HISTORY OF ST. ALEXIS PARISH
With the beginning of the Second World War, thousands of people flocked to the Ypsilanti Area. The largest share of these people came to work in Henry Ford`s Bomber Plant. During the first months a new community was born. This new community took the name, Willow Run.
The late Cardinal Mooney, then Archbishop of Detroit, established St. Alexis during the spring of 1940 as a mission of St. John`s Parish in Ypsilanti. Fr. Clare Murphy was the first priest sent to head the new mission. Father lived at St. John`s Rectory and said Mass in the now demolished Willow Run Theater.
Fr. Murphy was able to procure materials during the first years of the war to build the first permanent church structure on its old site, the corner of Holmes and Midway. Father was also able to purchase the old rectory, later used as the convent. During a succession of administrators, Frs. Collins, Bruck, and Sadler, St. Alexis Mission continued to serve the spiritual needs of the Willow Run community.
With the end of the war, the Bomber Plant was phased out. People began to drift away. The population of the area dwindled. With the coming of Fr. Raymond E. Jones, new life entered St. Alexis Mission. His emphasis was to work towards attaining parish status.
Saturday, February 5, 1955 was a day of tragedy for St. Alexis Mission. A fire of undetermined origin completely destroyed the interior of the church. The fire required the rebuilding of the church and in the process the structure was lengthened. Meanwhile, church services were held next door in St. Alexis Hall.
Father Jones planned to build a temporary school structure to help alleviate the overcrowded conditions at St. John`s Elementary School. On December 30, 1955, the first of five Quonset huts, was rolled into place on Holmes Road across from the parish hall. On October 22, 1956 Cardinal Mooney officiated at the dedication. The Dominican Mother House in Adrian sent three sisters as the school`s first staff. St. Alexis Elementary School was now in official operation.
During the administration of Fr. John C. Divine, the Ypsilanti Township area came into being and a new parish, St. Ursula, was begun to the South. The name of Willow Run was beginning to lose its place as the area became included into the township.
Fr. Henry Kreft brought additional spirit to St. Alexis. Father was intent on eliminating the debt so that work could eventually begin construction of a new combined facility of a church, school and social hall. By Christmas of 1964, Father was able to announce the parish debt was paid in full.
Preliminary planning for new parish facilities began immediately. The fulfillment of these plans was left to Fr. Kreft`s successor, Fr. Richard Bonin, who came in January, 1965.
On June 22, 1966 Archbishop Dearden elevated St. Alexis from the status of a mission to that of a full fledged parish. He appointed Fr. Bonin as its first Pastor.
The planning for a new school and temporary church facility began with Fr. Kreft and continued with Fr. Bonin. On October 23, 1966 work began on the present buildings. The temporary church area was built so that it could easily be divided into four additional classrooms when a permanent church was constructed.
In 1967 the parish building costs continued to grow to $288,000, but on August 26, 1967 Archbishop John Dearden blessed the new parish buildings. Sister Clara Louise, Sister Ann Laudine and Sister Clarita moved into their new residence (the old rectory) and resumed their education duties in the new school on September 6.
In 1969, Sister Ann Laudine and Sister Francis Margaret, on the staff since 1955, departed and Fr. Bonin left for new duties. Fr. Robert Burroughs arrived and Sister Joan Theresa come to assume education duties.
In 1971, St. Alexis became a part of the Diocese of Lansing.
In February of 1973, the parish tried a new fund raiser, BINGO, that was successful! In March of 1975, the foundation was laid for the St. Alexis Activities Center. The school had grown to an enrollment of 134 students. In 1977, the old church property was sold.
In August of 1981, a mortgage burning ceremony was held. The festivities also honored the retirement of Fr. Robert Burroughs and welcomed Fr. Paul Ruddy, O.S.F.S., a member of the religious congregation of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. The following year, Sister Marie Jutte was transferred and Sister Orlanda Leyba became the new principal.
In 1985, the parish requested permission to add two classrooms and brick the activities hall. A church bell tower was erected and rang for the first time for the June 23 Mass. The Activities Center was refurbished in 1986, the new classrooms were dedicated and the parish, of 250 families, celebrated its 20th Anniversary.
In 1988 Fr. Ruddy was transferred and Fr. Robert Mossett, O.S.F.S. arrived. It was also announced that the school enrollment had reached its maximum capacity of 168 students. Unfortunately from this point it began a fairly steady and dramatic decline to 101 students in 1993. Fr. Mossett remained until the beginning of the merger process in August 1993. For the five months until the merger of the two parishes was official, Fr. David M. Franco, O.S.F.S., the Pastor of St. Ursula parish was appointed as the administrator of St. Alexis.
Since Fr. Franco was the only priest for both churches, weekend clergy help was brought in so that both parishes could hold services in their respective facilities. When December came, extra help was impossible to find, therefore Bishop Povish ordered that both parishes would be served at the St. Ursula church building beginning on December 5, 1993. This date also saw the publication of the first joint parish bulletin. The last weekend liturgy was held at the St. Alexis church on Sunday, November 28, 1993. From then on, the building only served as the school chapel for masses once a week. The final service was held in the St. Alexis church on June 7, 1995.
HISTORY OF ST. URSULA PARISH
The older of the two parishes, by six years, St. Ursula`s Parish was begun on June 8, 1960 when Archbishop John F. Dearden of Detroit created the parish and named Rev. Mitchell Bednarski as its founding pastor. The site of the new parish facilities was at Foley and Harris Roads on 8 Ĺ acres of land, which had been purchased in the 1930`s by the Archdiocese of Detroit. Fr. Bednarski lived at St. John`s rectory in town as his rectory house was being built at 1428 Foley St.
The first problem was to find a place to hold Mass. Arrangements were made with the officials to use Ypsilanti Township Hall on Ecorse Road, and it was here that the first Mass was offered by Fr. Bednarski on July 10, 1960. Sunday Masses continued there until August 21, 1960 when we moved to Kettering School on Gattegno and Knowles St. which afforded larger quarters and was nearer to the parish property. Despite the many difficulties of moving and setting up chairs, and carrying a portable altar, the parish flourished. It consisted of about 150 families.
The first celebration of Baptism in the parish took place on July 10, 1960. The first marriage was celebrated on March 18, 1961.
Meanwhile plans were progressing for a parish building that would house a temporary church and gathering space. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held on Sunday, November 6, 1960. However, the actual construction was temporarily delayed until June, 1961, with several changes in the Architect`s plans. The church was completed and cornerstone ceremonies took place on Sunday, September 10, 1961.
The blessing of the Church and the celebration of Mass took place on Saturday, October 21, 1961 by Archbishop Dearden amid a huge crowd of parishioners and friends. The temporary church was designed to be transformed, at some later date, into three classrooms. It was hoped that someday, St. Ursula`s would have its own school. This was not to be, however, as this was not practical. St. Ursula`s joined St. John`s in the school program.
At this time, it was decided to erect a new, permanent church so the temporary church could be turned into a social hall. With the aid of folding doors, it could be converted into three classrooms for religious instruction.
On July 8, 1967, the new permanent church building was dedicated. On July 21, 1971, Washtenaw County, including St. Ursula`s became part of the ten county Diocese of Lansing.
After seventeen years of dedicated service, Fr. Mitchell Bednarski, the founding pastor, was transferred to the pastorate of St. Mary`s, Durand, Michigan, in September, 1976. His many years of service gave St. Ursula`s not only a great beginning, but also a sense of stability and identity. These intangible qualities were as important to the fledgling parish as was his pastoral service and his development of the parish facilities. It provided the parish as a whole a class and character of openness and hospitality. Fr. Bednarski provided a quality of leadership unparalleled in the thirty four year history of the parish.
The second pastor, Fr. James Fitzgerald, came to St. Ursula from Holy Family Parish, Grand Blanc. After serving eight years as pastor of St. Ursula, Fr. Fitzgerald retired. He was replaced by Fr. William J. Rademacher on June 27, 1984. Fr. Rademacher stayed only one year and following his departure, the parish came under the temporary administration of the Pastor of St. John the Baptist parish, Fr. Jerry Ploof, and Associate Pastor, Fr. Paul Schwermer. This interim period lasted for one year, from June 18, 1985 to July 1, 1986. St. Ursula`s fourth pastor, Fr. Stanley Czarnota, came to fill the vacant position.
Fr. Czarnota was a native of Lublin, Poland who had come to the United States eleven years prior to his appointment to St. Ursula. During his pastorate, Fr. Stan returned to his native homeland for a visit and brought back to the parish a hand-carved wooden statue of the parish patron and a painting of the saint. The statue was placed in the sanctuary of the church and the painting hung on the back wall where it hung until the merger of the parish. The painting was then brought to the retirement home and infirmary of the Ursuline Sisters in Toledo, Ohio where it was received with much love and appreciation. Fr. Raymond Klauke replaced Fr. Stan on June 29, 1988 and was pastor until his retirement four years later.
On June 24, 1992 the sixth and last pastor of St. Ursula`s, Fr. David M. Franco, O.S.F.S. came to the parish. Fr. Dave, a member of the religious congregation of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, was sent to the small, 180 family parish, by Bishop Kenneth Povish to prepare the parish membership for a merger of the parish with that of St. Alexis parish to the north. Preparations included working with the parish membership as well as upgrading the parish facilities. The many steps that led to the church entrances were replaced with ramping concrete walks with handrails. A new Cry Room was created in the Church as well as all the floor tile replaced in the pew areas. Outdoor lighting was enhanced and a new aluminum and glass entrances installed at the newly renamed Bednarski Hall. The Foley street rectory, a tri-level house, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, was totally renovated and brought up to code in anticipation of being sold as part of the upcoming merger. In addition, all new liturgical vestments and altar cloths were purchased with substantial help by donations from the Madonna Guild and memorials by parish families. The parish members worked towards the upcoming merger with a sense of openness and optimism.
HISTORY OF TRANSFIGURATION PARISH
On Sunday, January 8, 1994, The Most Rev. Kenneth J. Povish, Bishop of Lansing, promulgated a decree that suppressed (ended) the existence of both St. Alexis and St. Ursula parishes and establishing "a new parish comprising the same people and properties under one pastor, to be known as Transfiguration Parish . . . The first pastor shall be Reverend David M. Franco, O.S.F.S." The boundaries of the new parish are M-14 to the North, Textile Road to the South, the Washtenaw/Wayne county line to the East, and Prospect St. to the West. The parish would be based on the two sites of the former parishes, which were less than two miles apart. The North Campus, where the rectory, school and Bingo Hall would be located; and the South Campus, comprising of the Church and Bednarski Hall.
Bishop Povish came to the Church that weekend and was the main celebrant at all of the weekend masses at which Fr. Franco was the concelebrant. He personally read the decree of promulgation at the masses, which was also mailed to each household of the two former parishes. The new parish was off and running.
Two buildings were sold off as part of the merger, the Foley St. rectory, and the house used by Sr. Orlanda Leyba, O.P., the last principal of St. Alexis elementary school. The original plan was to utilize the permanent Church structure on the South Campus and convert the North Campus worship space into the four classrooms for which it was originally designed. Thus the school could be expanded by adding a Preschool and Kindergarten program and eventually a Seventh and Eighth grade.
After two years of preparation, the overwhelming majority of both parishes could see the reasons for, and the inevitability of, the merger. However, it was not accepted by a small, but vocal group who waged an extremely negative, and public, campaign which tainted the attitude and atmosphere surrounding the parish and school. The resulting financial shortfall brought on by a significant drop in parish financial support, coupled with a pre-enrollment of less than 35 students, caused the Parish Finance Commission, the Education Commission and the Parish Council, to petition the Bishop to close the school if enrollment could not reach a level that would support a break-even budget.
In order to save the school, and possibly turn it into a "regional" school supported by all the local parishes in the area, Bishop Povish ordered that Transfiguration School, would be taken over and directly administered, by the Diocese. This transfer allowed the school to operate during the 1994-95 school year. In the hope of stabilizing the enrollment base, a kindergarten program was immediately begun; and instead of hiring a principal, two teachers were named as co-administrators. However, neither the increased enrollment nor the regional school concept, materialized and the school was closed on June 9, 1995, the last day of classes.
Despite this single, sad chapter in the beginning of the parish, the new parish as a whole was alive, and vibrant. Financial support at first fluxuated, then stabilized, and in the parish`s second year of existence, grew at an extremely healthy 8% rate over the previous year. The Diocesan Services Appeal campaign brought in 120% of its goal in 1994, 124% of goal in 1995, and 170% of goal in 1996. In the summer of 1996, the church was air-conditioned and the expansion of Bednarski Hall begun. Also beginning in 1996, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District began its lease of the North Campus school building where it ran a county-wide program for emotionally and educationally challenged youngsters. This lease not only allowed for the continuing educational use of the facility, but also gave the parish a substantial new source of income. However, part of the "price" of this new income was that the former worship space at the North Campus had to be stripped of all its religious furnishings in order to accommodate a public school operation. This was another aspect of moving forward that was difficult, but absolutely necessary. Again, the parishioners responded well, showing realistically that in the aftermath of a merger there are both tears as well as a strong and overwhelming hope for a new beginning and a new future.
From May to September, 2002 the church building was closed down for major renovations. All services were held in Bednarski Hall, which had served as the original church building for the former St. Ursula back in 1960.The front of the church building and the bell tower were demolished and replaced with a new tower and twice as much floor space in the entrance. This renovation made room for three, unisex, handicapped restrooms, a new Cry Room, Reconciliation Room, Usherís Room and multipurpose room. The interior brick walls of the church were power washed and new carpeting was laid throughout the building.
In 2003, an agreement was reached with Huron Valley Catholic School, an independent Catholic school located within the parish territorial boundaries whereby the school would give priority admission status to children of the parish and the parish would cover 25% of the studentís tuition. This agreement had the effect of giving the members of the parish the same access and subsidy as they would have at a regular parochial school. It was, in fact, the final phase of the merger of the former parishes as it restored the scope of ministerial services that existed prior to the union.