Pearls In Our Past - Hartford MI A Pictorial History of Hartford Michigan





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Catholic Church History
Hartford Michigan

Historic Date(s)

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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 1837.

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.

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.

Postcard dated 1908 of Catholic Church in Hartford Mich.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.

From the 1981 Immaculate Conception Church Directory (compiled by John McClelland) and
and in the 1946-1996 Celebrating 50 years as a Parish program.


1846 Father Louis 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.
William Siganaw - 1st chief after break away from Silver Creek Church
1900 est Father Joseph Joos (last pastorate when Rush Lake Mission was abandoned)
1907 Church built, but had no resident pastor until some 40 years later.
1946 1948 Rev. Albert Schmitt - appointed as 1st resident pastor
1948 1961 Rev. Frances Bowen
1961 1968 Rev. Robert Stockwell
1968 1974 Rev. Donald Wieber
1974 1975 Rev. Francis Timmons
1975 1979 Rev. Charles Smith
1979 1981 Rev. John Grathwohl
1981 1989 Rev. Julius L. Hengesbach
1989 1994 Rev. Robert Flickinger
Rev. Robert Flickinger
Rev. Arthur Howard
Fr. Fabio Garzon
Historical documents contributed by Lois Kussmann Latus (HHS 1947) on July 10, 2010.

Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: March 20, 2014