Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish History

The Huron and Ottawa Native Americans were the original inhabitants of the Tawas area. French missionaries worked among the Native Americans until they migrated early in the nineteenth century, when new settlers arrived. Lumberman plotted out the present Tawas settlement prior to the Civil War.

The early Catholic settlers organized the first Mission in the Tawas area under the patronage of St. Joseph in 1869. The Tawas Mill Company donated property on the corner of Lincoln and Locke Streets, where the first Catholic Church was built in in 1873. For the next fourteen years, the Tawas Mission was served by the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, AuSable. Rev. Fr. Nevin became the first resident pastor of the newly formed St. Joseph Parish in 1883. The first Catholic school was built in Tawas City in 1913. That building served as a school until 1969 when the two school buildings in Tawas City and East Tawas were merged and consolidated on the St. Joseph campus in East Tawas.

Due to the growing population and the influx of tourists, the people of Tawas City voted to form a second parish in the area. The new parish was instituted on August 22, 1952, by Most Rev. Stephen S. Woznicki, Bishop of Saginaw, and was named Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The first pastor was Rev. Fr. Bernard Kirchman. The Bay Theatre in Tawas City, was leased and renovated for church services. The first Mass in the new parish was  celebrated on September 7, 1952. 135 families enrolled in the new parish.

In January of 1953, the first pastor reluctantly resigned because of ill health. On January 22, 1953, Rev. Fr. Joseph Castanier, became the second pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. The MacMurrary house on E. Court Street served as the first rectory until July, 1956, when the rectory at 721 E. Court Street, was purchased form Dr. and Mrs. John D. LeClair.


The success of the Pledge Drive for a new church in September of 1954, warranted rapid progress in plans for a permanent church on parish property on US-23, overlooking Tawas Bay. It is designed in solid Romanesque architecture of the twelfth century, with steep-pitched roof and solid masonry walls. The main nave seats over 400 people and the balcony seats an additional 200 people. The church has two small transepts off the nave. The South transcept contains a side altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, while the North transept contains the baptistry. The church was completed with a rugged towering campanile outside the main entrance.

On June 9, 1959, Rev. Fr. John T. Kolevar, became the third pastor of the parish. The burden at this time was to pay off the Church debt and keep the school in operation. In February of 1968, the Diocesan superintendent announced that this would be the last term of IHM School with the merger of the school with St. Joseph Parish.

The fourth pastor, Rev. Fr. Raymond J. Pilarski, was installed on June 20, 1968. Another new chapter in the history of the parish was seen in the summer of 1971. Pope Paul VI created the Diocese of Gaylord on July 20, 1971 from the northern territories of the Dioceses of Saginaw and Grand Rapids. Bishop Edmund Szoka was named the first bishop. The Church debt was paid in full on December 31st, 1972. A renovation program in 1973 included the design and installation of stained glass windows, new pews in the balcony, new statues, carpeting, and a new sound system.



Fr. Lawrence Boks became the fifth pastor in 1973, and in 1975, construction of a new Parish Center was underway and had been completed in 1976. In December of 1977, the parish debt was once again paid, and a new rectory was constructed at the site of the IHM Scholl, on the corner of US-23 and Beech street. It was completed on December 31st, 1979.

In August of 1988, Deacon Rober Nolan began his duties as Pastoral Administrator at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, becoming the first Deacon to enter this position in the entire Diocese of Gaylord. Fr. John Rushman and Fr. William Zwifka helped share responsibilities by saying Mass and hearing confessions.

In December of 1990, Fr. Raymond Cotter was appointed as the Temporary Administrator of IHM Parish and after appointed as the sixth pastor until September of 1992. He divided his time and talent between IHM and his duties as Vocations Director for the Diocese of Gaylord. In July of 1991, Fr. James Hayden served as Associate Pastor until re-assignment in January of 1992.

In September of 1992, Fr. James Suchocki was appointed as our seventh pastor. He was shepherd and guide for both St. Joseph and IHM parishes near the end of his tenure. The final pastor of IHM was named in October of 1996, Fr. Ron Gronowski. He brought together both parishes to form a new parish – Holy Family Parish in the summer of 1997.


(Excerpted from 1970 and 1992 IHM parish directories)


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