Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Catholic Churches of the Keweenaw

On Sunday we went to Mass at St. Joseph's in Lake Linden. I am not sure about the history of this parish, as we arrived kind of late and had other engagements to go to after Mass and consequently had little time to explore. It was a beautiful parish; one of the locals told me it has a reputation of being the most beautiful Catholic parish in the Upper Peninsula. Here's a pic of the parish from across the street so you can get a view of how massive it is:

It is amazing that a town with a population of only 1,081 people should boast a parish this large and beautiful (and Lake Linden is one of the larger towns in the area). It is most likely a testimony to the large number of Catholic immigrants who came to the Keweenaw in the late 19th century to work in the copper mines and who have by and large vanished. The parish had a gorgeous two story high altar:

There is a tabernacle at the second level between the statues of Our Lady and St. Joseph. I believe there was another tabernacle at the main level. Is it usual for one altar set-up to have two tabernacles? Anyhow, this picture gives you an idea of how grandiose the place was (that is my son genuflecting, by the way). Here is another pic of the altar:     

The ceiling was beautifully decorated - French motifs were everywhere, calling to mind the French background of this region and its exploration by the Jesuit missionaries:

As you can see, the whole building has beautiful stained glass that is quite ornate. This was really nice because so many Catholic churches today, even when they make an attempt at stained glass, tend to skimp on it. It is nice to see stained glass that has some real depth to it:


As you might guess, there was also an abundance of beautiful statuary, always a sign of a healthy spirituality.
I didn't get any pics of the choir loft, but there was a mammoth organ up there, the kind that probably costs more money than my house. The access to the choir loft was by a very simple but elegant winding wooden staircase:

This parish is a definite must-see if you ever go to Keweenaw. The priest preached a good, solid homily and music was decent. There was no chant and communion time saw an inordinate amount of EMHCs, but other than that it was fine. Everything here is very old and has been very well maintained. Speaking of things that are very old, even the restrooms at the parish had some real old-school accoutrements; check out this urinal - I don't think they are installing these kind of urinals new anymore!

At any rate, moving on from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Linden, MI. we moved up north, further into the Keweenaw towards a long stretch of US-41 that is known for its many ghost towns. During the copper boom this area was thriving but after World War I the industry died and thousands left the area, leaving scores of abandoned factories and several ghost towns. The decline was drastic; Calumet, for example, once had a population of 60,000. Today it has only 2,000.

One of the real ghost towns is a place called Phoenix. All that is left of Phoenix now is one or two empty houses, a general store, some ruined foundations and an empty Catholic Church. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church was the local parish when Phoenix was a copper boom town. The church was situated along a row of churches (a Methodist church used to be next door). The parish was abandoned when the rest of the town was, but care of the parish was taken over by the Keweenaw Historical Society and the parish has been lovingly restored:

The parish is restored, but as it is in the middle of a ghost town, it is no longer an active parish. It is a very strange sight...a kind of "ghost town parish" that has been transformed into a museum. Here is what you see when you walk inside:


That is my wife with the hat on. You see when you walk into the door that the main entrance way through the Narthex has been blocked off by plexiglass so you cannot enter the church proper. The priest and altar server you see in the distance are mannequins. There was a place for donations. We put a $10 bill on with a note that said, "Please have processions and reopen this parish."

It was kind of eerie, this restored parish alone out in the middle of nowhere. But it was beautiful in a lonely sort of way. 

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Phoenix was the only building other than some residential houses that was still standing. In the grounds near the church, you could see the foundations from the public school that used to be there:

Everywhere you went around the Keweenaw there was signs of the Catholic contributions to settlement here, whether it was the parishes that used to serve the Hungarian, Croatian and Austrian immigrants that came here to work in the mines, or just in the French names of many of the places that hearkened back to the age of the Jesuit explorers, like the town of Allouez, named after the Jesuit Fr. Claude Allouez, who was the first person to positively identify the presence of copper in the Upper Peninsula, among other things. There's much more I could say, but I think I can sum it up by saying it was a wonderful trip in a beautiful location. What more can one want? Deo gratias.


Anonymous said...

"This is a very beautiful Church, by the way, check out this old-school URINAL! Utterly fascinating. Now let's move on..."

Oh, Boniface...

To be serious, it's nice to see such hidden treasures once and a while, even if it's just appearance.

BONIFACE said...

Haha...yes, I take my camera in the bathroom with me.

In this church it wasn't just appearance. They have a pious, orthodox priest and an active congregation. There was some substance there.