As you stand on the front steps of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Baileys Harbor you see the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan. These waters welcome you in so many ways: boating, swimming, and picnics on the shore. Our Catholic Church Mother, Mary, welcomes us with open arms to a place of inner solace. A statue of our Blessed Mother stands in the front courtyard of the church, and it is here that the Rosary is often prayed by parishioners. In praying the Rosary we ponder the life of Jesus and Mary and all the mysteries of life. Here, also, Faith Formation children perform the May Crowning of Mary… such a beautiful memory in the life of a child. As a young boy, Jesus probably picked flowers for his Mother, too, to show His love and devotion. At the St. Mary of the Lake Church we are always reminded of the graces we are privileged to receive through devotion and prayer.
Long Ago – People have recalled the first time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated on the northern tip of this peninsula. They told us this story. A lone missionary carried his little mission altar on his back and landed on the shores of Kangaroo Lake. His name is unknown but more than likely one of the Jesuit missionaries who visited Whites and Indians: teaching, converting, and spreading the Kingdom of Christ. This missionary was not to stay. A few days here and then on he went to visit other isolated communities in this section.
1860’s - Father Pernin, Pastor of Peshtigo, established Baileys Harbor as his mission back in the early sixties. Twice a year from then on the missionary came. On the appointed day every Catholic family for miles around was on hand to greet their priest. They wanted to bring their babies to him; to have their marriages blessed; to have Mass offered for the repose of their departed; to have their faith and hope strengthened by the King of Kings. He paddled his way across the Lake in summer and walked its ice bound surface in winter to fulfill his new charge. Father Pernin left no story and therefore no one will ever know what trying experiences and hardships he encountered during those years he labored here. Other records report that a Father Bernier stationed between Oconto and Peshtigo also shepherded the Baileys Harbor Catholics in 1862.
Early 1870’s – We know that from 1870 on all this section fell under the care of Sturgeon Bay and Ahnapee (now Algoma). Bishop Joseph Melcher, the first Bishop of the Green Bay Diocese, thought it easier for the Pastors of those two towns to take charge of the mission. So it was that the Pastor of Sturgeon Bay, Father Adler, was put in charge. Through the woods, on foot and on horseback when he could arrange to borrow a horse came Father Adler. No church existed and Mass was celebrated in the homes of the Catholic people.
1874 – The first Catholic Church was erected during Father Rhode’s administration. Small though it was, thirty by twenty feet with a sixty foot bell tower, it served a wonderful purpose. Twenty families comprised the parish at that time. Pioneers courageously and painstakingly conquered the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula. The rapidly expanding villages from Institute to Rowleys Bay were attracting speculators and workers, in the rich lumbering enterprise, as well as farming and commercial fishermen. Stone quarries were springing up everywhere. By 1874 the locality had attracted enough Catholic settlers to warrant building the small Catholic Church in Baileys Harbor referred to earlier. Mass at first was said only once a month, but God blessed the devotion of the small congregation and it rapidly grew. (It is of great interest to note that in 1874 a baby boy, Michael W. McArdle, was born to James and Anna McArdle in the homestead to the south of Maxwelton Braes Golf Course in Baileys Harbor. This baby boy later becomes the benefactor in the building of St. Mary of the Lake Church in 1936.) Father Rhode was succeeded by Fathers Blume and Pellegrin and the mission was cared for by them until 1886.
1886 – Father Lawrence O’Laughlin was appointed the first resident Pastor of Saint Mary of the Lake Parish. (We should note that to be identified as a parish there must be a resident pastor living on site in Baileys Harbor. Hence, we recognize this year as the beginning of St. Mary of the Lake Church and no longer a mission of Algoma and Sturgeon Bay.)
1895 – Father Francis Kroll became the second resident pastor, and he is credited with building the first rectory. This frame building stood for 66 years. It was razed in November 1961 and a modern hotel was built on this site on Highway 57. Theodore Zak, mentioned earlier in coming to Baileys Harbor from Poland in 1871, was a trustee during this time. Martin Schram, Sr. was also a trustee.
1906 – Bishop Joseph Fox of Green Bay obtained the services of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and placed the obligations of this parish under their jurisdiction. A happy choice it was, since they have served long and well. Father L. A. Nolin, O.M.I. was the first Oblate pastor of St. Mary of the Lake, coming in 1907.
1908 through 1928 – From the twenty families in 1874 to thrice that number the parish grew until “the little white church of 1874” could no longer accommodate them.
1935 – In 1935 the gift of the existing church was given by native son, Michael W. McArdle. McArdle never forgot his beloved home and church in Baileys Harbor. Faith was the center of his life and a glimpse of this is found in the message he sent from his deathbed in Chicago, entitled, “To the Catholics of Baileys Harbor.” “Fifty years ago I served on this very spot as altar boy. More than once I tumbled over in a faint from bitter cold, for I was of delicate constitution. Mrs. Spring usually saved the day…Even then I had an ambition to see a nice warm comfortable Catholic Church here, but I didn’t dream that I would ever take part in it. But I am glad to say all is ready now to go ahead.”
1936 – “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God and the gate of Heaven! And it shall be called the Court of God!” Genesis 38:17 (Introit for the Mass of the dedication of a Church.) On May 30, 1936 the Corner-Stone Ceremonies were held with Bishop Paul Rhode officiating. On November 29, 1936 the new edifice was formally dedicated. Besides Bishop Paul Rhode of Green Bay, and Very Rev. Wm. J. Stanton, O.M.I., Provincial from Buffalo, some two dozen other clergymen and about 300 people attended the inspiring ceremonies.
Fifty Years Later, 1986 – Our Eucharistic Lord took up residence in Baileys Harbor and he is still there. It has been fifty years since the building of the new stone Church and 100 years since “the little white church” was officially established with a resident pastor. Father Eugene Tremblay, O.M.I., stated in his centennial celebratory message, “On this one-hundred year birthday we congratulate every member of the parish (both the living and the dead) for the wonderful spirit they have shown through the years. We know they love their faith.”
1986 to Present – Father Norman Pahl, who served from 1987 to 1990, initiated Saturday morning devotions. From 1990 to 2000, Father Chester Cappucci presided as the last Oblate of Mary Immaculate to serve as pastor. He continued to encourage us to be a welcoming, loving and caring parish, and always reminded us that the Mass “is never ended.” The year 2000 brought Father Matt Simonar, a diocesan priest, who was appointed to serve all the parishes of Northern Door County. In 2001 Father Matt hired Sr. Georgia Acker, O.P and Sr. Geri Hoye, O.P., to assist him as pastoral associates until 2005. In July of 2005 all six church sites were united into Stella Maris Parish. In 2006, Father David Ruby took on the task of shepherding and uniting these six sites into one parish. As a priest with six sites, Father Dave’s busy schedule was lightened with the aid of Sister Angela Palm, pastoral associate, and Deacon David Kowalski (Deacon Kurt Grube served prior to Deacon Kowalski). And yet another milestone for St. Mary of the Lake Church has come and gone with the 75th/125th Anniversary Celebration in 2011. The 125 year anniversary signifies the actual beginning of the parish at St. Mary of the Lake, Baileys Harbor with the first permanent pastor in 1886, while the 75 year anniversary celebrates the dedication of the present Church building. All of our celebrations remind us of the “long ago” time when the missionary came to this area and the many blessings we have since received.
Timeless – Today children are still bringing flowers to Mary. During the month of May, Faith Formation students at Stella Maris Parish, St. Mary of the Lake, Baileys Harbor site gather symbolically to crown Mary Queen of Heaven. One little child lifts the floral wreath and places it on the statue of Mary. All stand in awe of Mary’s splendor and you can hear the children’s voices singing, “O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of May.” And as Mary looks down on us from heaven, today as in times past, she wants nothing more than for us to love her Son. Our Blessed Mother continues to teach us by her example how to love Jesus and how to care for one another. She shows us what it means to walk with Jesus day by day, to learn from Him, and to do what He tells us.