The History of St. Joseph Church

1928-2009: 81 Years

Pre-1900: Chronicles show that Rev. A. Sharpe, the Assistant Pastor of St. Vincent DePaul Parish in Pontiac occasionally visited Oxford to celebrate Mass in the Village Hall during the 1890’s. We have not found any other existing records of this early period.

1901-1924: St. Elizabeth, a mission church in Oxford, had seats for 195 parishioners. It was located just behind the present site of McDonald’s restaurant. Priests generally came here for monthly Masses from St. Philip Neri Mission in Lapeer. Starting in 1924, Masses were celebrated weekly. During the winter months the missionaries carried shovels to get through the snowdrifts. People came to this area because of the many lakes and scenic beauty. There were also recreational facilities such as the Park Island Amusement Center, with its arcade, amphitheater, and dance hall. Most people were summer residents or visitors.

1922: Reverend Thomas Gorman began offering Mass on the porch of the Pat Slavin home on Lake Orion. Some residents remember how the Faithful would follow services from rowboats anchored near the shore. Later that summer, people used a dance hall at the west end of Flint Street for Mass.

1925: Unger Hall became too small. At a cost of $5,000.00 St. Thomas Chapel was built and dedicated on Pentecost Sunday, 1925. The 450 seat church was located at Shadbolt and Beebe Street. Today, a Baptist congregation uses the facility. St. Thomas together with St. Elizabeth Parish held a joint picnic every summer. This event continued until 1979.

1928: Reverend Joseph Ording became Pastor of the 76 families at St. Elizabeth Parish in Oxford. He also had Mass at St. Thomas Chapel in Lake Orion. More than 1,000 people attended during the summer months. He occasionally traveled to Romeo to minister to 61 families at St. Clement Church. St. Joseph’s was established as a permanent parish.

1920’s – 1930’s: The Great Depression brought financial problems to everyone. To help their church, local residents resorted to serving home-cooked chicken dinners at thirty-five cents apiece. As the economy improved and more parishioners returned to the area, a new centrally located church was planned. The site location for the proposed church was the topic of many heated debate, Fr. Ording ended the discussion by choosing the twelve-acre site on top of a hill between the two towns. This site overlooked Lake Orion, Long Lake and Lake Mari, now called Lake Manitou and St. Joseph pond. As a sign of unity, the cornerstones of both St. Elizabeth’s and St. Thomas Chapel were installed in the foundation of the church, which was dedicated on June 6, 1940. The congregation first used the church on Christmas Eve at the midnight Mass that same year.

1938 – 1940: Father Ording traveled to Europe. On his return, he asked Arthur Desroziers, an architect, to draw up plans for a church like one that he has seen in Italy. It was Norman style structure. Next he sought a builder who had erected a stone municipal building in West Branch. His name was Dennis O’Connor who made a bid of $47,100 for the projected Oxford-Lake Orion Church. (Dennis married Aileen Chisholm during the construction and she always told people “This was my husband’s first church… and of all of the buildings he put up, none meant as much to him as St. Joseph Church.”) Nearly thirty-two years after its dedication, Dennis O’Connor had his funeral celebrated in the church he had built “with love”. Expert stone masons and bricklayers were brought from West Branch and various other parts of the country. Local farmers and others gathered stones from nearby fields and abandoned homes. The masons fashioned them for walls and arches. One split stone revealed a cross and was installed in the southeast corner of the Church.

1940: From Parish journals: Christmas Eve, 1940. “It is a cold snowy night on the top of a gravelly hill, overlooking four icylakes. The wind is blowing across the expanse, as the Catholic faithful bundle together beside the lonely, dimly lit stone and brick church. The doors open and Father Joseph Ording assisted by Father James Murphy C.S.B. a Basilian priest and native of the Oxford area, solemnly walked to the altar as melodic strains of a familiar Christmas hymn are sung as the service begins, ‘Introibo ad altare Dei.’ Father Joseph intones and the altar boys responded: ‘Ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.’ Thus begins the modern history of St. Joseph Parish…”

1941: Reverend George E. Ging becomes the new pastor. He served seventeen years in that capacity.

1942: Mr. O’Connor built the present rectory.

1952–1955: The Parish School was dedicated on August 24, 1952. Five nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph in Nazareth, Michigan arrive to teach the 170 students enrolled in grades one through seven. The enrollment quickly increased. For the first three years the Sisters lived in a portion of the school. In 1955 the convent, St. Elizabeth’s, was erected. The enrollment then reached 374.

1957: In September of 1957, St. Joseph Parish sponsored the establishment of St. Anne’s in Ortonville.

1959: Reverend Vincent Myrick becomes the pastor of St. Joseph Parish. He built a “cry room” in the church and had a local artist, Gino Testaguzza, build a huge statue of Christ in front of the church. The twenty-four foot statue was dedicated on the Feast of Christ the King in October in 1958. The entire community was shocked in 1963, when during the celebration of the Easter Vigil vandals set the statue on fire. To replace the original statue, the artist created the Holy Family statue, which still stands in front of the Church facing M-24.

1964-1970: Fr. Myrick died suddenly of a heart attack at the rectory in 1964. Monsignor Art Kary became pastor. He enlarged the rectory with offices and more living area. In 1968, Reverend Harold Boyce replaced the Monsignor. During his tenure, the Parish Hall was erected and named in honor of Father Myrick.

1970-1975: Reverend George Cronin becomes the new pastor. He established the first Parish Council in 1971 with Larry DeRycke serving as its president.

1976: Reverend Frank Pollie was named the pastor. By then, St. Joseph Parish had 1,700 families registered. Fr. Henry Roodbeen was the assistant priest during this time. A new parish was established in 1978 in the Gingelville area and Fr. Pollie became the pastor there. The church was named Christ the Redeemer.

1978: Reverend Donald MacLennon becomes the pastor and served here until 1987. During his tenure the interior of the church was modernized. Chairs replaced the pews, a small altar replaced the large decorative altar, and the wood carved communion rail and the altar canopy were removed. Father Thomas Johnson was the associate priest.

1987: Reverend Lawrence Ventline becomes the pastor and Father Paul Panaretos was assigned as the associate priest. Parishioners numbered more than 2,000. Other weekend associates through the years have been Fathers: George Miller, Earl Boyea, Mike Green, Dan Homan and Ed Maher.

1988: Permanent Deacon, Tom Yezak was ordained and assigned here until Easter of 1999.

1990: In the summer of this year, Reverend John Leo Phalen is assigned as pastor; Reverend Ronald Borg is assigned as Associate Pastor. Fr. Borg also serves as chaplain and teacher at Oakland Catholic High School in Pontiac.

1992: Fr. Joseph Mallia joins the parish as Associate Pastor. Fr. Mallia serves as chaplain and teacher at Oakland Catholic High School in Pontiac.

1994: Fr. Bernard J. Mullen joins the parish as full-time Associate Pastor.

1996: The church was enlarged to seat 900, a gathering hall and new offices to connect the church and the school.

2002: Addition to St. Joseph School is completed and St. Elizabeth Center is torn down.

2003: Father Michael Verschaeve is assigned as Pastor and Father Stanley Obloj as Associate Pastor. Updated census records reveal we have over 3000 families and over 10,000 individual members in our community.

2004: Kathy Hasty joins the staff as our first Pastoral Minister.

2005: Father Ralph Besterwitch, SAC is welcomed as Associate Pastor, Deacon Steve Mitchell is added to the staff and Pastoral Planning is initiated.

2006: Religious Education census shows over 1000 children enrolled. St. Joseph School enrollment is over 300. We had over 70 funerals masses and 65 weddings celebrated here in 2006. Welcome to our very busy community. We’re glad you’re here.

2007: Current census shows 2700 families are members at St. Joseph. A Pastoral Planning Report is given to the Parish Council for further study. A new vision statement is developed with staff and council input. The parish continues to add 10-15 new families to its roster monthly. Many new successful events are launched including the Parish Retreat, Living Last Supper and a Project People, a summer youth outreach program. Fr. Anthony Camilleri joined the staff as the associate pastor of the parish in July.

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St. Joseph Catholic Church • 715 N. Lapeer Road, Lake Orion, Michigan 48362 • Phone: 248.693.0440 • Fax: 248.693.3724