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St. Casimir Church at 10075 M-65 North, Posen, MI 49776 US - 125 years of Faith and Heritage

125 years of Faith and Heritage
By Daniel Mulka

     The occasion of the 125th anniversary of the assignment of Father Anthony Bogacki as first pastor of the Polish parish in Posen prompts us to review and update the history of St. Casimir’s, its pastors, its parishioners and its faith along with its sacrifices and accomplishments. In presenting this latest account, we wish to express a deep debt of gratitude to several men who have provided excellent information about our past. Writings of former pastors, Fr. C. T. Skowronski, Fr. Casimir Szyper and  Fr. Gerald Micketti, have provided much material. Publications These Very Stones Cry Out compiled by Fr. Patrick Crawley, Where the Star Came To Rest by Msgr. Gasper Ancona and Gniezniks by Harry Milostan, as well as materials from research by Bole Centala, have not only preserved the past but have provided a most valuable link to our ancestors.

      In  1860, Presque Isle County, located on the northeastern shores of Lake Huron, was part of the Northwest Territory. The manner in which this part of Michigan was settled by immigrants from Europe has been colorfully portrayed by Fr. Skowronski and warrants verbatim presentation: “In 1879, when white settlers finally arrived in numbers in Presque Isle County, 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 overnight as the years of history are counted.
 
      The Poles left the Province of Poznan now under Prussian rule because of the intolerable Kulturkampf of Bismark. On the other hand, the Germans of every kingdom and principality came because   the  Franco-Prussian   and  the  Austrian wars were just over and they were tired of war. America promised liberty and freedom.

      So they came in four and five masted schooners which made the trip from Hamburg to New York in about three months. Others, more fortunate or probably because they set out a few years later, came by steamboat and covered the distance in 15 to 20 days.

      But what 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 remain on his homestead for a period of five years. Such bargains proved very attractive to the emigrants.

      They were mostly men of the soil and hankered to step behind a plow on land that was their own, for many of them had been more or less indentured to the landed gentry of Europe.

      As a result, the ports of entry were crowded with friends and relatives of those already here and the newcomers stopped but long enough in Buffalo, Detroit or Berea, Ohio, to earn a few dollars, then hurried north to choose the best land the county had to offer.

      The “Marine City”, it is told, came up with its full quota of passengers on each trip, and Presque Isle became settled in the space of ten years, as well as all of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. 
Thus sprang up the townships of Rogers, Posen, Krakow, Pulaski, Metz, Moltke 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.”
 
      Another author explains. By the 1870’s, there was widespread discontent in Russian Poland. The landless masses were unable to find jobs. Revolts had failed and compromise with the regime was useless. About 1,300,000 people left Russian Poland for America between 1870 and 1914.

      Again we read. Two movements arose in the Galicia area: One was political seeking rights for all classes, the other sent some 1,100,000 people on ships across the Atlantic to the United States and Canada.
      The Chicago Tribune characterized these early settlers as follows: “The Poles are a brave, chivalrous, patriotic, high-principled and self-sacrificing race. They are very proud and haughty and readily resent and punish any insult especially if offered to their women. The countrymen of Sobieski are as demonstrative as the Irishmen when they indulge too much but they seldom if ever fight and they always make up. Patriotism is the healing influence for whether born in Galicia, Lithuania or Poznan the Pole is a Pole as a Patriot. They marry young and have, as might be expected, large families.”

       As idyllic as the above may seem these early emigrants were poor, had nothing, did not know the language and were forced to work initially in lumbering camps to make a living (a winter’s work netted $17). They had homes to build, virgin timbers to cut, and land to clear before a grain of seed could be put into the ground.
      The hardships of the early settlers are well documented by Fr. Szyper who writes: “These folks trudged over the old State road, from there by paths and trails to the homestead they had selected. Each trail was the golden path to a plot they could call their own. Many were the trips to Rogers where they walked all the way and back following sections lines and often fording the swamps knee deep in water. Nightfall often found them in the woods where they spent the night. Later better roads were provided, though it took some time before the pocket book could provide the two-thirds down payment on a yoke of oxen as horses were scarce in those days.”
      The first Pole to arrive in Posen in 1870 was Lawrence Kowalski, the father of Anthony, who later became sheriff of Presque Isle County. Later in November of the same year, Mathias Szymanski came along with many others, among whom were Andrew Wyrembelski, Frank Rozek, and Jakub Strzelecki. “On the first boat” also came Valentine Losinski, Frank Witucki, Lawrence Przybyla, Jakub Dojas and John Stosik.
      Early on, a few Posen farmers petitioned Bishop Borgess to send a priest to minister to their spiritual needs. Father Francis Xavier Szulak, a Jesuit missionary from Chicago, received jurisdiction from Bishop Borgess for all of Michigan. Milostan writes: “The greatest priest of the Polish people in America was the Reverend Francis X. Szulak S.J.. Szulak knew more Polish Americans than any other priest. He knew the Polish immigrants’ attitude toward the hierarchy, knew how to organize and build missions and churches, and was not afraid of any bishop as only Szulak had an understanding of the immigrants’ desire to make America their permanent home.”

      Born in Moravia near the tiny village of Kremsier in 1825, Szulak was admitted into the Society of Jesus order in 1845 in the Galicia or southern region of Poland. After several years of teaching throughout Poland, Germany, Austria and France Fr. Szulak was given permission to become a foreign missionary and arrived in New York in 1869. From there he was sent to Missouri and soon after to Chicago. He was a gifted orator in German, French and Polish.
       Fr. Szulak first came to Posen in June 1872 to a settlement of 40 families and thereafter made regular visits until 1878. It was Fr. Szulak who suggested naming the Polish colony “Posen”, the German spelling for Poznan. He traveled extensively to Bay City, Alpena, Rogers, Posen, and Gaylord baptizing, witnessing marriages, schooling children, and conducting missions.
      Traveling by boat to Rogers City, then walking the 15 miles to Posen, Fr. Szulak first celebrated Mass in the home of Valentine Losinski, and in the home of Lawrence Kowalski on his  second  visit.
A shrewd negotiator, in 1874 Fr. Szulak convinced Presque Isle County clerk Frederick Denny Larke  to donate 40 acres of land to build a church for the Polish settlement as it was then called. He gathered the settlers, and after considerable discussion, chose the present church site because it was centrally located and seemed the highest point in the township.
      The enthusiasm and faith of the original colony inspired Fr. Szulak to make immediate plans for a church. Donated lumber came from the several saw mills in the area, and because Bishop Borgess’  policy would not allow any debt to be incurred, the members provided the labor or yearly assessments to build the first log cabin church in 1875.
        A building committee was formed to oversee the site preparation and building since Fr. Szulak could only spare a short visit. It is recorded that Lawrence Woloszyk and John Losinski were the builders of the first church. Fr. Szulak was pleased and on subsequent visits was prompted to say, “Everything is going smoothly in Posen as usual”. The church, given the name of Poland’s gallant prince Casimir, was formally dedicated by Bishop Borgess in 1878,  and the same year a rectory was built for the soon to be appointed first resident pastor. John Bronikowski was the first child to be born in Posen and the first couple to be united in marriage were Anthony Soik and Helen Semp on April 21, 1878. Seven years after the first arrivals in Posen the congregation numbered 174 families as documented by the 1879 parish list.

       Records preserved in the parish archives record as follows, “The first pastor of the congregation of Posen, the Reverend Anthony Bogacki, has been appointed by Reverend C. H. Borgess on the 1st day of March 1879”. Fr. Bogacki was born in 1848 in Srem, Poland, 30 miles directly south of Poznan. His theological studies took place in Krakow where he was ordained in 1873. He traveled to America where he labored in the Diocese of Green Bay until being accepted into the Diocese of Detroit by Bishop Borgess in 1879.
       Prior to recounting the tenure of Fr. Bogacki as  St. Casimir’s first pastor, it might help to present the situation of the times in light of the many recorded incidents which occurred throughout Michigan as well as in Posen in the 1880’s.
       Msgr. Gasper Ancona, a priest of the Grand Rapids Diocese, in his excellent history of the Catholic Church in his diocese writes: “This period of history began with a German-born Bishop coming to a territory with a large Irish-born constituency already well settled and a German-born membership, not as large, but very devoted. In addition, these early years witnessed new waves of immigration from Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Lithuania as well as an influx of French Canadians.
 Sometimes misunderstandings and conflict arose from differing customs and traditions among the various immigrant groups now making their home in America, as well as from mutual suspicion carried over from the old country.
      In the United States, the Catholic experience within the Church itself included disputes over ownership of church property and ultimately over the authority of the Bishop and priests versus the authority of the parish lay groups.”
      One such difference of opinion occurred when the Bishop insisted that any new Polish church must have a non-Polish name. In Metz, the congregation wanted their church named St. Hyacinth but the Bishop named it St. Dominic saying, “It is the Bishop who gives the name of the Church.” Such a ruling, as might be expected, did not please the congregation and showed some of the injustices which were perpetrated by ecclesiastical authority.
      Msgr. Ancona continues: “In addition there were opposing views regarding assimilation of new immigrants into mainstream American society versus retaining and cherishing the mother tongue, European customs, and old traditions.
      The harshness of penalties (interdicts and excommunications) imposed by these early Bishops (Borgess of Detroit and later Richter of Grand Rapids) reveals the priority placed on their authority as chief Shepherds. It reveals the Bishops’ commitment to the assimilation of ethnic groups in a common American identity and their great uneasiness with any movements, groups or individuals emphasizing ethnic distinctiveness or separateness. Nowhere was this more painfully evident than their dealing with Catholics of Polish ancestry.”
      The Catholic Cronicle, a weekly publication at Bay City, explains it thus in 1874: “It has always been difficult to supply the Polish people with priests who speak their tongue. This is becoming a serious matter for many bishops in the United States. Polish priests have followed their people to this country, but somehow on beginning their work here they did not seem to understand their people, or their people did not understand them. As to “not understanding their people” is easy to comprehend. Most of the first Polonians in Michigan were from northern Poland under Prussian rule. The priests were from southern Poland or Galicia. This was a major conflict in the Polish settlements. The northern Poles did not respect many priests, as in 1855 they said “Polish first, Catholic second” all around the Province of Poznan, Poland. That Poznan saying followed immigrants into American soil.”
     Again we read  the comments from early Jesuit missionaries: “The profound ignorance about matters of faith  which they bring from the old country meets us at every step and renders our work difficult, all the more as the pest of “independence” is bred in this very ignorance. Those who conduct the so called “National” churches, instead of enlightening the people, plunge them into deeper darkness. Their chief bait is patriotism and imaginary antagonism on the part of the American Bishops.”
      The first settlers were not anti-clerical as evidenced by the gracious acceptance  and admiration of Fr. Szulak. Their fierce independence and loyalty, however, occasionally lead to much unpleasantness.
In Fr. Bogacki’s case, he, being much younger than most of the Posen settlers, may have contributed to a not altogether peaceful pastorate, one being interrupted on several occasions by mob riots.
      Divisions arose when a few settlers sided with Fr. Bogacki claiming those who opposed the priest were sacrilegious. These supporters were dubbed “blacks” in reference to the black cassocked priests. Such struggles existed as well in Alpena, Bay City and Parisville.
      In spite of, or perhaps because of, the turmoils of the 1880’s much was accomplished during the 17 year pastorate of Fr. Bogacki whose congregation swelled to 300 families.
      In 1882, Presque Isle county along with 38 other counties, became part of the newly organized Diocese of Grand Rapids. Bishop Henry Richter, born in Germany in 1838, was consecrated first Bishop of the new diocese in 1883 and would shepherd the faithful for 33 years.
      Shortly after being assigned to St. Casimir’s, Fr. Bogacki built a log cabin, calling it the “kitchen”, which was used for school purposes and still later as the sisters’ residence.
      The original log cabin church built under Fr. Szulak’s direction burned in 1883. Another temporary frame edifice was erected immediately to provide a house of worship for the increasing numbers of parishioners. This would later be dismantled when construction of a brick church was begun.
      Not much is written about St. Casimir Society but it seem to have been the heart and soul of the building activity in Posen.   We read in the 1970 Posen Area Centennial issue: “St. Casimir Society, in Posen, beginning the first of September, will establish  a parochial school in the building at present occupied by Fr. Bogacki as a residence.  The new brick parsonage connected with St. Casimir Church in Posen will be finished, ready for Fr. Bogacki’s occupancy, by the middle of next month.
      It is by far the handsomest residence in the county, the main part being 30’ x 30’ and two stories high with an addition in the rear. It will have cost close to $6,000 when fully finished.  The society is now about to commence the preliminary work of erecting a new house of worship 60’ x 80’ to be veneered with brick and surmounted by a huge steeple. It is expected it will take three years to complete the new structure.”
      It should be observed that the “no debt” policy of Bishop Borgess of Detroit was also embraced by Bishop Richter of Grand Rapids. This, all the more,  shows the willingness to sacrifice time, money and material to provide the finest church facilities for the pastor and faith community.
      The early pioneers would again be tested with the events of 1895. We read again in the Centennial issue: “On Tuesday morning, March 5, at 3:30 a.m. when everyone was quietly sleeping, the Catholic church in Posen burned to the ground, and building and contents were destroyed. The church was only completed a short time ago, sufficiently so as to be occupied for divine service. Some of the finer interior work had not been finished yet. The building was a handsome one of brick at cost of $2,000 and was a standing monument of the energy of Fr. Bogacki and the pious zeal of the Polish people who, in order to raise the magnificent edifice, had denied themselves in many ways in years past. There was insurance to the extent of $5,800 and the church will undoubtedly be rebuilt.”
       Prophetic words, indeed, as undaunted, the parishioners erected a frame church building the same year (1895). The stately, classic spired country style church would tower nobly toward heaven for 4 generations. The twelve foot cross atop the spire was visible for 10 miles and on a clear day could be seen from hills in Alpena and Montmorency counties. The crisp clear echo of its bell was a daily reminder to area farmers of the 7 a.m., 12 and 6 p.m.   Angelus, its peal a loud testimony of faith and love of God. When dismantled in the spring of 1972, after more than 75 years of faithful service to the religious needs of the people of St. Casimir’s, a continuous link to the first pastor was interrupted. This sad moment for the descendants of Posen’s homesteaders was rectified when the 84 year old bell was refinished and converted to an electrical ringing unit in 1979 and was placed atop the church within a constructed framework. The $6,000 project was undertaken by the St. Casimir Usher Club. The bell which was installed in the new church thus serves today as a bond to those Polish pioneers who inscribed the following words on the 1,100 pound bell, ”My name is St. Stanislaus, Patron of the Polish People”.
      Much has been written about Fr. Bogacki’s stormy years as pastor, but the tenacious and persistent priest survived the growing pains of the infant St. Casimir Church as did his growing flock of parishioners. Both were tested and strengthened by the events of the 1880’s and 1890’s. What emerged was proof positive of the adage, “God writes straight with crooked lines”.
      Fr. Bogacki was transferred to St. Stanislaus Polish parish in Bay City in September of 1896.
From that date till January 1898, there was a disruptive period where parishioners either had no priest or were  temporarily administered to by Fr. Joseph Lewandowski and neighboring priests.


1889 Fr. Marianus Matkowski 1900

     Father Marianus Matkowski, himself a victim of malicious accusations and false alligations at St. Stanislaus, Bay City, was appointed the second pastor of St. Casimir’s in January 1889. One author says of Fr. Matkowski, “with amazing resilience and grace he continued  an effective and respected ministry with the church”. According to tradition, it was during this time that the hard maple trees were planted in the cemetery and in front of the rectory.  In 1900 Fr. Matkowski was transferred to Ludington where he died in 1910.
 
    1900 Fr. Joseph Lewandowski 1914

     Succeeding Fr. Matkowski in January 1900, was Fr. Joseph Lewandowski. He studied at St. Francis Seminary in Wisconsin and was ordained in 1896. A tall imposing priest, Fr. Lewandowski’s strong and adamant attributes were a God-send to a fractured community. Fr. Raymond Mulka, a future pastor, learned first hand, as an assistant  to Fr. Lewandowski, when he comments, “by sheer dent of his character, he induced people to face adversity and challenged them to become survivors”.
      Fr. Lewandowski’s greatest legacy was the 1901 school which he built for the exploding population. An   in depth look at this school appears elsewhere in this article. During his pastorate, new altars and furnishings were purchased for the church. The Sisters’ chapel and the  rectory were decorated. Parish grounds were leveled and the cemetery was cleaned up.
      Under his stern leadership the community began to heal from the difficult years of the 1890s.
In 1914, after 14 years as pastor, Fr. Lewandowski followed his predecessor in being transferred to St. Stanislaus Church in Ludington.  Fr. Joseph Chodkiewicz was moved from Metz to take over St. Casimir’s. He remained for 17 months.

      No account of the history of St. Casimir’s would be complete without mention of the Metz Fire, the most destructive forest fire in the history of modern Michigan. “On October 15, 1908 the countryside was red with fire”, writes Fr. Szyper: “a fire which raged over field and farm, forest and thicket gathering momentum as it advanced. Metz Township suffered the heaviest loss but Posen was not left unscathed. In two hours this part of Presque Isle county was wiped out of existence.  It became a place of desolation. American Red Cross rushed clothing, food, and medical supplies.”
      The dry hot summer conditions, fueled by a southwest wind, quickly turned the area into a raging inescapable inferno resulting in the destruction of 110 homesteads and the death of 25 men, women and children. Seventy-five percent of the destroyed farms  were Polish settlers.
     Numerous new homes and timber barns had been built about 1900, with  settlers leaving behind the cramped log cabins in which their large families had grown up. Now, many of these new buildings had been reduced to ashes, and sons and daughters of the pioneers had only the land, as did their fathers and mothers before them.
     The people were stunned and many had an uneasy feeling that the fire was a visitation by God for the sins of the whole community.
     Although this great disaster in Presque Isle county was named after the town and township of Metz which bore the brunt of it, it raged over a vast area of northeast Michigan and was stopped only at the shore of Lake Huron. It was estimated to have destroyed 2.5 million acres.
      The great fire seemed to bring an era to a close in the north woods of Michigan. The peak of the lumbering days had passed, the old village, never large, is no more. Nowicki’s siding, the scene of the horrible fate of 16 mothers, children, and crew of the heralded relief train, is just a name.
       Miraculously, the Catholic parish of St. Dominic on Centala Highway was spared, perhaps in thanksgiving for their loyalty and generosity to the Lord. Even after such adversity, pastors from Metz (Frs. Chodkiewicz and Skowronski) were called on to help the parish of St. Casimir’s in 1914 and 1915. The favor is being reciprocated today as current and former pastors from St. Casimir’s (Frs. Bereda, Mulka, and Smolinski) serve as sacramental ministers for the parishioners of St. Dominic’s.
      t must be borne in mind that these early years were still in a state of development. The parishes of St. Mary  Alpena and St. Casimir Posen  were well established unlike Metz (after the fire), Rogers City, and the western portions of the county. So it was that Posen’s pastors [Bogacki, Chodkiewicz, Lewandowski, Skowronski and Koss] were also called upon to take care of these “missions” as well as tend to their local flock. Therefore, if you were assigned “up north”’ you could expect to conduct services in three or four churches.
     We tend to take transportation for granted, but in those days before the  automobile, the horse and buggy, the hand rail car, or walking were the only options for getting to church. The combination of lack of transportation and long services, which featured a sermon in Polish and English, meant that coming to Mass was a day long activity.

1915 Fr. Casimir Skowronski1966

     Fr. C.T. Skowronski was in residence at St. Casimir’s for four months  in 1915, coming to Posen From St. Dominic’s in Metz. With the expansion of the limestone operation at Crawford’s quarry, the formation of present day parishes began to take shape. Fr. Skowronski was assigned to  St. Ignatius Rogers City where his long, and often   colorful, pastorate would last 40 years.
      Fr. Joseph Koss moved from Metz to begin his 17 year ministry at St. Casimir in July, 1915.
Fr. Szyper describes the times with these words: “With May, 1915, and the Model T Ford, the era of “modern times” opened for the Posen Community. From that time on the priests who came here were younger, with a new outlook upon life and a new sense of responsibility for the social welfare of the parish.
      Possibly it was the automobile together with the movies that brought new activity into every corner of the nation. Be that as it may, but the facts show that a renaissance spread over St. Casimir’s Parish and the process of rebirth is still in possession.”
      Fr. Koss provided the stability needed after the revolving door atmosphere of pastors since the departure of Fr. Bogacki almost 20 years earlier. Stern, but fair, is the assessment of Fr. Koss by this writer’s father who relates how he persuaded, with the threat of a rubber hose hidden in his cassock, those who would socialize at the horse barns long after Mass had started.

Fr. Leo Buza  –  Ordained June 15, 1919

      It was during Fr. Koss’ tenure that the first priest was ordained from the parish. Fr. Leo Buza was ordained on June 15, 1919 and labored in the Diocese of  Scranton, Pennsylvania for  57 years. He died December 26, 1976  and is buried in St. Casimir’s cemetery.
      It was also Fr. Koss who brought the Sisters of Mercy to   teach in the school, replacing the Felician Sisters. The Nuns occupied the “white house” old convent, originally built for the sexton and organist, for 25 years. This building was later sold to Frank A. Budnik and moved to its present M65 location. The growth of the parish is evidenced by the 1922 First Communion Class which numbered 114 children.
      Fr. Koss was well liked by the parishioners who funded many improvements in the parish, such as the first electrical system and two new furnaces. The stone fence surrounding the cemetery was probably built at this time. Under his prudent and watchful care the parish flourished even through the terrible Depression years. Records show he left a $21,000 building fund when he was transferred to Ludington, St Stanislaus parish in November, 1931. Later as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Grand Rapids, he was named a prelate of the church with the rank of Monsignor.
      A lesser known but notable fact is that St. Casimir’s parish enjoyed the services of three assistant pastors in its history. From 1901 until 1906,  Fr. Stephen R. Banasiewicz served the parish under the watchful eye of Fr. Lewandowski. Later under Frs. Koss and Kwasigroch, Fr. Julian A. Moleski (1930-1931) and Fr. Joseph S. Kaminski (1932-1934) were assistants at St. Casimir’s. Parishioner Anna Konwinski recalls that Fr. Moleski was an excellent homilist.

1931 Fr. Leonard Kwasigroch 1935

      Fr. Leonard S. Kwasigroch was named administrator in December, 1931, coming from St. Lawrence parish in Cheboygan and remained in that capacity for four years. A product of the Orchard Lake schools, he was ordained in Bay City on June 21, 1914.
       By now, third generation descendants were appearing on the scene, and their parents realized that higher education was needed in a rapidly changing society. The important legacy Fr. Kwasigroch left was the establishment of the 9th and 10th grades of high school.  An avid sportsman, Fr. Kwasigroch appears in many photos as manager of Posen’s baseball team.
      He was transferred in 1935, and died at the age of 57 as pastor at St. Joseph  Church in Rapson.  His obituary stated he could preach and hear confessions in English, Polish and French. 

1935 Fr. Casimir Szyper 1953

      The growing community of  Posen was very fortunate when its next pastor was assigned on August 27, 1935. Fr. Casimir Szyper was no stranger to the area, since he had previously been assigned to St. Dominic Church in Metz from 1921 to 1925.
      Fr. Szyper was born in Sztabin, Poland on December 7, 1889. He  arrived in New York in 1907 as a 17 year old orphan. He attended St. Mary’s College at Orchard Lake and took his philosophy and theology studies at the Grand Seminary in Montreal. After ordination for the Grand Rapids Diocese by Bishop Kelly at St. Andrew’s Cathedral on June 14, 1919, he served at St. Adalbert’s, Grand Rapids, St. Mary’s, Belmont and St. Agnes’, Pinconning, before beginning his 18 year stay at Posen.
      Fellow seminarians recall him as being gifted intellectually, pious, charitable and well-liked which attributes  characterized his tenure in Posen. Noted author, former student and parishioner, Norbert Konwinski, says this of him: “It has been said on many occasions that he made frugality an art form but he was exceedingly charitable with the pittance he receives for his own use…he was sent to unite a then divided community, the high school issue was still simmering…his dominant  and imposing appearance in classrooms to interrogate students was such that it resulted in immediate and total amnesia… his daily walk from the rectory with breviary in hand was the active vision of a gentle, pious, kind and considerate man… that he was successful at St. Casimir’s is a definite understatement”.
      Such lavish praise is no exaggeration because no one questioned his authority or judgment. The saintly Fr. Szyper not only unified the community, he prepared it for the changing world after the great Depression. Much of St. Casimir’s history was recorded by the historian Szyper who certainly understood the people and the changing times.
      Extensive repairs and redecorations to the exterior and interior of the church, rectory and the old school were made while Fr. Szyper was pastor, the cost of each meticulously documented. Fr. Szyper’s accomplishment and improvements to St. Casimir’s are countless. Most noteworthy is the change over to electricity when the REA installed  the first electric pole in Michigan in Presque Isle county at Posen on September 22, 1937.

Fr. Ignatius Woloszyk   —  Ordained May 26. 1938

      Two events, which took place in 1938, are noteworthy in our history. St. Casimir’s became part of the newly created Saginaw  Diocese and Fr. Ignatius Woloszyk, a native son, was ordained a priest.  He was in the first class to be ordained for the new diocese by Bishop William Murphy.  
      Fr. Szyper’s last written outlook on the Posen area is worth presenting: “The Posen parish is essentially a farming community. As such it has not increased in numbers for it prefers to combine farms to make full mechanical implementation possible.
       Today two and three tractors are to be found in every farm shed, and trucks of all description and for every purpose, in every garage.
      All in all, it is a far cry from the early pioneering years when a yoke of young and robust oxen was a singular privilege and always the safest way to navigate the torturous and many “corduroy” roads that then existed.
      The Posen people were always able farmers, industrious and prosperous. Now, some have gone into cattle raising, but most still depend upon a generous acreage of potatoes as the money crop.”
When Fr. Szyper moved in 1953, the Posen parish lost a real hero. He left a smooth running unified community of believers with an undying gratitude toward their beloved spiritual leader.  A continuing testament to this prince of men is carried on today as the charter class of the Posen Knights of Columbus chose to name its Council after him in 1975, thus perpetuating the charity, unity, fraternity, and memory of Father Casimir Szyper.

1953 Fr. Stephen Kozak 1968

      What remains is the last 50 years of our history and to lead St. Casimir’s into this era was its  seventh pastor, Fr. Stephen Kozak. Modernization was the trademark of his pastorate. The parish grounds received a new look when an additional 5 acres of land was purchased from the Valentine Wozniak family in 1962. The area serves as an additional playground facility along M65. Two ball fields were erected which the school children, as well as the entire community, used. The old stone cemetery fence was replaced by a higher cyclone fence along M65.
     In 1960, a complete new kitchen addition was built at a cost of $37,076.20 to better serve the parish for its school lunch program and the famous St. Casimir’s parish annual chicken dinner.
Extensive repairs were made on the church in 1961-62. The front porch of the church received a much need facelift, the old caboose was removed and a new concrete platform was built. The boys’ and priest’s sacristies received updates. Sidewalks now linked all parish buildings and driveways to the rectory and cemetery were seal coated in 1964. In 1965, natural gas lines were installed to the school, convent, and rectory.
      The crowning achievement, however, of the Fr. Kozak’s reign was the construction  of a new rectory to replace Fr. Bogacki’s 75 year old residence. The spacious two story ediface was once again the envy of the county. Built at a cost of $200,000 by parishioner Isidore Klingshirn, the Polish community once again provided for its priests a palace, as some called it, fit for a bishop.
      An excellent administrator and visionary, Fr. Kozak started a building fund with a view of building a new church.

  • Fr. Anthony Wozniak ----  Ordained May 23, 1959 
  • Fr. Lawrence Hoppe   ----   Ordained June 12, 1960

      God again blessed the parish when two more sons were ordained to the holy priesthood, Fr. Anthony Wozniak in 1959 and Fr. Lawrence Hoppe in 1960.

1968 Fr. Clarence Smolinski 1980

       The task of building the new church, however, would fall upon Fr. Kozak’s successor, Fr. Clarence Smolinski, who was installed as pastor in January, 1968. It was like a home coming for Fr. Clarence who had attended “St. Casimir High” in 1941-42 before his parents moved to Alpena.
      In June 1969, Fr. Smolinski met with the parishioners to discuss the possibility of building a new church. The 425 family membership agreed that the 1895 country style church had served its time. Bishop Francis Reh approved, and in the spirit of the Kowalskis, Przybylas,  and Woloszyks, a building committee was formed which consisted of the following members: Harlan Addison, Leo Bruski, Andrew and Theodore Budnick, Clarence Darga, Donald Greengtski, Adam Gryniewicz, Donald Krajniak, John Misiak, Frank Momrik, Leo Skiera, Theodore Szymanski, Anthony and Edward Woloszyk, and Casimir and Stanley Wozniak.
      Architects Morris and Wesolek of Bay City were chosen to draw up plans for a modern house of worship. The new design would reflect Vatican II guidelines which placed the altar as focal point, and the pew arrangement such as to assist in the active participation in liturgical services. A large (1,000 seating capacity) auditorium shaped interior church would replace the spired country style church of another century.
      On September 3, 1970, groundbreaking ceremonies took place when Alpena native Kenneth J. Povish, Bishop elect of Crookston, Minnesota, turned the first shovel of soil to begin construction of the new church.
      Perhaps unknowingly, the descendants of  those early settlers who arrived  100 years earlier were opening a new chapter in the history of the faith of St. Casimir’s parish.
      This new beginning would be shared by all of northern Michigan. On June 15, 1971, a new diocese was formed with its Episcopal Seat in Gaylord. Presque Isle county was linked with 20 other counties to make up the new diocese. Fittingly, a polish immigrant’s son, Fr. Edmund C. Szoka was chosen as its first Bishop.
      On December 15, Bishop  Szoka  laid the cornerstone of the new church and three days later on December 18, in praise and thanksgiving to God, Fr. Smolinski and the parishioners celebrated their first Mass in the new church. Fr. Smolinski’s words at the Mass bear recording: “I feel confident that if your ancestors, who contributed much of the foundation of the faith here in Posen, could be with us now, there would be a sense of pride and gratitude to still see the spark of faith gleaming brightly within the hearts of the people of Posen. It is reflected in the various ways in your lives, by your attendance at parish services and by your contributions as we continue on. I thank you for the sacrifices you have made. Many, no doubt, were made with considerable hardship on yourselves and your families. However, you always realized that this was being done for the greater honor and glory of God.”
      The finishing touch was applied on June 25, 1972, when Bishop Szoka solemnly dedicated the new church at which time he reiterated: “The church you have built is a beautiful and inspiring testimony to your faith in God and your dedication to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The building of the present church is the fifth time in its history that the good and devout people of St. Casimir’s rallied and sacrificed themselves to erect a temple in which to express their love and adoration of God’s holy family.”
      Pioneers would, no doubt, gaze in awe at its beauty and their descendants would sacrifice to completely pay off the $450,000 cost in two years. Through substantial donations, the parking lot and cemetery driveways were black-topped thus completing the parish look as we know it today. The major building programs of the past under the leadership of Frs. Bogacki, Lewandowski Szyper, Kozak and Smolinski are now completed.
      Even the visionary Fr. Szyper would not have recognized his Posen in the 1980s.  The small family farm has disappeared and in its place big business farming operations have become a reality. Four hundred cow dairy herds, 800 head of beef cattle and 500 acre potato crops are not uncommon. 
     In the winter  of 1979, Deacon Richard Sitar was assigned to the parish for pastoral experiences prior to ordination. His eloquent sermons, adult education classes, and restructured CCD program made his  stay memorable.
      Gigantic equipment and computer technology have given birth to another age of progress and way of life. Smaller families and two working parents are the norm rather than the exception. Off-spring are now forced to leave the area to find employment as parish numbers continue to decline and Posen assumes the look of a retirement community rather than the once thriving vibrant village of old. The computer age presents new situations and new adventures, and must be met with new solutions in the light of faith and charity.
      Fr. Smolinski was reassigned to St. Joseph’s parish in Manistee in July, 1980, after 12 years in Posen.

1980 Fr. Raymond Mulka 1989

      Fr. Raymond C. Mulka, a native of Presque Isle County, was appointed pastor. Fr. Mulka, whose great grandfather Paul was listed on the original 1879 St. Casimir Church roster, was born and educated in  Rogers City. His seminary training took place at St. Joseph Seminary, Grand Rapids, Sacred Heart, Detroit, and Mount St. Mary’s of the West in Cincinnati prior to ordination  on June 16, 1949.
      He had previously served  in the Alpena deanery parishes of St. Anne’s Harrisville and St. Mary’s Alpena. Coming back to his roots was a preface to his impending  entrance into senior retired priest status.
      Fr. Mulka’s legacy was his attempt to hone the spirituality of  the parishioners. So much of the history had been dominated by struggles to provide and maintain the physical structure of parish life. He now strove to strengthen spiritual values  which are the backbone of the church of Posen, values which were being challenged by an increasing secularistic age. His eloquent and thought-provoking homilies were aimed at personal and social improvements. His frequent reference to family and ethnic backgrounds endeared him to the descendants of common ancestors. Fr. Mulka celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination and retirement in June, 1989.

1989 Fr. Gerald Micketti 1992      
           
      Fr. Gerald Micketti, another Rogers City native son, with Polish ties to his  mother’s descendants, succeeded Fr. Mulka in June 1989. His three year stay was short, but his impact on the children and teens of the parish was unmistakable. A history enthusiast, Fr. Micketti reveled in researching and publishing the past times and events of Presque Isle county and the pioneer settlers of Polish, Italian, French, and German descent. His in depth accounts of the Metz fire and the Bradley disaster are most notable. As diocesan archivist, he continues to preserve  and safeguard the past. Fr. Micketti was transferred to St. Patrick Church in Grawn in the fall of 1992.

1992 Fr. Stanislaus Bereda

      Assigned to lead the parish into the 21st century was Fr. Stanislaus J. Bereda. Fr. Bereda’s assignment mirrored that of his predecessors over a century ago. He, like the first priests to come to Posen, is a native of Poland.
     They faced the problems associated with new settlements taking root in a harsh lash land, while he has been confronted with the problems associated with secular culture that has taken root in this country. Secularism, with its materialistic emphasis, contradicts the teachings and values of the Church at every turn. Issues and situations have arisen which would have dumbfounded  our ancestors. Globalization and the Internet have impacted all areas of life in the 21st century. Over a quarter century of killing the unborn through legalized abortion in this country, and a greater acceptance of euthanasia, have lead to what Pope John Paul II has described as the “culture of death”. This lack of respect for human life has permeated our society, and challenges one of our fundamental Catholic beliefs: “that all human life is a gift from God to be treasured from conception until natural death”.
      Many of the problems associated with the Catholic Church world-wide have also impacted us locally. The Gaylord Diocese, like so many others, is experiencing a shortage of priests. The negative aspects of this shortage include the lack of resident pastors in many smaller parishes, the combining of parishes under a single pastor, and a reduction in Mass schedules. A positive effect has been a greater lay participation in a variety of Church ministries.
 In such trying times, one must look back at our ancestors and the faith which they brought with them when settling in the new country. They too were tested and tempered by adversities, but a constant in their lives was their faith and trust in God. If we also have God at the center of our lives, we will be able to weather whatever comes our way, knowing that God always walks with us on our journey through this life.
      Faced with the secularization of our society, Fr. Bereda has been very active in promoting the spiritual development and faith-formation of the people of St. Casimir’s. While the emotionally wrenching task of closing the parish school fell upon his shoulders, he has been instrumental in fostering a revitalized Religious Education Program for our children and youth, staffed by excellent leaders and teachers. It flourishes, passing on the indispensable tenets of our Catholic faith to future generations, as well as showing the young people how to live out their faith in their daily lives through kindness and charity towards others, including the poor of the world. Fr. Bereda has also fostered the spiritual growth of the adults of the parish with Adult Formation offerings, parish and senior citizen retreats, a parish video library, articles in the weekly bulletin, a daily reflection book, as well as reflection booklets for the Advent, Lent and Easter seasons. He has promoted the ever-expanding role of the laity through active parish councils and commissions, along with a greater participation in the various liturgical ministries.
      The annual church picnic, albeit without the historic chicken dinner of old, was restored, though not a fund-raiser, but a time to gather together as a parish to socialize and enjoy a fun-filled day. The parish tithe fund has assisted local organizations such as Hospice, Habitat for Humanity, Shelter [for domestic abuse victims], as well as local needy, and a parish in Chile staffed by the cousin of Bishop Povish. Additionally, collections of food for the local Food Pantry were instituted, and these three collections per year yield two pick-up truckloads of food supplies per collection.
      Under his dedicated stewardship, the spiritual needs of the parishioners, as well as the care of the less fortunate have been fostered. During his pastorate, the buildings and grounds have also been maintained and enhanced. This is especially true of the new classic black wrought iron picket fence in the cemetery along M65. A spacious new maintenance shed replaced the inadequate storage building of another era.   The old convent building, which had been sitting empty, was transformed, primarily through donated materials and labor, into a center for parish and youth meetings, as well as Religious Ed classes. Also, the parish grounds were beautified by landscaping that was accomplished through numerous memorial donations.
      The celebration of 125 years of faith at St. Casimir’s is a review of our past and present. It will naturally pose questions for the future. How we pass on the faith entrusted to us will determine the life of that faith at St. Casimir’s.
      The assignment of our next pastor will be a new beginning for him and the church of Posen. With the example of the faith, sacrifice, and devotion of our forefathers and former pastors we begin another chapter in our history of keeping the faith alive at St. Casimir’s.      

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