1st Catholic Church
Log church at Rush Lake
St. Dominic's Catholic Church at Rush Lake
1st Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hartford
Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
The history of Hartford Immaculate Conception Church is highly interwoven
with the history of the Potawatomi Indians who settled at Silver Creek in
Cass County and Rush Lake in Van Buren County in the early 1930s. The
deep faith of the Indians and the strenuous missionary efforts put forth by
the French missionary, Father Louis Baroux, resulted in the formation of a
permanent Catholic church at Silver Creek and later, a mission at Rush Lake.
Father Baroux came to Silver Creek in 1946 to minister to the congregation
of the areas' first Catholic church, which had been organized by the Indians
In 1851, Father Baroux was responsible for the building of a log church at
Rush Lake, thus establishing the area as a mission of the Silver Creek
Church. In 1859, a new wooden frame church was built at Silver Creek to
replace the log church, and in 1863, Father Baroux directed the construction
of a new wooden church at Rush Lake. The new Church at Silver Creek
was named in honor of St. Dominic. Both churches were financed with
funds provided by the French religious benevolent society at the urging of
Baroux who labored for two decades, realizing his dream.
The Rush Lake mission grew considerably in 1851, when almost two thirds of
the Silver Creek congregation moved away because of a tax dispute and
settled at Rush Lake with William Siganaw as their new chief. This
move to Rush Lake was an important first step in the long, slow process by
which Hartford acquired its own permanent, independent Catholic parish.
St. Dominic Catholic Church at Rush Lake, erected in 1863 to replace the log
church built by the Indians, served the religious needs of the Indians and
white people from Hartford, Lawrence, Bangor, and Watervliet. The pews were
made of solid walnut and the timbers were handhewn and of various sizes.
There were no regularly scheduled services held at St. Dominic's, and when
the visiting priest came, a long tin horn was blown to spread the news that
Mass would be celebrated the following day.
Services at the St. Dominic mission continued in this manner until the
church was abandoned around the turn of the century during the pastorate of
Father Joseph Joos, who had come from Europe to head the Silver Creek and
Rush Lake churches.
After the abandonment of the Rush Lake mission, many of the parishioners
either moved back to Silver Creek or attended the St. Joseph Catholic Church
in Watervliet, which was built by Father William Hayden in 1895.
Watervliet St. Joseph was independent of the Silver Creek Church and became
the main church serving the Catholics of this area. It was furnished
with the pews from the abandoned Rush Lake mission.
In 1907, Father Peter J. Ryan, then the pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic
Church in Watervliet, started the building of Immaculate Conception Church,
completing it the following year. Although the Catholics of Hartford
and Lawrence now had their own church, situation on East Main Street, it was
to be almost 40 years before they would have their first resident pastor.
On August 1, 1946, Father Albert J. Schmidt was appointed as the first
resident pastor. He lived in a house on Main Street, one block east of
the church. Rev. Father Francis Bowen, who was pastor from November
1948 until his death in 1961, saw the parish double in size.
During Father Bowen's pastorate, the Altar Society was formed and the
Sisters of St. Joseph assisted with the CCD program.
Father Casmir Korzeniecki was pastor for a short interim until the
appointment of Father Robert Stockwell in September of 1961. Planning
was immediately begun for the building of a new church, and a building drive
was held in 1964.
Old Catholic Church sanctuary.
In August of 1968, Father Donald Wieber became the fourth pastor of
Immaculate Conception. He presided over the groundbreaking ceremonies
in May of 1969. The first Mass was offered on Ascension Thursday, May
15, 1970, and the church was officially blessed by Bishop Zaleski on
December 2, 1970. With the help of the men of the parish, the new
rectory was completed in the summer of 1971.
On July 21, 1971, the Diocese of Kalamazoo was established with most
Reverend Paul V. Donovan as its first Bishop and Immaculate
Conception Parish became part of the diocese.
Father Wieber was transferred in July of 1974, and Father Francis Timmons
served as Pastor from August 1974 until his death in April 1975.
Father Charles Smith became pastor in July 1975. He passed away in
October 1979. Father John Grathwohl was appointed administrator of
Immaculate Conception Parish in November of 1979 until he was transferred to
St. Thomas More Student Parish in Kalamazoo in 1981. from July 1981
until he retired in November of 1989, Father Julius L. Hengesbach served as
pastor. Father Robert Flickinger began serving in November 1989 until
he was transferred to St. Mary's in Paw Paw in November of 1994. From
July 1994 until October 1995, Father Leslie Stelter was pastor until he
left to continue his studies. Father Richard Valls arrived in October
1995 and is currently serving.
Although 50 years have passed since Immaculate Conception became an
independent parish, with its own resident pastor, much has been
accomplished. The spiritual education of the young members of the
Parish is fulfilled through CCD classes thought by lay volunteers. An active
Parish Council oversees the direction of the parish. Other active groups
include the Finance Council, the Altar and Rosary Society, the St. Vincent
de Paul Society, and the Legion of Mary. The Folk Choir has added much
to the meaning of the Mass for parishioners, young and old.
Perhaps the most astounding and rewarding event in recent Parish history was
the retirement of the Parish debt on Ascension Thursday on May 15, 1980
- exactly ten years from the date of the celebration of the first Mass
at Immaculate Conception Parish.