Father Renee Menard S.J. was the first white missionary in our area in 1660. After a very difficult trip, he reached Lake Superior on October 15 and finally found rest and peace when he saw the bay. He named it St. Theresa's Bay because of the saint's feast day.
He attempted to convert Native Americans to the faith and established a little church made from branches and boughs which was also his home. In the spring he was asked to visit some Huron Indians in the Fond du Lac region. While on this trip he became separated from his guide and lost his life.
For many years this whole region was served by the Methodist Missionaries until Peter Crebassa began begging a young priest to come to visit L'Anse. In 1843 Fr. Frederick Baraga arrived and was convinced he would return for a longer stay.
The following year found him establishing the L'Anse Mission on the west shore. He built a parish church at Assinins for all Catholics in the area.
In 1853 Father Baraga was appointed Bishop of what was then known as the Sault Ste Marie diocese.
Bishop Frederic Baraga
Called the apostle to the Native Americans, Bishop Baraga was born in Krain, Austria (Slovenia) on June 29, 1797. He came to the United States in 1830, and moved into northern Michigan and the Lake Superior region soon thereafter. He was consecrated a bishop and named Vicar Apostolic of the Upper Peninsula November 1, 1853 in Cincinnati. The Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette was established in 1857. Baraga served as bishop until his death in Marquette on January 19, 1868. The cause for his Beatification has advanced to Rome.
Most Holy Name of Jesus, Assinins
Mass is still offered on a regular basis in Assinins, on the same land that Bishop Frederic Baraga reserved for a church more than 150 years ago. The site where Bishop Baraga once taught the Ojibwa people is no longer an operating schoolhouse, but rather a museum of local and religious history.
When Bishop Baraga arrived to stay permanently at the L'Anse settlement in October 1843, the name L'Anse referred to what is presently Assinins, Zeba, Baraga and L'Anse. In the early part of 1844, then Father Baraga had a cedar warehouse in Zeba dismantled, the logs moved across the frozen waters of Keweenaw Bay and reassembled at Assinins. This first church in the area was dedicated to The Most Holy Name of Jesus on September 29, 1844. A new church and rectory were built of fieldstone in 1873.
Father Baraga started the first school in Assinins in 1844. He taught the Native American men, women and children to read and write and he taught them the catechism. While at Assinins Father Baraga wrote a prayer book and dictionary in the natives' language.
In 1860 Father Gerhard Terhorst built the schoolhouse that still stands on the grounds today. In 1866 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet came to Assinins to staff the school. The St. Joseph Home orphanage opened in 1881. In June 1906 the Sisters of St. Agnes of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, replaced the Sisters of St. Joseph in the work of staffing the school and orphanage.
In November 1956, upon the closure of the St. Joseph Home, the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph purchased the orphanage building and established the Capuchin Brothers Novitiate. In 1971 the Capuchins gave the orphanage and convent building to the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The KBIC used the facilities as a tribal center until it was torn down February 17, 1997.
Due to a fire, the stone church built in 1873 was dismantled in 1958. Worship services were then held in the chapel of the former orphanage building from the late 1950s until 1971, when the people moved to the stone convent building. That building was constructed in 1866 and part of its ruins remains on the property.
In 1976, under the leadership of Father John Hascall, parishioners took part in the construction of a log church. A devastating fire in 1982 claimed the church, but parishioners wasted no time in constructing a second log structure. That church continues to be the site of year-round worship services in Assinins.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Zeba
The people living in Keweenaw Bay's Zeba and Pequaming areas were without a permanent parish of their own until 1949. However, Catholic Mass was offered there on an irregular basis for 300 years before Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (St. Catherine's) was established.
Jesuit missionary Father Rene Menard built a chapel and administered to Native Americans at Pequaming for nine months in 1660 and 1661. Not until Bishop Baraga's arrival in 1843 did another priest settle in the region. One of the places at which then Father Baraga celebrated Mass was in the Pierre Crebassa trading post in Zeba. Between 1890 and 1937 priests serving elsewhere in the region visited Zeba occasionally to offer Mass.
Father Paul Prod'homme of Assinins began providing more regular service to the people of Zeba in 1946. In 1947 he began offering Mass at the Foote School. In 1949 Father Prud'homme purchased the Catholic church in Pequaming and had it moved to Zeba. The Zeba church was originally dedicated to St. Catherine. The first Mass was said there on October 30, 1949.
St. Catherine was rededicated Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha on January 1, 1980,. Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be beatified.
When Most Holy Name of Jesus' new church was completed in the early 1980's, the name of Holy Name was changed to Most Holy Name of Jesus/St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the Zeba church was closed and sold to the Department of Natural Resources.
St. Ann Church, Baraga
In 1886 Father Gerhard Terhorst of Holy Name Church in Assinins saw the need for a separate parish in the growing lumbering town of Baraga two miles away. Through the use of donated land and labor, the first church in Baraga was built at the same location as the present structure.
By the turn of the 20th century the community and the congregation grew significantly, prompting the need for a larger church. In 1902 the small church building was cut in half and a 30-foot section added in the center. The position of the church was also changed at that time. The building was turned around from a north-south position, formerly facing Ontonagon Road, to an east-west position facing the bay. But the uniquely renovated church was hit by disaster some years later. On November 18, 1918, a fire of unknown origin destroyed the church.
The parish wasted no time in rebuilding its house of worship. Bishop Frederic Eis dedicated a new brick structure on May 27, 1920. The sanctuary was renovated in 1936. In 1947 a basement hall was added to the church, again through the use of volunteer labor by parishioners.
As the facilities were expanded, so too did the spiritual life further develop when the mission because independent from Assinins and raised to parish status. Bishop Thomas L. Noa made the declaration effective December 29, 1949.
Sacred Heart, L'Anse
Prior to 1871, one large settlement called L'Anse consisted of the present day L'Anse, Baraga and Assinins. Assinins was the original center of activity and the site of Bishop Frederic Baraga's mission in the area.
Present day L'Anse received its first church in 1872. One of the Bishop Baraga's successor priests in the region, Father Gerhard Terhorst, quickly recognized the booming economy in L'Anse and began construction of a wooden church and a three-room rectory there. This first church was dedicated to St. Joseph. From 1872-1886 Father Terhorst traveled from Assinins to L'Anse to offer Mass every Sunday. In 1886 L'Anse received its first resident pastor, Father Anatole O. Pelisson.
Despite a rapid succession of priests in the early years, the parish membership continued to increase. A larger, stone church--the one in use today--was constructed in 1894. This structure was originally dedicated to St. Joseph, but the name was later changed to Sacred Heart.
The church had to be rebuilt in 1912. A fire on January 30 left only the stone walls standing. In 1925 the present church was remodeled and enlarged and a sacristy and chapel added. In the 1930s Father Albert Pelissier made alterations to the rectory. A new rectory was completed in 1967.
The first women religious to serve the parish were the Dominican Sisters from Adrian, Michigan, who offered the young people a summer religious education program from 1928 to 1936.
Sacred Heart School
Looking to start a parochial school, Sacred Heart parish secured the aid of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet from St. Louis Missouri. In 1945 a house across the street from the church was used for a convent and the first catechetical school, which included a music department.
A fund was started for the construction of a parochial school. On June 13, 1954, ground was broken for construction of the school on Baraga Avenue overlooking Keweenaw Bay. Earlier that spring a building on Baraga Avenue was purchased and renovated for the Sacred Heart Convent.
During construction of the school, the sisters taught classes from October 1954 to the following spring in the church, sacristy, chapel and basement hall. Attendance was so high the first year that enrollment had to be temporarily capped at 142. Classes were taught for the first time in the new school March 7, 1955. At first, only second through sixth grades were taught, using just three classrooms. Bishop Thomas L. Noa dedicated the school on September 18 that year.
By September 1958 the school was composed of first through eighth grades. The first lay teacher was also hired that year. In the years that followed, a shortage of teaching sisters led to an increase of lay instructors.
Sacred Heart School, now one of only eight Catholic schools in the Diocese of Marquette, continues to serve the L’Anse parish as well as St. Ann Parish in Baraga and Most Holy Name of Jesus/St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish at Assinins. The school is staffed by one religious sister from the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and four lay teachers serving students from Young 5 Kindergarten through grade 8. The administration and staff are eager to carry on the teaching ministry maintained by the Sisters of St. Joseph for almost half a century and inspired to continue the educational mission established so long ago by Father Frederic Baraga, the Snowshoe Priest.