St. Joseph Parish History


During the development of the lumbering industry in Northeastern Michigan, the parish of AuSable became the largest in the diocese of Grand Rapids and sent its priest to minister to the Catholics of East Tawas in the mission of St. Joseph.

It was, however, in 1869 while under the care of Fathers Hennaert and Schutjes (Henry J.) that the actual parish of St. Joseph began. Shortly after March 30, 1869, a status report by these priests was forwarded and as a consequence, Bishop Borgess of Detroit appointed Rev. Fr. William Takken to care “for the missions of Alpena, AuSable and Tawas.” (This took place on November 1, 1871).

Land for the building of a church was donated by the Tawas Mill Company in 1869. Approximately one hundred families belonged to the parish at the time it was dedicated by Bishop Borgess on July 8, 1873.

According to the archives of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Rev. Fr. John Van Gennip also blessed the Tawas church on July 26, 1875, (having received delegation from Bishop Borgess.)

After Fr. Takken, it was Fr. Cornelius J. Roche who came from AuSable once a month with a horse and buggy to offer Mass.

Finally, in September of 1883 St. Joseph’s Parish was appointed its first resident pastor, Fr. Wiliam A. Nevin. Since there was no rectory, per se, he boarded with the Donahue family. Interestingly enough, the construction of a rectory had begun but was not completed. Therefore, Fr. Nevin sought and was given permission by the Bishop to raise funds in order to finish the building. Promotions were held including parish suppers in the unfinished rectory, and sufficient money was raised to complete it.

Because Fr. Nevin’s health failed, the Bishop sent him to Denver for recuperation. During his absence from the parish, Fr. Ducette came from AuSable to offer Mass.

Immediately succeeding Fr. Nevin as pastor in 1886 was Fr. J. Brueck (Brook), who was followed by a succession of priests between the years 1889 and 1937 They included:

  • Fr. William Kinney – 1900-1901
  • Fr. Edward Kinney – 1900-1914
  • Fr. Thomas Albin – 1914-1921
  • Fr. Edward Brogger – 1921-1930
  • Fr. Edwin Kirchoff – 1930-1937

Coming to St. Joseph Parish December 10, 1937, and staying for some 22 years was Fr. Robert F. Neuman. He celebrated his 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Holy Priesthood in the Spring of 1939 and attracted clergy from all over the state. Among those honoring Fr. Neuman was the Most Rev. Aloysius J. Muench, a personal friend and fellow seminarian, who was then Bishop of Fargo, ND and later became the Papal Nuncio to Germany.

As the summer resort area of East Tawas became more popular, so too did the demand for more Sunday masses and pastoral services increase. Thus, Fr. Neuman was given the assistance of Fr. Robert Smith in 1948, Fr. Hnery Eickholt in 1951, Fr. Edward J. Szturmowski in 1952, and Fr. John Diggins in 1957. Not only did the need for assistance become obvious, but so too did the necessity of more space become readily apparent. Consequently, in 1951, Fr. Neuman purchased property form the United States Government as a site for the construction of a new church. The property, which had been a forestry nursery and had been idle for some time, gave St. Joseph Parish approximately three beautifully landscaped acres (nearly next door to its original church) on which to build a more accommodating church, as well as develop further if the need were to arise in the future. (And it did.)


It was Fr. Neuman who oversaw the establishment of the new St. Joseph Church which was completed in 1953 with its first Mass being celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1953. Two other notable firsts for the new church were the baptism of Davey Gerard Prescott, son of George and Margaret Prescott, on December 17, 1953, and the marriage on January 23, 1954, uniting Lenard James Patterson and Arietta McDowell by Fr. Edward J. Szturmowski. The following July 8, 1954, the new St. Joseph Church was dedicated by Joseph Stephen Woznicki.

After having celebrated his Fortieth Jubilee and being honored by the children with a special program for his anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Neuman resigned on May 23, 1959. He had served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish for 22 years, and most importantly, he had ministered to the many and varied needs and demands of a growing parish.

It was Fr. Henryy Eickholt who succeeded Fr. Neuman and who was pastor in 1960 when a lovely shrine in honor of Our Lady of Fatima was erected next to the Church. This beautiful Italian Marble shrine was donated by Richter and Eunice Lixey in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lixey.

Coming in June, 1963, to serve the people of St. Joseph Parish was Fr. Arthur Mulka. The handsome, spacious St. Joseph Rectory was completed under Fr. Mulka’s supervision.

Beginning in 1970 and ending in 1975 came another succession of priests:

  • Fr. John Rushman – 1970-1975
  • Fr. Dennis Stilwell – 1975-1975
  • Fr. Francis Murphy – 1975-1981

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.

During the pastorate of Fr. Murphy, parish membership showed continuous growth, and a feeling of belonging, friendship, and cooperation permeated St. Joseph Parish. Consequently, in August, 1977, a parish fund drive was begun, chaired by Chester Busch and Clara Bolen, to finance the building of a parish social center and school addition. The response, cooperation once again, as well as the generosity of parishioners resulted in the completion of the of the facility which was blessed by Bishop Szoka on August 19, 1979.

Beginning in 1981, Fr. Patrick Barrett was pastor of the parish. He was the pastor during the solemn celebration of the parish’s centennial on September 25, 1983. Mr. Robert Elliot served as Master of Ceremonies for the banquet and with Rev. Len Wilkuski, Sr. Marjorie Ann Kendall, and Msgr. Frances Murray speaking – all vocations from St. Joseph Parish.

(All the above is from 100 Year of Unity – St. Joseph Parish Centennial celebration)

During the 1980’s and 1990’s St. Joseph Parish was ministered to by a succession of priests and pastors:

Pastors from 1981-1997

  • Fr. Patrick Barrett – 1981-1984
  • Fr. Fred J. Thomas – 1984-1985
  • Fr. Louis Van Bergen – 1985-1986
  • Fr. M. Seavey Joyce, S.J. – 1986-1988
  • Fr. Lawrence Boks – 1988-1994
  • Fr. James Suchocki – 1994-1996


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