, the daughter of Laurence.
During these years (1879-1898) the Posen parish grew and prospered. Twice the church burned down and twice it had been rebuilt.
The school enrollment increased steadily, necessitating the calling into the field of the Felician Sisters, under who competent
direction the school remained for many years. Expansion is costly and all of this called for a outlay of money. The result was
that dissatisfaction with the existing regime soon became apparent. This brought about the resignation of Father Bogacki. Exhausted
by the 18 years of pioneering and incessant financial stringency, he was glad to be relieved and accepted the St. Stanislaus parish,
at Bay City.
Father Marian Matkowski, the second resident pastor at Posen, remained but two short years.
The next in charge was Father Joseph Lewandowski (1899-1913). Since 1913 Father Chodkiewicz presided at St. Casimir’s for one
and a half years. After him came the Rev. Joseph Koss, under whose tutelage the parish remains to the present. This brings us to
“modern times.” The Posen parish now number 350 families with a school enrollment of 250 children. A few years ago the Sisters of
Mercy have taken charge of the school curriculum has been reorganized to suit the modern requirements of the children. Recently
up-to-date conveniences have been installed in the parish building. These with the improved church grounds serve as a mark of the
progressive spirit which prevails at Posen today.
Altho the survey of Presque Isle County was completed as early as 1848 and most of the timber lands bough up by Eastern capitalists,
yet the territory remained uninhabited by white men for another 20 years. Up to 1868 not a tree had been felled. The hills and dales
were covered with stately forests of pine, spruce and balsam, as far as the eye could see. Elsewhere along the shore the wood choppers
had established fueling stations for the accommodations of the wood burning steamers. No so at Rogers. The virgin forest, green and
fresh, extended from the very shore, up to Hoeft’s Hill, all along the ridge and far into the interior. Fires were not known in those
days for the Indian believed in conservation.
In the fall of 1867 a group of government surveyors engaged in the triangulation of the lakes, arrived in the vicinity of what is
now Rogers. Larke, Molitor and Raymond made up the party. The beauty of the spot so captivated them that they laid aside the tripod to
settle here permanently. Fortune favored them, for William E. Rogers, a New York capitalist, who had acquired many acres of timber in
this territory, was now eager to begin lumbering operations. The two connected up with him in 1868 to found the new settlement of
Rogers Mills. Larke took it upon to procure laborers, journeying time and again to Detroit and bringing with him boat loads of
German and Polish immigrants who were then crossing the ocean in large numbers.
Frederic Denny Larke was a staunch Catholic; hence it was with him that the Catholic history of Rogers begins. The many who came
in contact with him testify to the fact that he possessed an outstanding personality. Charitable beyond words, public spirited, looking
to the welfare of others rather than his own, he was a man of many friends and no enemies. Because there was nothing conceited or
self centered about him, he held the confidence of all. The “Biographical Sketches of Representative Michigan Men” speaks of him as
follows: “In his rank, Mr. Larke deserves to be placed as the founder and organizer of Presque Isle . . . In 1876 he established the first
newspaper in Presque Isle County, the Presque Isle County Advance . . . Mr. Larke’s services have been recognized by the people of
Presque Isle county, and he held almost every office in the gift of the people . . . Mr. Larke built the telephone line between
Alpena and Roger City, which was purchased by the Michigan Bell Co. in 1893. . . . . Mr. Larke is directly descended from Sir
Anthony Denny, Earl of Norwich, whom Shakespeare makes one of his dramatis personae in his play of King Henry VIII.”
Soon after the Rogers Mills camp was established, Crawford, heretofore engaged in cord wood operations at Presque Isle,
transferred to Crawford’s Quarry. Both Crawford’s Quarry and Rogers began to boom and grow. Mills were set up, machinery
imported by boat from Detroit and docks were built. Thru the influence of Molitor and Larke the post office was established
at Rogers Mills instead of Crawford’s Quarry, tho the latter seems to have become quite as important and probably more so.
Both places wanted the post office and both fought for it tooth and nail. The elections of those days proved very interesting
because there was something to fight for, tho the post office was just one of the bones of contention.
By 1872 the Catholics had settled here in sufficient numbers to have a priest sent to them occasionally, but whether the
missionary came from Bay City, Alpena or Detroit, no one seems to remember. The first services were held in the residence of Mr.
Larke where the Catholics frequently gathered. Among them were Frank Sommers, Charles Platz, Sr., John Dullack and the Mangles.
Subsequent services for the next three or four years (1773-1876) were held at the home of Frank Sommers who lived where
Nowicki’s store is now located. In 1872 Albert Molitor and his wife donated three lots for a church site and upon these in 1877
the church building which still stands was erected.
Father Szulak had a very interesting career. He came to America from German Poland in 1870, being scheduled to report for
mission work in Texas, but for some reason he never got there, choosing the middle west for his missionary field. We find him
working among the scattered colonies of Poles in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. Wherever he appears,
missionary parishes are established, churches are built and order supercedes chaos.
Early in 1878 Father Bogacki, who had been appointed to the pastorate at Posen, took charge of the St. Ignatius Mission at
Rogers City. The church building had been framed and enclosed the fall before by the Kuhlmans (Leopold and Max), Frank Sommers
and others, but still lacked interior finish. The old financial records show that the plastering and interior finish, work and
material included, was completed for the sum of $137.00. The Church was quite an imposing structure in its day, altho some
complained that it was located too far out of town—2nd and Erie Streets. Be it known that Huron Ave was then the “Main Street”
of the village and the side streets were but few and difficult to find.
Following the resignation of Father Bogacki at Posen in 1898, the Rev. Godfrey Lenzen was placed in charge of all the Catholics
Missions in Presque Isle County. Father Lenzen resided with Father Charles Dequoy at St. Anne’s, Alpena, from where he attended
Rogers City, Metz, Ocqueoc, Millersburg, Hammonds Bay and Grace Harbor.
From 1903 to 1906 the Missions were attended by the Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Albins, also residing at Alpena. For the next ten
years (1906-1916) the St. Ignatius parish of Rogers City remained attached as a mission to St. Dominic’s, Metz, which now has a
During Father Kaplonowski’s time (1909) the parish became quite ambitious and proceeded to add a miniature belfry to the
church building. The bell, however remained lacking until Father Chodkiewicz (1913) busied himself to find one. It proved quite a
singular bell at that, with a history of all its own. When the present pastor arrived on the scene (April 9, 1916) the bell sounded
rather familiar to him. After considerable inquiry it developed that it had been used for years at the Reigel public school at Bay City.
When the Reigel school was sold to the congregation at West Bay City, to be remodeled into a church the bell too, it seems turned
Catholic and journeyed all the way to Rogers City to call the Catholics to Mass.
In 1912 the St. Ignatius parish, together with all other organizations of the town began to manifest new life. Here is the reason
thereof: The limestone quarry, opened at Crawford’s in 1908, suddenly leaped into prominence. Mr. Carl D. Bradly had arrived from
Chicago to carry on the work and his spirit was catching. His optimism and good fellowship proved a revelation and it took the town
by story. The plant expanded and the town began to grow with new vigor, so much so, that its population of 500 in 1900 had multiplied
six fold by 1922. The Catholic congregation increased in numbers likewise. Father Koss, who attended Rogers in 1914, found it necessary
to hold services twice a month instead of once a month as heretofore. The calls for the priest’s ministrations of one kind or another,
became so frequent and necessitated so much constant driving between Metz and Rogers that Father Czachorski (1915) was forced to resign
and betake himself to New Mexico, where he spent two years recuperating. When the present pastor arrived (April 9, 1916) the parish
numbered 400 souls but doubled in size the same year with the enrollment of 60 additional families. On September 1st, 1919, at the
request of Bishop Kelly, the writer transferred his residence to the congregation, thus receiving its first resident pastor, just
50 years from the day the first Catholics settled here.
From that time to the present the St. Ignatius parish has shown steady growth. In 1920 Mr. and Mrs. Paul H. Hoeft donated seven
blocks in Block 13 of Gumm’s addition for a school building. This gift coupled with the help of The Michigan Limestone Co. and the
generosity of numerous friends made it possible for the Catholics to build an 8 class room school with an addition to accommodate
the Sisters School opened in the new building on September 5, 1921, with an enrollment of 170 children occupying the four downstairs
rooms, the upstairs being used for a church auditorium. During the three previous summers the children’s catechism classes had been
conducted by the Sisters now moved to Rogers to assume charge of the school. While the school building was still in the of construction
the Ladies’ Societies of the congregation busied themselves to raise $8,500 with which to build and furnish the rectory. Heretofore the
priest had been accommodated with a room at the Kitchen house and an office in the Emil Plath residence.
On Sunday, Jan. 6, 1924, both the church-school building were destroyed by fire. Just how the fire originated no one knows, though
it is presumed that defective wiring was the cause.
Gloom and sadness gripped the hearts of the pastor and the people, The sky looked dark, but only for a time. Sympathy, encouragement
and help poured in from all sides. In two weeks time the school was resumed, the classes being housed in the Court House, the Maccabee
Hall, the Town Hall and the Methodist Church. The citizens of the town took up a collection to help towards a new building. Mr. Bradley
and Mr. Munson arranged a substantial subsidy by Michigan Limestone Co. Father Koss collected $900.00 in Posen, Father Gatzke $ $400.00
at Alpena, the Rev. L. Krakowski $400.00 at Bay City. Besides these many private donations were sent in by out of town friends. By August
of the same year, the corner stones for a new building was laid and the building completed in May 1925.
The congregation now numbers 1500 souls, about 275 families, including 20 families who are scattered thru the townships of Molke,
Belnap, Pulawski and Bismark.
Metz Centrally located, rugged, still teeming with game including deer, bear, wildcat, rabbit, fox and partridge; dotted with beautiful
lakes; blessed with good soil but hampered by poor roads; settled by warm and generous hearted Poles and Germans; one of the few
localities to boast of personal liberty; independent in spirit and insistent on crystallizing its own political views; its rough and
ready lumber days not so far distant as to have been forgotten; that is the township of Metz. Into this wooded nook, in the year 1873,
came Carl Dramburg and Jacob Bruno, both German immigrants, and both prepared for the struggle with their new environment. Dramburg was
the father of Julius, the present County Commissioner of Poor, and Bruno is the immediate ancestor of Mrs. Alma Schroder, who lives on
the old homestead to this day. Altho the historical data of the township as such is very interesting, I find that I must confine myself
to the Catholic “high spots” solely.
The Catholic pioneers of Metz township to arrive I 1873 were John Nowicki, Andrew Burzych and Valentine Sytek. Nowicki came from
Manistee, Michigan, while the other two journeyed up from Detroit, where they had stopped on the way from the Old Country. Among those
who followed came Nicholas Centala and family in 1879. He had been employed in Berea, Ohio, and in order to reach the homestead located
for him he found it necessary to take the side wheeler “St. Paul” from Cleveland to Alpena, transferring to there to the Marine City in
order to get to Rogers.
Gus Bredow was then in the trucking business, for it was he who transported the household affects and family, all in one load, from
Rogers to Metz. Centala paid $100.00 for the livery hire, a rather high price at that day and age but this was not all. When at length the
family arrived in Metz in safety, they were obliged to disembark and chop their way thru for the last mile, to reach their “farm” where
lumbering operations and pine stump pulling was first in order.
Twelve years later, times were to change for the railroad was pushing its way to the north. With its advent the Metz pine forests
dissolve and disappear, giving way to new farms as well as new settlers, many of whom have found success. John Haske, the Konieczny and
the Makowski families must be included in this number. The Haske’s first homestead in Pulawski, John and Joseph later in settling in Metz.
In time Steven Konieczny left the farm to engage in business, becoming the generally acknowledged factotum of Metz township. Steve is
known as a very safe political guide, and his friends are a legion.
All thru the first years the Catholics belonged to the Posen parish, often walking many miles to get to church. In 1902 they tired
of this and bethought themselves of a church of their own. Consequently a general meeting was called, one Sunday afternoon, at the home
of Nicholas Centala. What preliminaries took place before the meeting was called to order is known only to the initiate. John Haske, Watson
Centala and Andrew Burzych presided. After considerable pro and cons, the location was selected. That the acreage then belonged to the
township did not enter into discussion. This difficulty was soon obviated, the 20 acres determined upon deeded over by the township for
the gross sum of $5.00. Father Godfrey Lenzen was then called into council.
Bishop Richter insisted that the society build a church school combination, but the committee to charge had its own mind on the
madder. The church now standing was erected. For a long time the bishop demurred but finally accepted the property and blessed the church.
Everyone in the township turned out for the occasion. The farm horses were sleeked out and groomed, a cavalcade was organized and this
formidable array went out in procession to meet the bishop. It was quite a spectacle but if it proved to the world that Metz could hold
its own in the way of revival pageants.
Father Lewandowski, Krakowski and Banaslewicz held services at Metz for a period of three years. In 1906 Father Kaczmarek was
appointed the first resident pastor.
Memorable was the year 1908, when in the afternoon of October 6th the “Metz Fire” visited the township in sweeping conflagration.
Judgment day will hold few terrors for those who lived thru that one hour. The furies of destruction struck Metz at 3 p.m. and at 4 p.m.
all was over but the scorching heat and the smoke. Men and beasts gained the open spaces or fell in their tracks. Eighteen perished while
aboard the rescue train. One John Nowicki got to his farm in time to lead his wife and children away but both he and the wife perished
before safety was reached. Of the children, four were spared as if by miracle. Two of them, the girls are now members of the Felican
order of Sisters, while the boy Steven is acting as recruiters sergeant at Buffalo for the U.S. army.
Father Kaplanowski, the pastor of St. Dominic’s, Metz, at the time, has never gotton over the nervous strain of that terrible
day. A few of the farms escaped destruction together with the church buildings.