IRON MOUNTAIN - Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Iron Mountain's Northside has completed restoration of the church's interior. Over the past six months the church was repainted, pews refinished and major renovations made to the sanctuary (altar) area.
In thanksgiving for the newly renovated interior, a celebratory Mass will be held Saturday, Dec. 8 on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is exactly 110 years to the day construction of the church building, was finished.
This sacred event will include blessing the new altar.
Jimm Lehmann, left, and Larry Lanthere of Riverworks Design Inc. prepare to install relics in the new altar at Immaculate Conception Church. In thanksgiving for the newly restored church interior, a celebratory Mass will be held Saturday, Dec. 8.
The origin of Immaculate Conception Parish goes back to 1890 when Italian settlers who belonged to St. Joseph's Church, the French parish in downtown Iron Mountain, were given permission to build a church in their own neighborhood. Many of them worked as miners in the local iron mines.
The first church, which suffered a fire in 1893, was eventually replaced by the present stone structure when the need for a larger church developed.
The Reverend Pietro Sinopoli, from the province of Catonia in Sicily, arrived as spiritual leader for the Italian parish in April 1902. The young priest was a member of a religious order founded in Italy to care for Italians who had immigrated to other countries.
Shortly after his arrival, Father Sinopoli organized a meeting for the purpose of discussing the construction of a new church. The Iron Mountain Evening Gazette of May 13, l902 recorded the news of this parish meeting. The families of the parish would be contacted in a subscription drive to raise funds.
This was accomplished by arranging the families of the parish by their native provinces in Italy. The drive for funds went quickly. ln his diary, Father Sinopoli wrote, "...This most Excellent Bishop would wish that the colony should start thinking about building a new church, more beautiful and larger than the present one. No sooner did I manifest his hard desire to the people then, as though by magic, over $5,000 was collected in six days, while others kept adding to the Iist of those who pledged their contribution. ..."
On June 24, l902, Father Sinopoli personally began to dig the foundation for a new church.
He also became the architect, engineer and worker while still serving as priest. Inspired by his example, parishioners along with some laborers from nearby mines donated their time to help build the church.
The cornerstone, a large block of red granite, was in place and blessed on July 6, 1902 by Father Sinopoli. Construction of the church moved rapidly. By Aug. 15 the eastern wall was finished. The red sandstone used on the exterior walls was quarried and hauled by horse and wagon from a site on Millie Hill about a mile away.
Work began on the roof Sept. 8, and the cross was unveiled on the bell tower Oct. 5. The church was completed on Dec. 8, l902, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a little more than five months after construction began. For about $ 13,000 and a lot of hard work, the Italian settlers had their own church.
Because of its unique design and history, the church was declared a Michigan Historical Site in 1979 and included on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, in 1990.
"The Italian workers constructed this building as a hallowed reminder of the churches they left in Italy. Our church has an architectural grace about it because people took great pains to reproduce it from their native soil," said Monsignor James Kaczmarek, the current pastor of Immaculate Conception Church and the 19th pastor since the parish was established in 1890. "It is gratifying that restoration of the church's interior enhances the Italian heritage of this holy place."
"This special occasion is a reminder of the strength and intent of the people who built and dedicated this church to be so special. We are blessed to share the same ownership and to have the opportunity to preserve what was established so long ago," Kaczmarek said.