History of St. Joseph Chapel

March 18, 1923 – Initial Discussion to establish a Mission Church of the Orchard Lake Seminary to serve the large Polish-speaking community in Pontiac.  Members of the League of Catholic Women meet with Very Rev. Canon Anthony Maksimik, a professor of the Seminary at Orchard Lake, to discuss plans to build a mission church of the Seminary to offer the celebration of Holy Mass to the sizable Polish-speaking community in the Pontiac area.  Since the next day was the Feast of St. Joseph, the church was placed under his patronage.  The plans received the approval of Bishop Michael Gallagher.  While precise St. Joseph prior to 1948 CROPPEDrecords of the founding donors for the church are not available, parish documentation suggests John Bank, John Zielinski, Anthony Dobski, Stefan Komorowski, Jozef Lukeszewicz, and Leon Soblewski may have been involved.

1924 – Lots acquired in the area of “Polish Hills” on South Blvd. near Bagley; a white frame church is constructed.

August 10, 1924 – St. Joseph Church is blessed and the first Mass celebrated.
March 1, 1925 – Fr. Vincent Balcer appointed first pastor (for four months).
May 23, 1925 – First Recorded Funeral.
July 23, 1925 – Fr. Stanislaus Tenerowicz appointed pastor.
October 25, 1925 – First Recorded Baptism.
November 26, 1925 – First Recorded Marriage.
May 6, 1928 – First Confirmation Class; 23 males, 18 females.

June 3, 1933 – Fr. Theodore Kowalewski appointed pastor.  Fr. Kowalewski pays down many church debts, which had grown during the years of the Great Depression, out of his personal funds.  Congregation at this time had dwindled to about 14 families.  During Fr. Kowalewski’s pastorship the church took on the status of parish.  Parish was predominantly Polish.

August 28, 1935 – Agreement contracted for the construction of a Rectory.

July 5, 1939 – Fr. Bernard F. Mary Jarzembowski  is appointed pastor.  The parish has substantial debt.

January 1940 – The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine was canonically erected in St. Joseph Parish which provided for the instruction of children of elementary and high school age who were unable to attend a parochial school.  Plenary indulgences could be gained by those who under the usual conditions attended class twice/month for a half-hour (not less than a third) doing the work of teaching or studying (being taught).  Fifteen specified feasts, enrollment and by each/all family members on the Feast of the Holy Family were also days to gain an indulgence under usual conditions.

1943Parish debt was $2900.  Campaign was started to pay off the debt and by October 30, 1944, it was lowered to $1850.  May, 1945 – Debt Retired; a “Mortgage Burning” celebration took place.

Mid-1940sCampaign to construct a new Church begins.  Due to the smallness of the church, rotting wood and constant repairs, Fr. Jarzembowski appeals to his parishioners for support to construct a new church.    Fr. Jarzembowski published a bulletin of the present assets of St. Joseph Parish and shortly after another with an architect’s sketch and an appeal under the sketch:

My Dear Parishioners and Friends!

     We are now quite well prepared to go ahead with the Reconstruction and Enlargement of our Church.  We have saved $7,100 and the promises of various sums of money we ought to do a lot in order not to overburden ourselves with a big loan.  That we must avoid.  We want a pretty church with accommodations which are so badly needed, but we also want a debt no bigger than which we will be able to easily take care of.

     I do hope that every Parishioner will understand, and this I expect, that all wage-earners, whether married or unmarried will contribute to this Holy Cause at least $50.00 each.  Several have given already $100 and some will give more.

     Let everyone do his best and, I am sure, that everyone will be very happy when they see how beautiful the Reconstruction will appear.
                                                                                                Rev. Dr. Bernard F. Jarzembowski, Pastor

The dream was planted and fundraising activities began.  Many books with paid sponsorship pages were used for any occasion.  There were other fundraising activities:  a Musical and Amateur Show at Pontiac Central High School, for example.

1947 – Church Reconstruction begins; only the side walls remain.  The basement is dug, sacristies were added on at the north end and a vestibule on the south, with confessionals on both sides.  Stairways were built at the north and south ends of the building.  It appears the lavatories and furnace room were added at this time as well, in addition to a new roof, north and south walls.

June, 1947 – Fr. Jarzembowski attends the magnificent 1947 Ottawa Marian Congress in Ottawa, Quebec, Canada.  Here he receives the inspiration for the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (for more information about the Shrine, please see the link, History of The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary)

June 20, 1948 – The Most Rev. Stephen S. Woznicki, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, blessed theSt. Joseph - After 1948 Reconstruction newly reconstructed Church and at 3:00 pm, solemnly blessed the shrine where Fr. Jarzembowski had enthroned the Statue of Our Lady of the Cape.  Twelve priests assisted him.  Persons from Pontiac, Detroit, the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus of Pontiac, the Polish War Veterans, the Polish Falcons of Detroit and many men and women in gala uniforms added to the grand event.

1948-1975 – Major and Minor Pilgrimages to St. Joseph’s and The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary take place.  The Major Pilgrimages were conducted annually and occurred on a Sunday on or around the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Aug. 22, until the date of the Feast was moved on the liturgical calendar in 1969; today the Feast is celebrated the day after the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, typically in June) and occasionally on other special Feast days.  The Minor Pilgrimages occurred on every First Saturday of the month with the Perpetual Novena to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, prayed at 7:30 pm every First Saturday.  (For more history about pilgrimages to St. Joseph and The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, please see the link, History of The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary).

May 7, 1950 – The First Saturday League, sponsored by the Daughters of Isabella Circle of Our Lady of the Lakes, Pontiac, is founded at St. Joseph.   Membership grew to around 800.  The group’s motto was “To Jesus Through Mary.”

December 8, 1951 – The Third Order of St. Francis was erected in St. Joseph Church by 1957 pic of Fr. Bernard in Franciscan habit CROPPEDthe Rev. Fr. Blasé Gitzen, OFM, Cap., of the St. Bonaventure Monastery, Detroit;  he was assisted by four Franciscan tertiaries, dressed in their brown Franciscan habits.  St. Ignatius of Laconi was taken as the Order’s patron Saint.  Fr. Jarzembowski (“Anthony” in the Order), served as the Order’s Spiritual Director; he was already a Tertiary of the Third Order of St. Francis, having taken vows the day before his ordination to the Holy Priesthood in 1912.  At right is a picture of Fr. Jarzembowski in the Franciscan habit.

December 1, 1953 – The Canonical Decree for the elevation and erection of the Archconfraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was signed in Rome and the Diploma signed by Edward Cardinal Mooney.  The Act of erection was December 8, 1953, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Fr. Jarzembowski served as Spiritual Director.  In January 1953 the Holy See allowed the faithful the Portiuncula (or Porziuncola) Indulgence at St. Joseph; a privilege granted for seven years.

Mid 1950s – The statue, Nuestra Segnora de San Juan de los Lagos (Our Lady of St. John of the Lakes) was given to the Church in fulfillment of a promise by a parishioner.  A society was organized under this title.

Our Lady of Fatima CROPPED1957 – A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is purchased by Fr. Jarzembowski to place in the Church to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Fatima Apparitions.  The statue was blessed in Fatima, Portugal, in the spot of the Cova da Iria where the apparitions occurred in 1917.

June 29, 1958 – Newly ordained Fr. Mitchell Kaminski, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s who had escaped  Poland during WWII and had spent time in refugee camps, chanted his First Solemn Mass at St. Joseph Church.   A large celebration was enjoyed by Fr. Kaminski and many others after the Mass.St. Josephs Altar approx 1962 cropped

October 21, 1962 – The Mayor of Pontiac, Robert
Landry, established “Father Jarzembowski Day”
in recognition of the Pastor’s 23 years as clergyman and spiritual counselor and advisor in the city of Pontiac, for his many acts of charity and for the kindness impartially made to the citizens of the community.

December 18, 1962 – Fr. Jarzembowski passed to eternal life.
January 27, 1963 – Fr. Francis P. Okonowski installed as pastor of St. Joseph Church.
July 6, 1969 – Fr. Edward D. Popielarz installed as pastor of St. Joseph Church.

1970 – The Parish celebrated the first 3-day festival.  The Annual pilgrimage booklet reflects on the words from the Beatles’ popular song, “Let It Be”……“let it be…done to me according to thy will” and includes an article about “Our Lady of Acceptance” at St. Joseph.

1971 – The Parish Council is established in the parish.

1974 – The Oakland Press carried an article entitled, “Free Family Medical Clinic Opening at Pontiac Church”.   The clinic was funded by a grant from George M. and Mabel H. Slocum, with equipment donations from local hospitals and American Motors.  The clinic was associated with a local medical doctor and offered medical treatment on specific days and times.   The clinic appears to have later become known as Fr. Popps Clinic.

Late 1970s – Annual Pilgrimages to the Parish and Shrine end about this time.

1986 – Monsignor William Easton, Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Pontiac, is named Administrator for St. Joseph’s.

1989-2009 – Sr. Pat Malone serves as on-site administrator.  She and others establish a food pantry as well as a clinic to provide Vitamin B-12 shots to people.  Much of the parish activity was centered around these works in these more recent years.

Mid-to-late 1990s – Fr. Jack Fabian serves as canonical Administrator.

October 11, 2009 – The Pontiac parishes of St. Joseph, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Michael the Archangel are merged to become St. Damien of Molokai Parish, the first parish in the Pontiac Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Detroit to be formed through a process of merger.   Fr. James Kean currently serves as Pastor of St. Damien of Molokai Parish.St. Joseph Church image CROPPED

July, 2013 – St. Joseph Church is closed and made available for sale.


Sources:  St. Joseph Parish Archives.