Because of the construction of a new $5.1 million school building, church leaders decided to shelve the annual festival and instead host a parish picnic this year.
The picnic for parishioners and their families is Saturday at Spring Lake’s Central Park.
“With the construction going on and the 150th anniversary year of the first Catholic church in Spring Lake, we decided to do something different this year,” said the parish’s priest, Father Dave Gross.
Gross said it is unknown at this time if there will be a festival next year.
“We're tentatively planning on moving back to a festival similar to what we have done, but we're also open to new ideas,” he said. “Most people are keeping an open mind regarding the picnic and dinner dance. Even next year, the green space (on parish grounds) will be recently seeded. We might explore having something at Central Park.”
But while Gross is looking forward, he's also looking back. As he was looking through historical documents last fall, he discovered the first Catholic church in Spring Lake was erected in 1866. That makes this year its 150th anniversary.
“The church was founded as a parish without a building in 1863,” Gross said. “They were meeting in people's homes.”
According to the “Spring Lake Community Centennial” book, the lumbering industry attracted many Irish, German and French immigrants of Catholic faith to the area in the 1850s. At that time, Father Rivers, an elderly priest, would visit the little village of Mill Point (now Spring Lake) once or twice a year and say Mass in the home of Charles and Catherine Allen, who lived at 110 W. Savidge St., a site that would later become Braak's Bakery.
At the Allen home, Rivers would use an old bureau as an altar. He carried the vestments, altar stone and chalice with him in his saddlebags.
As time passed, Hunter Savidge donated a lot at 208 N. Division St. to the Catholic congregation. They traveled to Detroit to ask Bishop Borgess for permission to build a church and have a resident priest.
The church was completed in the fall of 1866, seating 50 people. Father Tacken, an elderly Belgian priest, served as its resident pastor for two years.
In 1883, as the lumbering industry was fading, the church was converted into a mission church of the Grand Haven parish. A horse and carriage carried the priest on the sawdust road over two bridges from Grand Haven to Spring Lake for Sunday Mass.
The small church building deteriorated over the years and, in 1924, was replaced by a new church at the corner of Savidge and Prospect streets. It seated 250. Spring Lake became a separate parish in 1930.
The current St. Mary's Church building was dedicated in the spring of 1967 with seating for 765..
“It's quite astounding,” Gross said. “The area has grown considerably since the 1800s. Obviously, Spring Lake and Grand Haven have very much become a vacation destination. More people are commuting between here and Grand Rapids and Muskegon.”
The current St. Mary’s Church seats about 800, compared to 300 for the Savidge/Prospect church and less than 100 for the first Catholic church in Spring Lake.
“It's a sign of faith and a sign of this area growing because it's a desirable area for people to live in,” Gross said.