Cathedral History

Life of St. Mary’s

A look through time at the parish that grew to be Saginaw’s cathedral

1853: Established as a mission of St. Joseph Parish, Bay City, by Father Henry J. H. Schutjes. First church building dedicated.

1866: St. Mary Mission becomes a parish. Father Francis T. Van der Bom is appointed as its first pastor

December 1863: Second church building dedicated.

1866: St. Mary Mission becomes a parish. Father Francis T. Van der Bom is appointed as its first pastor.

1868: The first Catholic school in the region of the present-day diocese is established at St. Mary’s. The two-room schoolhouse is served by four sisters as a mission of the congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Monroe. 

1873: After St. Mary’s grows to more than 2,000 souls, St. Joseph Parish is established as East Saginaw’s second Catholic community. 

August 1874: The need for medical facilities in fast-growing Saginaw Valley led Father Van der Bom and Dr. Benjamin B. Ross to organize support for a hospital. St. Mary’s Hospital opened with the arrival of four religious sisters from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

1874: The German families of St. Mary gathered to form Sacred Heart Parish.

1875: Father Van der Bom invites the Sisters of Charity to establish the St. Vincent Orphan Home to meet a growing need in the city. The three-room dwelling on Owen Street provided 15 children with a home and education, including moral and religious training.

1875: Following the recent formation of two new parishes, a decline in enrollment led to the closing of the St. Mary School mission by the superior of the Monroe Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 

1878: A second parish school, St. Mary Academy, was built and staffed by Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, Indiana.

1886: Polish families in East Saginaw organized and established the Holy Rosary Mission. This third “child” of St. Mary’s became a self sufficient parish by 1892 and closed in 1992.

1892: Holy Family Parish is established in East Saginaw for the city’s French families.

1893: Fire destroyed the St. Vincent Orphan Home leaving 112 boys and girls homeless. Temporary shelter was soon found and a new home was built by August 1894.

July 23, 1903: Dedication of third (current) church building. Construction began in 1901 under the watch of Father Michael Dalton, second pastor of St. Mary. 

1907: The Sisters of Providence withdraw from St. Mary Academy, deeding the property to the local bishop (then in Grand Rapids). The Dominican Sisters from Grand Rapids take over care for the school.

1913: A few years after 120 Italian families were organized by St. Mary assistant pastors, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish is established as the fifth Catholic community to grow from the original East Saginaw parish. 

1913: Father Edward A. Caldwell, a former student of St. Mary’s grade school, returns home as the third pastor of St. Mary Parish. He served his native community until he was reassigned to Bay City in 1935. 

1920: Father Caldwell sees to the building of a new, state-of-the-art “fireproof” parish school building. It was the third school to be built on the parish grounds.

1938: St. Mary Parish becomes the Cathedral of the newly established Catholic Diocese of Saginaw.

1941: Under the leadership of the Most Rev. William F. Murphy, first Bishop of Saginaw, and cathedral rector, Monsignor J. Felix Vogt, the interior of the church is extensively remodeled and redecorated. The main altar, first used in the second church, was replaced after 78 years as the center for worship.

1956: The Grand Rapids Dominicans build the two-story convent that still stands on the campus of St. Mary Cathedral, east of the church along Hoyt Avenue. Following the departure of the sisters and the closing of St. Mary School, the building later became the Diocesan Ministries Institutes.

1969: Having outgrown its aging facilities in Saginaw, St. Vincent Orphan Home is moved to a new location in the neighboring community of Shields on the campus of Holy Spirit Parish.

June 1978: The Most Rev. Francis F. Reh, third Bishop of Saginaw, rededicated St. Mary Cathedral following an extensive remodel of the worship space. The altar and cathedra were moved from their former locations under the apse to the main floor area, a Blessed Sacrament chapel was created for the tabernacle, pews were replaced with movable chairs, the interior was redecorated and painted, the loft was expanded while the organ and choir area were relocated, and a side entrance was added from the parking lot. 

1982: The East Side Catholic Schools system is created to offset declining enrollment and increased tuition rates. St. Mary Cathedral School is now home to students in grades seven to 12 while fourth through sixth grade students attend Our Lady Help of Christians School and pre-schoolers through third-graders attend St. Casimir School.

1984: St. Mary Cathedral School merged with the city’s St. Stephen and SS. Peter & Paul high schools to create Nouvel Catholic Central High School at the intersection of Weiss Street and Weineke Road in Saginaw Township.

1985: Care for the St. Vincent Home is transferred to direction and ownership of Boysville of Michigan/ Holy Cross Children’s Services.

1988: The former St. Mary Cathedral School building is sold.

1990: The former school is abandoned by its new owners and becomes a source of blight as it is looted and allowed to decay during the next 18 years.

1998: After the diocese builds its Center for Ministry in Saginaw Township, the former ministries institute and cathedral convent are sold to Holy Cross Children’s Services. 

2000: As part of the Millennium Celebration, a covered entrance and elevator were added as the side entrance of the cathedral from the parking lot. The sound system was replaced and needed repairs were made to both the interior and exterior of the building.

January 2007: A diocesan committee is formed by the Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, fifth Bishop of Saginaw, to consider a renovation/renewal of the Cathedral and its campus.

September 2007: With the help of Neighborhood Renewal Services, the Diocese of Saginaw is able to negotiated the repurchase its former cathedral school building.

October 2007: The Diocese of Saginaw repurchases the former Dominican Convent from Holy Cross Children’s Services, which had recently purchased a larger facility with plans to relocate its Hoyt Avenue operation and leave the facility empty.

February 2008: Renovations of  the former cathedral convent are completed. The building now houses the parish offices and the social outreach programs of the Cathedral Mental Heath Clinic and Abortion Alternatives Inc. Its St. Dominic Chapel is again a day chapel for the cathedral parish community.

Spring 2008: The diocesan Restoration & Design Committee for the Cathedral Campus Renewal hosts meetings with parish, diocesan, and civic leaders to consider project goals.

June 2008: After towering over Hoyt Avenue for almost 90 years, the long-vacant St. Mary Cathedral School building is demolished.

Fall 2008: A new slate roof to be installed atop the cathedral, replacing warn ashphalt shingles and restoring the church's roof to its original state.

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