Our Parish History

St. Mary Church in Wayne is the oldest Catholic parish in western Wayne County, founded in 1862.

Michigan Avenue continues its trek to the western edge of Wayne County through the community of Wayne. The first evidence of Catholic activity there dates back to the 1850s. Toward the end of that decade, a man named Jeremiah O’Connor opened a general store and permitted use of the building as a house of worship for nearby residents. In March 1862 the 45 families who made up the fledgling congregation petitioned Bishop Peter Paul Lefevere for their own church. The bishop, however, was not yet ready to create a parish in Wayne. Instead, he authorized the establishment of a mission to be called St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception and placed it under the care of Father Edward Van Pammel, pastor of St. John Parish in Ypsilanti.

Our Parish History

Construction of a new church building began in the fall of 1865. In 1871 the St. Mary Mission came under the administrative jurisdiction of Sacred Heart Parish in Dearborn. The church, which had slowly been taking shape, was at last completed and dedicated in January of 1873. From 1887 until 1912, St. Mary continued in its mission status, served by the various pastors of St. Paul in Grosse Pointe and St. Mary in Milford, until Bishop John Foley elevated the Wayne church to full parish status in July 1912 and appointed Father Joseph Connors as the first resident pastor. Area Catholics welcomed the promotion and were now interested in adding to the ranks of the congregation, which meant the need for a larger church.

Fr. Connors initiated a series of fundraisers that led to construction of the new church (the present St. Mary) in 1923. The older frame church became the first parish school with an enrollment of 125 students for the start of classes in September 1924 and a faculty composed of IHM Sisters. Continued growth at St. Mary prompted Fr. Connors’ successor, Father Leo Roberge, to build a more suitable, permanent school by January 1929, while the still useful frame church was converted into the parish hall.

When the national economy tumbled during the Great Depression, most of the parishes in the Detroit diocese were forced to cut expenses wherever possible. Fr. Roberge’s strategy seemed to go in the opposite direction. Undeterred by financial calamity, he purchased a section of vacant property on Michigan Avenue adjacent to the school building for the sum of $2,800. Although at first the land served solely as a recreational field for St. Mary school children, in retrospect it proved to be a shrewd acquisition when the parish needed space to expand decades later.

The years during and after the Second World War saw renewed growth at the parish as more residents flocked to western Wayne County to live near the industries that developed in the area, particularly the Willow Run assembly plant in Ypsilanti. In October 1948, St. Mary pastor, Father John Haney, embarked on a program to upgrade the parish physical plant, adding ten additional classrooms to the existing elementary school for use as St. Mary Catholic High School, with the first senior class graduating in 1951. In June 1954, the church was enlarged, and a larger convent was completed in 1958. By the early 1960s, the parish student body exceeded 1,000 students.

In June 1971 St. Mary High School closed after twenty-four years. Increased tuition, fewer religious educators and the failure of Proposal C (Parochiaid) in November 1970 led to the decision. The grade school remained open and continued to serve students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. St. Mary also had a comprehensive Religious Formation Program designed to complement and supplement the family environment. This faith formation program is still in service today, 2019, providing complete religious education for students attending public schools.

Fr. Haney retired in December 1972, but remained in residence in the parish rectory.  Fr. Sayers continued at St. Mary as pastor until August 1975, when Fr. John J. Sullivan succeeded him.  During Fr. Sullivan’s administration, many capital improvements were made in the parish and the role of the laity in the mission of the church was encouraged. The most notable undertaking during the tenure of Fr. Sullivan, however, was the extensive restoration and renovation of the church.

With the able assistance of Fr. Timothy R. Pelc, who came to St. Mary in June of 1979, and the firm commitment of the Parish Council, the project was started in 1980.  January of 1981 saw the beginning of the relocation of church appointments and by the end of the year, the project was completed.  

On December 12, 1981, Archbishop Edmund C. Szoka conducted a Church Rededication Ceremony and blessed the newly renovated structure.

In 1983, Fr. Sullivan left St. Mary for a new assignment.  Fr. John F. O’Callaghan succeeded him and was installed as the tenth pastor of St. Mary, Wayne on August 6, 1983.  In 1985, Fr. PeIc left St. Mary for a new assignment and Fr. Brian J. Chabala replaced him.  Also in 1985, St. Mary School celebrated its sixtieth anniversary.

In March 1987, St. Mary (of the Immaculate Conception) Parish in Wayne celebrated its 125th Anniversary. 

The year 1987 also had its bittersweet moments.  In August, Fr. Chabala received a temporary transfer to St. Mary Parish in Monroe.  Sr. Pat Hergenroether also arrived that same month as the parish Pastoral Assistant.  In October, Fr. Chabala’s transfer became permanent and Fr. John Crepeau arrived as a temporary assistant.   Sadly, Fr. O’Callahan suffered a debilitating stroke that November. While Fr. O’Callahan underwent rehabilitation exercises, he continued to hold the title of Pastor and Fr. Crepeau served as Parish Administrator.  In June 1988, Fr. Crepeau received an assignment as pastor of St. Mary, Port Huron.  That same month Fr. Thomas Rice received a one year assignment as Pastoral Administrator.  Later that year Cardinal Szoka accepted Fr. O’Callahan’s request to be removed as Pastor.

In June 1989 Fr. Raymond Bucon became the tenth Pastor of St. Mary parish.  In June 1990, Fr. Paul Panaretos became the full time associate pastor.  Fr. Panaretos remained at St. Mary until his appointment as pastor of St. Irene Parish in Dundee, Michigan.  Fr. Panaretos was the last Associate Pastor assigned to St. Mary.  An avid golfer and a chaplain in the Army Reserve, Fr. Bucon brought considerable changes to the parish.  During his tenure the old high school gymnasium was razed.  Several houses on Sims were purchased.  A committee called F.A.C.T. (Feasibility of an Activities Center Team) formed to look into replacing the old gymnasium with a new structure.  In 1995 Fr. Bucon received permission from the Cardinal to continue as pastor of St. Mary for another six years.

In March 1997 Fr. Bucon received permission from Cardinal Maida to take a medical leave of absence.  Fr. Jack Baker arrived as the eleventh pastor on July 1, and was formally installed on August 16.  Under Fr. Jack, The F.A.C.T. Committee was reinstated and in May 2000, the new Parish Activity Center opened.  St. Mary also became increasingly involved in the community and abroad.  In January 1997, the St. Mary Choir, under the direction of Dr. Richard Schneider, traveled to Rome, Italy.  The choir sang at a High Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and performed in Rome and Assisi.  On January 29, the choir had an audience with Pope John Paul II.  In subsequent years the choir also toured Spain and Ireland. 

In 2001, the parish purchased a former credit union building and opened the St. Mary Community Outreach Center.  The lower level was converted into the John Bolde Memorial Food Depot.  Later the upper floor became an “open closet” which made it possible for people to get used items at no charge.  Thousands of families have been and continue to be helped by the Outreach Center.

In June 2008, Cardinal Maida assigned Fr. Baker to St. Perpetua Parish in Waterford and Fr. David Burgard arrived as the 12th pastor. 

On May 5, 2011, Archbishop Allen Vigneron ordained Monsignor Donald F. Hanchon as an Auxiliary Bishop.  Bishop Hanchon attended St. Mary as a youth and continues his ties with the parish.  While a number of men of the parish entered into the priesthood, Rev. Hanchon is the first to attain the position of Bishop.  On December 27, Pope Benedict XVI has conferred the title of “Monsignor” upon Fathers Thomas Johnson and Daniel Trapp.  Father Johnson was a 1969 graduate of St. Mary High School, and Father Trapp was a weekend assistant under Fr. Raymond Bucon.

On November 27, 2011 St. Mary kicked off its 150th anniversary with an all-Gershwin piano concert by Mr. Kevin Cole.  Additional events during the first part of the Sesquicentennial Year included an International Smorgasbord in January, and silent and live auctions in April to benefit St. Mary School.  On June 3, the parish had its official Sesquicentennial Mass with The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, officiating.  Former Pastors Raymond Sayers, John Sullivan, and Jack Baker and Assistants Brian Chabala, Paul Panaretos, Terrance Treppa, and Bernard Pilarski and current Pastor David Burgard concelebrated.  The Mass was immediately followed by an elegant dinner dance.

Other Sesquicentennial events included an Ice Cream Social in July, the annual Parish Picnic in September, this time with an 1862 theme, and a second concert, featuring the Novi Concert Band and the St. Mary Adult Choir on November 18.  The year ended with a special mass officiated by Bishop Hanchon on December 8.

In 2013 St. Mary moved toward its next century and a half under the leadership of Pastor David Burgard along with a staff that included Permanent Deacon Ralph Luddecke; a Director of Religious Formation, a Christian Service Coordinator and a Minister of Pastoral Music. Supporting the staff is an active Parish Council with its various commissions and committees involved in the areas of Stewardship, Education, and Worship, along with health and grief ministries.  St. Mary School continues to excel, and is currently listed as a School of Distinction.

In May 2013, after five years at St. Mary, Wayne, Fr. Burgard accepted a request from Archbishop Allen Vigneron to become pastor of St. Mary Parish in Monroe.  On July 1, Fr. Gerard Cupple, formerly pastor of St. Henry in Lincoln Park, became the 13th pastor in St. Mary’s long and spirit-filled history.

In 2016, Archbishop Vigneron named Bishop Walter A. Hurley as Financial Administrator of clustered parishes St. Mary (Wayne), St. Richard (Westland), and Holy Family (Inkster). Bishop Hurley's assignment was to oversee the parishes' finances while Fr. Cupple remained as pastor. In July 2017, Fr. Cupple transferred to St. Irene (Dundee, MI) and St. Gabriel (Ida, MI). Bishop Hurley was named Pastoral Administrator and Fr. Seán Bonner was named Associate Pastor of the cluster. 

At all masses on the weekend of February 17-18, 2018, Bishop Hurley announced that, after 94 years of Catholic education in western Wayne county, St. Mary Catholic School would close its doors at the end of the school year, June 2018. The key reasons were declining enrollment and the parish's continued debt. 

On June 3, 2018, Holy Family parish in Inkster celebrated its final mass and the parish was closed. Many parishioners became members of St. Mary Parish. At the end of June 2018, Bishop Hurley left for a new assignment and Fr. Bonner was named Administrator of St. Mary and St. Richard.  In October, Bishop Hurley was reassigned as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Saginaw following the death of Bishop Joseph Cistone.           

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