Some Memories of the Early Days

The following account is based on information provided by Norreen Roberts in 1995 from her conversation with Dolores Dennany Wager whose family was among the early Irish settlers.

St. James Mission was established at the corner of Lovers Lane and Cork Street. Cork Street was originally named St. James Street but after a battle between the Irish from County Cork and others living in the area not from County Cork, it was renamed Cork Street in honor of the County in Ireland.

The Church, St. James, included a school which is why the cornerstone is inscribed St. James School 1890. This cornerstone was taken to St. Joseph Mission on Lake Street in 1904 and placed in the Church/School built in that year. When this building was demolished in later years, the cornerstone was given to Tom Brady who placed it in a choice area of his yard at 1707 portage Street. When this property was sold, the Men's Club placed the cornerstone in the courtyard next to St. Joseph Church on Lake Street.

The first St. Joseph Church/School on Lake Street was two stories plus a basement. It had front and back stone steps for access. There was an outside fire escape which was a long metal tube from the top floor to the ground. Escape meant sliding down the inside of the tube.  It was scary to the girls, but the boys loved it.

The boiler and furnace room was in the back of the basement with the front area for meeting and gym use. The inventive sisters made a stage there for programs. There was a slightly oriental (tacky in other words) roll up curtain (shade) which Sr. Marie Cecile eventually replaced with a burgundy velvet curtain which pulled but was also somewhat out of place by being too fine for the rest of the place.

After the new church was completed in 1915, there were eight rooms in the school with 10 grades so some doubled up. There were also eight Sisters of St. Joseph from Nazareth as teachers.

Dick Dennany, Dolores’ father, worked for Monarch Paper Mill and had the use of the cutting room and so cut paper to size to augment the school's paper supply. Dick’s brother Joe, Harold Roberts and the husbands of the Dennany girls all worked at the mill.  That is how we got to know one another.  It was a close knit group.  We couldn't’t afford to go out so we would get together in one another’s homes, children and all.

Father Grace had a green thumb and grew beautiful flowers. These he cut and took to the convent where the sisters sorted and arranged them. The altars were beautiful all summer. Another story regarding Fr. Grace was that he was very frugal. (This is true). He was saving for a very long time for a marble altar. However the good bishop found out about his stash and knew of another parish that had a greater need so there went Fr. Grace's program. Obviously, the altar was finally a reality.

An Account of the Early Years

Written by Patrick Redmond for "Parish Pride", Volume 10 #10, October 1979

The men and women who formed the nucleus of the membership of the mission of St. Joseph were young people.  They ranged in age from twenty-five to forty-five.  They were good Catholics, dedicated to the one objective; to support the new endeavor with their financial resources, to the best of their ability.  Their enthusiasm to make the mission a possibility also underlined their determination to eventually establish a new parish.

The central religious activity of their lives had been to attend Sunday Mass at St. Augustine's Church.  They had grown up in this environment, had attended St. Augustine's school, and had carried on this attendance every Sunday into their grown-up years.  But for them, it was, by today’s standards, almost a day’s work to get to church.  Traveling by horse and buggy, after hitching up the horses, was a labor of love, a weekly ritual, a meeting place with their friends.

The promise of the establishment of a mission at Cork and Lovers Lane, and subsequently, the purchase of property on Lake Street, was welcomed by all families in this area.  From the building of the old school in 1904, they sponsored various activities to raise money.  Foremost among these was an annual St. Patrick's banquet, held each year at the A.U.V. Auditorium on Portage Street near Michigan Avenue, where the Bowl-O-Dome later stood.

Since most of our pioneers were Irish, this banquet was supported with great enthusiasm.  Civic, financial, and educational notables were invited as speakers, singers, and celebrators.  These banquets were a highlight of civic activities for about 17 years, beginning in 1904.

From these humble beginnings evolved the beautiful parish family we have today. These pioneers laid the groundwork and all pastors in these past 75 years have been Irish-- a testimony to the dedication to continual temporal and spiritual progress.


Arrival of Some Irish Settlers in Kalamazoo  (Around 1890)

Based on information provided by Nola Brady in 1995. Nola was the wife of Tom Brady whose parents were Bill and Mary (Tooey) Brady.

Irish settlers came to Wabash, Indiana and then to Kalamazoo to work in the paper mills.  Bill Brady was a millwright at the Bryant Paper Mill. The settlers came up about the same time.  Times were hard.  Tom Brady’s grandmother took lunches in a market basket to the workers in the paper mill.  It was more of a dinner than a lunch with traditional Irish food and lots of potatoes.

Bill and Mary Brady  lived at 1508 Bank Street. They had five children: Helen (Dyken), Pauline (Grogg), Tom, Eileen (Sister Agnese, a Sister of St. Joseph of Nazareth), and James.

Tom and Nola Brady were married in 1931 at St. Augustine Church and lived at 1707 Portage Road.


Some Memories from when Fr. Grace and Fr. Rochford were Pastors

The following account is based on information provided by Rita Redmond in conversation with Patricia Dent in June 2007.

Rita was born to P.J. and Margaret Redmond, longtime parishioners of St. Joseph Parish.  In fact it was at the home of her grandfather, Patrick Redmond that a meeting was held in 1889 to formulate plans to start a new parish in the area of what is now Cork Street and Lovers Lane. That parish did not develop over time, so her family remained active at St. Augustine’s until St. Joseph’s was established.

She is one of five children, three boys and two girls.  She has one brother surviving in Lansing and her sister lives in Portland, Michigan.  Her father was a wonderful singer and sang at over 1500 funerals at St. Joseph and St. Augustine Churches.  Rita was his organist beginning at a very early age and was dismissed from school to play whenever a funeral was held.  She was able to play the piano by ear at age 6 and took lessons from Sister David, a teacher at the Old St. Joseph School.  The first song she remembers playing was "It happened on the Beach at Bali Bali."  Hardly a tune to impress a nun. 

Rita made her First Communion at St. Joseph Parish when she was seven years old.  Father Grace was the celebrant and remained the parish priest until Rita completed high school.  She remembers having hot chocolate in the school basement after school day Mass during Lent as one was not allowed to eat or drink before Communion.  It was very special to her.  Art, music and physical education were not part of the curriculum in those days.  There were 32 children in her class and many went on to finish thru 8th grade with her.  Mass was held every day.  After eighth grade, Rita attended Nazareth Academy for four years, then Nazareth College where she received her teaching degree.  She taught for 39 years in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, mostly first and second grades. 

Rita remembers Father Rochford fondly and during his time Joe Salamun, parishioner, started the Church Choir.  It had altos, sopranos, tenors, bases.  The first year the choir was formed it was asked by WKZO Radio to have the Christmas Mass broadcast live. It was during Father Rochford's time that St. Joseph became a vibrant parish with Couples Club, card groups, etc.

Around 1949 women from the parish began visiting patients in the State Psychiatric Hospital on Oakland Avenue. Various priests served at the State Hospital over the years and the women from St. Joseph Church would bring the patients to the Chapel for Mass. Rita picked up folks at the Reed Hotel and brought them to the hospital to participate in the Mass with the patients. She was the organist for the Masses at the Kalamazoo State Hospital for 25 to 30 years. 

Rita was a very active presence in the parish long after Fr. Rochford retired, serving under the direction of many more pastors in implementing the vision of Church according to Vatican Council II . She was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion  for many years, taking Holy Communion to shut-ins on Sundays and Tuesdays, often with 4 or 5 people being ministered to by her each week.  She served as editor of the Parish Pride for many years and sang in the current choir until the late 1990’s. Parish Pride is a parish publication which began in January 1970 and is still published regularly.

In recent years Rita has moved to Wyndham Apartments.  To this day, she writes songs and plays the organ and piano.  She recently has composed a song in Spanish for her Spanish class at Wyndham. Although her health makes it difficult to get to St. Joseph Church, she finds spiritual nourishment in participating in the Masses offered at the Upjohn Community Care Center and in the Small Christian Community to which she has belonged for many years.

She has many dear fond memories of her years at St. Joseph. 


Memories of Parish Life when Father Richard Grace was Pastor

Written in 1997 by Ruth Engemann Yerks

 It seemed that St. Joseph was guiding his own when we moved from one St. Joseph Parish to this one in 1920. No kindergarten existed here so I was fast forwarded to the middle of first grade.  I quickly decided that wonderful Sister Cordelia had eyes in the back of her head.  I would have stayed with her forever but progression was required. You may recognize other teacher’s names: Sisters Victory, Bernard, Benedict and for the 7th and 8th grades, another wonderful one, Sister Aileen.

School life was uncomplicated. The pastor, Father Grace set standards that we observed.  Many of the same standards were enforced at home.  Many people remember Father Grace as a rigid and authoritarian pastor.  He probably demanded no more from his congregation than from himself. You have probably heard stories about him. Although I was less than comfortable in his presence, I experienced a different side.  I experienced his gentler side when he anointed me and gave me my First Communion after a near-fatal burn accident when I was in the First Grade.  Father Grace ordinarily demanded a precise confession form but never from me. We did not go over to church for confession as a class during the school day but were encouraged to go every Saturday.  I experienced less personal fear but still did not like being in church during Saturday confessions.

My classmates made their First Communion when they were seven years old. My mother and father had made their First Communion at age 12 and were confirmed soon after, which was the norm for that generation.

Our parish seemed to be bordered by Miller Road on the south, Second Street on the north, Burdick Street on the west and the city limits on the east.  A few families drove in from outlying areas but most people walked to church.  I recall only one mother who drove, Mrs. Nicholas, mother of Helen and of Francis.  Francis is still a parish member in 2007.

Friendships that lasted until death were formed.  My best friends were Mary Clement Goodwin, Martha Cizmadji Skinner, Helen Nicholas Grant, Borgia Kersjes, Mary Jean Miller, Rose Koprolces Carra, Edith Theunissen Roschik, and Eileen Brady.  Eileen joined the Sisters of St. Joseph at Nazareth.

We lived near the Church on the corner of Mills and Jackson. Our Catholic neighbors were the Cizmadjis, Binders, Byingtons, Guifoyles, Shanes and Redmonds.  I like to tell Rita Redmond that I knew her parents before she did. We improvised our own social life.  Always there was an invisible line between boys and girls.

 A good time to socialize was when we gathered, by grades, on the public sidewalk before marching into church for mass. I have vivid memories of standing "in ranks" before going into the Church for daily Mass. I recall being with my 7th Grade classmates on that May, 1927 day when we discussed Lindberg's Atlantic crossing.  We were excited about his solo flight to Paris.  A few families had radios but most of us learned the news via a Gazette EXTRA.

Although daily Communion was limited because of the fasting rule practically the entire student body (except for 1st and 2nd Graders) received Communion during Lent. We were fasting so needed breakfast. Again, in ranks, we went into the school basement after mass with our brown bag breakfasts. Our teachers served cups of cocoa for 2 cents a day or a dime a week. The basement acquired an odor of cocoa and peanut butter sandwiches.  We “gave up” candy for Lent and the adults observed the strict Lenten Fast. Father Grace’s advice was, “If you are hungry, drink warm water.  Attendance at Friday Stations was also mandatory.

On the feast of St. Richard there always was a program to honor our pastor, Father Richard Grace. He always gave us the rest of the day "free". I recall everyone bringing a dime and collecting what we felt was a fine amount. Rumor had it that one year he put a $20 bill into one of his numerous books and could not find it.

Another important event during the year was our Christmas program ending with a beautiful crib scene. Mary was usually a pretty 8th grade girl.  Joseph and shepherds were 8th grade boys who looked authentic in their dad’s bathrobes.  Many of us were angels wearing scratchy tinsel hair bands

All Parish children had Sunday envelopes and if you could put in a dime a week that was fine. Some must have had more to donate because in 1925 the two side altars were installed from this source of revenue. Mary's altar from the girls and St. Joseph's from the boys. That invisible line again between the boys and the girls!

I was confirmed when I was 12 years old.  I was trained at St. Joseph’s to receive this sacrament but went to St. Augustine Church along with other children to meet with the Bishop who came from Detroit to confirm the people from the area. This was not an annual event.  When the Bishop came, those who were ready made their Confirmation.  There were many people from other parishes there. I recall the Bishop walking around and personally asking individuals questions to check on their knowledge.

 I was thirteen years old when we "graduated" from St. Joseph's and for some few that was the end of school. My mother did not drive so my dad taught me. A highlight of my 8th grade year was obtaining my driver’s license at age thirteen so I could help with errands for our family store. A bonus was driving to our class picnic at Long Lake. Sister Aileen and as many students, as could fit in the car, rode with me.

Father Grace did not sanction fun events for fund raising. He insisted that only contributions and “pew rent” provide revenue. In order to raise money for Christmas and Easter flowers my mother, Anna Engemann, and Hattie Binder spent several afternoons walking to the homes of each member of the Altar Society to collect money for the altar flowers for that feast. During the rest of the year we probably had no flowers except for ones parishioners sent from their gardens. I remember taking a huge bouquet of snapdragons but the nun in charge of the altars, etc. refused them because in the language of flowers, snapdragons had a bad connotation.

 The one for profit event that Father Grace allowed was the late spring early summer Ice Cream Social. Parish women provided the cakes (I recall some gorgeous ones) and upper grade girls were waitresses. There were a few "attractions" such as a fish pond, etc. This was to raise money for the marble main altar purchased in the early 1930s. Models for proposed plans for decorating the church were posted and voted on.  Italian artists who had immigrated to Detroit worked on the church murals during the week, rooming at our home and with the Shane family. They returned to Detroit for the weekends.

Attendance at a Catholic School was mandatory if one was available.  Parents needed to be contributors and also support the parish with “pew rent”.

Men belonged to the Holy Name Society.  Women could join the Altar Society. As its name implied, they provided altar supplies. A nun was the actual sacristan. Many of the boys were “altar boys” and all upper grade girls sang in the choir.  If a mass was a “low” mass as opposed to a “high” mass with Latin sung, we usually recited the rosary during that mass and did not sing.

Each year Father Grace read our financial report. One of his pet peeves was the water bill (from the city) for the school. He always remarked that the city maintained a trough (for horses) at Lake and Portage but charged for our children. At that time milk was delivered by milk trucks pulled by horses so there was a need for such equipment near the busy creamery.

Ruth and her sister Marjorieann on Ruth's Wedding Day.

Ruth and her sister Marjorieann on Ruth's Wedding Day.



Nelson Yerks and I were married in August 1942. Our wedding mass was at 9:30 on a Saturday morning.  It had to be early because of the Communion Fast. We had nothing to say about the ceremony. No father walking the bride down the aisle (a practice of pagan origin). We sat in the front seat, center aisle west side. We went into the Sanctuary (I think we knelt on a Prie dieu) three times; for our vows, Communion and nuptial blessing. After Mass we went into the Sacristy and Father Grace said "Ruth Engemann is no more."









Masses (Sunday) were at 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. and on weekdays Communion was distributed at 6:30 a.m. and an all school Mass was at 8:00. Often we recited the Rosary aloud during Mass.

My recollections are ones of my early life. Ones from 1951 to the present time are ones that many share.

 It has been my good fortune to have been a member of St. Joseph Parish for all but my first 51/2 years. Vatican II came at the right time for me and I was at the right place and had the right background to grow. I am grateful.


Memories Around the 1950s

The following account is based on information provided by Mary Mero form a conversation with Jane Bis in 2007.

          Jane Bis and her husband John were members of St. Mary’s church in Kalamazoo until 1948 when they moved into a new home on Miller Rd.  At that time they decided to attend St. Joseph Church, where they would send their children to school.
          Jane and John had two sons, John and Allan who attended St. Joseph school.  Jane remembers the time when both boys were altar servers.  She helped them learn the Latin responses used at the time.  Her oldest son, John would get up early in the morning and ride his bike to St. Joe’s to serve early Mass for the priest.  Jane herself volunteered in a group of St. Joe woman parishioners, who organized a clothing collection and Rummage Sale for the Church. 
          During our conversation we talked about Tuesday night devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings during Lent.

The following account was written by Roxanne Reisterer in 2015.

I can remember entering St. Joseph grade school in Sept. of 1951 as a five year old since in the First Grade. There was no kindergarten. The old school, what a memory! I was baptized at St Augustine because of boundaries. When I entered school my parents joined St. Joe's. I made my First Communion and was confirmed here by Bishop Albers of the Diocese of Lansing. Some of the teachers I remember are Sr. Anne Furnham, Sister Mary Joseph, Sister Marie Sharon, Sister Victory, Sister Pricilla, Mrs. Bolin, and Mother Loretta. Fr. Rochford was pastor at the time Fr. ,Nadrach (assistant) gave my sister and I each a baby duck which we called Amos & Andy at a parish festival where my Mother had won a car.

I remember Mr. Freebury & Mr. Hook as two wonderful men who worked hard. They were always there for us. If our desk needed to be adjusted lower or higher, they took care of it.  If we got sick, they were there to clean up the mess. They kept order on the bus and made sure we were all on the bus before departing. Or if we were not at the bus stop they would wait for awhile to be sure we were not coming. The school was kept spotless and they kept the buses running. They did a lot of the repairs themselves. All I can say is they were jacks of all trades. I sure like to know what became of them after they left St. Joe. They sure need some recognition after all these years even if they have passed. Nothing has ever been said of them.



Memories Around the 1970s

Activities of the Women’s Club

Written in 2007 by Mary Hitson

In the 70’s we had a very active women’s club.  I was installed as president for 1974-75 and continued to be very active for years as were most of the members.  We got a lot of things done, plus had so much fun doing it.

We had many activities going all year long.  We would have style shows (clothes from Penny’s) and always had a gym full of people as were the card parties we had sometimes in fall and spring.

In November we also had the bazaar as we still do today.  We also had a group that made crafts for the bazaar.  We would meet at each others house, take a sack lunch and spend the day.  How fun!!

At Christmas time we would have a Christmas potluck and gift exchange.  In the spring we had a mother-daughter breakfast and the daughters really enjoyed this as well as the mothers.  The men of the parish cooked the breakfast.

Each year in June we would go strawberry picking (even some who were really too old to pick).  We always had a crew ready to clean the berries.  Seems we always had a lot of laughs no matter what job we were doing.  A few of the ladies that no longer are with us that made up the cleaning crew were Bernice Dickens, Marguerite Ernst, Angie Shubert, Irene Maat, Flossie Rafferty, Mary DeYoung, Dorothy Crandall, Gert Raymond, Marion Barr, Lucille Pickett, and Marie Horsfall and I hope I haven’t left out anyone.

Janie Steffler and her mother Nola Brady would make the delicious biscuits for the shortcake.  This continued each June until everyone could no longer pick berries and they would buy tubs of frozen berries.  Work was fun in those days because none of the women had to work outside the home like today when it takes two to keep a family going.  Times have certainly changed.

Now I get back to September 1974.  My father died after being in a nursing home in South Bend.  The morning of the funeral Father Mike Hazard and several of the ladies came to South Bend for the funeral held in St. Jude’s Catholic Church.  This really touched my heart as I was so surprised to see them.  St. Jude’s always had a funeral luncheon afterwards which was lovely and appreciated.  Father Mike was so impressed with the way that the luncheon was served that he suggested to Father Fitzgerald that he ask me to start it here at St. Joe’s.  That was 33 years ago and it continues to this day with different ladies in charge.


St. Joseph’s Couples Club

Written by Monica Bennett

Couples Club of St. Joseph Parish was instigated by Father W. Fitzgerald.  He invited married couples, young and not so young to gather and have fun. Most of the duos who expressed an interest were those with families.  They were delighted to spend an evening, once a month, in adult company.  We enjoyed the conversation and laughs, even chuckling at the same jokes a second time.

Everyone brought a snack to share and their own “refreshments”.  If we had a pot-luck, savory dishes appeared and disappeared.  Cookouts were a popular choice and steaks of every variety sizzled on the grills.  Sometimes it was burgers and hot dogs that never tasted so good.

We met at each other’s homes.  The Krills hosted a fondue party which was a grand success.  Fondue was a new experience to many, and also to the carpet now forever chocolate.

Cottage invitations were well received.  The Bishops and Shanes opened their retreats at Eagle Lake, Decatur.  Some of the intrepid members even went swimming. It was always a “standing room only” crowd.  Pulas were known for their backyard entertainments.  Summer was wonderful.

One notable adventure was a progressive dinner.  It moved from home to home from appetizers to desserts.  As I remember, the afterglow was at our home (Bennett) with piano playing and singing until the wee hours.

There are so many memories of couples who founded the St. Joe Follies to be followed by the highly success fu Five Karat Caberet benefiting Hackett High School.  Our Sunday doughnuts were born of Couples Club, too.

Many will recall more than is reported here.  Of the greatest value were the friendships formed.  We’ll always remember those who have passed through our lives and left smiles.


Memories from a St. Joe Kid from the 1970s

Written by Jodi Musser in the 1990s

I remember “Girls Chase Boys” on the playground in 2nd Grade.  I remember “King of the Mountain” in the winter time.  I remember Strawberry Festivals and how Mr. Avery would always give us kids more tickets for our money than what we were supposed to get.  I remember Parish camp-Outs.  I remember when we thought Fr.  Mike looked like John Denver.  I remember being a little scared to tell Fr. Fitz my sins in 4th and 5th grade.  I remember Mr. Kowalski reading The Push Car War and The Phantom Toll Booth in many different voices.  I remember “Mummy Ball” in Mr. Henry’s Class.  I remember Family Clusters in 7th and 8th Grade.  I remember walking to Upjohn Park for end of year Fun Day. 

This year my 1st Grader came home from school and told me the kids invented a new game.  It’s called “Girls Chase Boys”

The following account was written by Roxanne Reisterer in 2015.

I can remember 5:15 daily Mass, and the strawberry festival with Fr. Mike in the dunking booth. I also remember the days with Fr. Fitz as Pastor and Fr. Mike assistant, and Fr. Jerry Onofre in residence. A Few of the parishioners used to pick on the three of them for fun. Since Fr. Mike (as he would say) was a baby priest. I also belonged to the Legion of Mary and still do, served as a Eucharistic minister and altar server. It still is a great Parish the greatest in Kazoo.