This includes theearly history of the church and the Roll of Honor (contributing members) in1914.

Among the many benefactors to Catholicinstitutions, benefactors of whom Grand Rapids may well be proud, perhaps feware better known and deserve greater praise than Mr. Jno. Clancy, now deceased.Mr. Clancy in his life time had devised to the Rt. Rev. Bishop, Henry JosephRichter, the sum of $60,000, to be used in the purchase of grounds and theerection of suitable buildings for an orphan asylum to be located in this city.

At this time the cathedral parish was overcrowded and the Bishop decided todivide it and form a new parish in the North End. He selected and boughtsufficient grounds in the Fifth Ward, whereon to erect not only an asylum, butalso a church, school and other necessary parochial buildings. The plan had beenwell conceived. There was no doubt that a new parish was needed. But who was tobe entrusted with the new and difficult undertaking? The Bishop’s desire wasto hand over the work to one of the many religious orders of clergy, then in theUnited States. After some negotiating, he succeeded in obtaining the consent ofthe Redemptorist Fathers to assume control.

Before the services of the Redemptorists had been engaged, the orphanage waswell under way. In the latter part of August, 1888, while the priests of thediocese were in their annual retreat, the Very Rev. Wm. Lowenkamp, Provincial ofthe Redemptorists, of the St. Louis Province, with Fr. Theo. Lamy C. SS. R.,arrived in Grand Rapids, and went directly to his Lordship, Bishop Richter. TheBishop received them most kindly, hospitably giving them accommodations in hisown residence.

As the members of the Redemptorist Congregation are required by rule to livein community, the reverend Provincial at once sought a home for the Fathers, whowere to start the new parish. He rented a house at 41 King Court – aone-and-a-half story frame, part of which, the older inhabitants tell us, at onetime served as a barn. The new residence was occupied Sept. 1, 1888, by thecommunity, consisting of Fr. Lamy as superior, assisted by Rev. Terrence Clarkefrom St. Louis, and Brother John from Detroit. The pastors were now ready fortheir charge.

On Sunday, August 26th, 1888, it had been announced in St. Andrew’sCathedral, as well as in St. James’ Church, that Mass would be said in the newasylum building, East Leonard Street, on Sunday, Sept. 2nd, at 8:00and 10:30 a.m. This was the real beginning of the new St. Alphonsus’ parish,and memorable that beginning was. The parishioners, who attended that firstservice, like to recall the eventful occasion and rival one another inenumerating the difficulties and odd circ*mstances, not now encountered by theirchildren, who enjoy all the advantages of a well established and well organizedparish.

The week before Sept. 2nd, preparations were made in the orphanagefor divine service. A room on the first floor was selected as most appropriate.It was swept and cleaned as well as possible. A few crude benches without backshad been hurriedly put together, a few boards stretched across two carpenterhorses, and covered with white cloth, served as the altar. The Very Rev.Provincial Fr. Lowenkamp preached at both of the opening Masses. His text was:"Build a house for the Lord, and He will build a house for you." Hetold the assembled people what had been the occasion of the Fathers’ coming toGrand Rapids and how they had found their way to the sand lots and wilderness ofthe North End. Eloquently did he encourage the new pastors and the newparishioners to join heart and hand in this work of forming the new parish andin the up-building of the same.

We of today, reviewing their glorious record of noble aims and marvelousdeeds, can easily see how generously and whole-heartedly those first listeners,those brave founders and intrepid pioneers of this parish, answered their leader’scall. The best that was in them, the heroic, was appealed to, and all respondedwith a devotion and heroicity that entitles them to a place in the hearts of allpresent and future members of this favored congregation.

In those first years when St. Andrew’s parish was divided, that part of thecity lying north of Trowbridge Street and east of the river, together with alarge part of Grand Rapids, Ada, and Plainfield townships, was set off as St.Alphonsus' parish. The Fathers, during the first week of September, 1888, set towork, taking the census of the parish and collecting funds.

The next Sunday, Sept. 9th, the Masses were celebrated in theasylum, but under great inconvenience. The building had not yet been inclosed.Cotton sheeting had been tacked up to keep out wind and rain. The elements,however, did not seem in sympathy with the earnest piety of those firstworshippers, and a brisk gale ruthlessly blew down all the protections, the windentering every door and window. The candles at holy Mass could not remainlighted and self-protecting candlesticks had to be procured. Accordingly, twoyoung men, John Broffee and William Kelly held and tried to keep the candles litduring the services. Says the annalist of that date: "As the two young mennamed walked up to the altar to secure their candle, many of the congregationpresent smiled with approbation, because both the youths on exhibition had notbeen so privileged before." In the afternoon Catechism was taught for thefirst time to the children, numbering 104.


Owing to the inclemency and uncertainty of the weather and the unfinishedcondition of the asylum, arrangements were made that same day, September 9th,to hold services for the future at Finn’s Hall, No. 27 Plainfield Avenue, tillbetter accommodations could be provided. Mr. Patrick Finn promised the use ofhis hall on Saturdays and Sundays and Holydays for six months from date, free ofcharge. He faithfully kept his promise, and his kindness was greatly appreciatedby all. However, the idea that all fondly entertained was the erection of a newbuilding on the ground, bought from the Bishop for $1,400. This sum had beencollected two years previously by Father Roche from the Catholics in the NorthEnd for a new church and school in the Fifth Ward.

The plans of St. Alphonsus combination church and school were completedbefore the middle of September. The new building was to face Leonard Street,50-foot front, and extend 115 north toward Carrier Street. It was to be twostories. The contracts had been let and the work of excavation commencedSeptember 15. The heavens were propitious and the work went on steadily,progressed rapidly. In the meantime, Finn’s Hall was the scene of divineworship. All the chapel furniture, poor as it was, altar, benches, decorations,all except the "living candlesticks" had been removed from theorphanage to the temporary church on Plainfield Avenue.

On September 16th regular services were held at Finn’s Hall forthe first time. On week days two Masses were said, in the room which was calledthe "parlor" at the pastoral residence, 41 King Court. This programmewas continued till the completion of the new building on Leonard Street.


October 14, 1888, was the day appointed for the laying of the cornerstone forthe new parochial school. It was a red letter day in the Catholic history ofGrand Rapids. The weather was most favorable and thousands of rejoicingCatholics and eager spectators from the East side and West side gathered onLeonard street to see the impressive ceremonies. Various societies from thedifferent parishes, headed by two bands, lent evident proof and solemnity tothis demonstration of Catholic faith and Catholic practice….

After the solemn blessing of the memorial cornerstone, His Lordship gave abrief address….

Alderman Maurice Shanahan, President of the City Council, then came forwardwith a large gavel and invited all present to help in laying a solid andfinancial foundation for the parish. His appeal was met with a hearty responseand $700 cash was collected through the audience and many subscriptions secured.


Work on the new school went on with amazing rapidity, so much so indeed thatit was clear the opening could take place January 6, 1889. On the day of thededication the first Mass was celebrated at Finn’s Hall and at 10:30 began theblessing of the new edifice. When the blessing had been concluded, solemn highMass was sung in the presence of the Rt. Rev. Bishop by the Pastor, Fr. Theo.Lamy, assisted by Fr. Clarke as deacon and Fr. Distler as sub-deacon….

On September 2nd , 1889 St. Alphonsus’ School was opened withfour Dominican Sisters in charge. The names of the sisters were Sts. Cyprian,Sabina, Ignatius and Alocoque. One hundred and eighty children were present atthe first roll call….


With a church and a school, the new parish began to flourish. People wereattracted from other parishes and settled in the North End. The congregationgrew, and every year saw more families in the parish and more children in school…..

The first pastor, Rev. Theo. Lamy, spent himself for his flock. He had lovedthem and labored for them, and when death took him… all prayed for his eternalrest. Rev. Fr. Clarke was placed in charge on the death of Fr. Lamy, andadministered the affairs of the parish from August, 1892 to May 4, 1893, when hewas succeeded by Rev. Ferreol Girardey, C.SS.R., who remained until May 11,1894, when he was appointed provincial of the order, and was succeeded by Rev.Fr. Mullane, C. SS. R., who remained pastor until November 19, 1894. On this dayRev. Joseph Distler, C. SS. R., came as rector of St. Alphonsus’, and directedthe parish to May 4, 1898. At this time the Redemptorist Fathers of the EasternProvince were sent to Grand Rapids, and Rev. Patrick Barrett became Pastor. Atthe end of his three-year term Fr. Distler returned to his old charge. Hisadministration lasted until May 20, 1904.


During these many years under such active leaders St. Alphonsus’ parish hadkept on increasing. The old Church could not accommodate all the people. Yearafter year collections had been taken up, suppers had been held, andentertainments had been given – all with the intention of raising funds for amore spacious and more beautiful church. The work of building up a new templefor the greater honor and glory of God received a new impetus during Fr. Distler’ssecond administration. Just in the midst of his success, however, he was removedfrom this parish to a new field of labor. When Fr. Distler was sent to St.Louis, MO., 1904, some of his friends feared that the new church movement mightbe retarded but Rev. George Hild dispelled those fears. At the expiration of histerm he had the joy of seeing the new church under roof. Fr. Joseph Firle wasappointed pastor May 6th, 1907.


October 20th, 1909, saw the advent of the devoted pastor of St.Alphonsus’, Rev. Joseph Chapoton. When he arrived on the scene and saw thechurch standing unfinished while the old hall was far too small for the largecongregation, he determined to complete the new church. By his earnestness andzeal he gained the good will of the entire parish and after six or seven weeksof hard, untiring effort, the Fathers and people working hand in hand, thechurch was completed. It was consecrated by his Lordship, Henry Joseph Richter,December 22nd, 1909, with all the impressive rites of the Catholicritual.

Rev. Chapoton’s stay at St. Alphonsus’ was brought to an end August 3,1912. He was transferred to Portland, Oregon.


Rev. Edward K. Cantwell, our present pastor, who had been superior inPortland till August 3, 1912, succeeded Rev. Fr. Chapoton. Rev. Cantwell hadbeen sent to found a new parish in Portland.

Fr. Chapoton had contemplated remodeling the old school. He had started thefunds – even the plans had been drawn. Fr. Cantwell recognized that the oldschool could not satisfy the growing needs of all the children. After consultingwith the Fathers and with the men of the parish, he proceeded to carry out Ft.Chapoton’s policies. Fr. Cantwell, however, change the plans for the buildingand decided to erect a practically new school.

Before he undertook this task, he completed another work – the old pastoralresidence had become inadequate for the increasing community of Fathers andBrothers – more room and more accommodations were required. The old house wasmoved about forty feet from Leonard street and made to face on Carrier street.

When the erection of the new school is completed the setting of serve as aparish hall. Some of the school rooms will be converted into places of meetingfor the different church societies. At present about 300 children attend St.Alphonsus’ school. The good Dominican Sisters, through twenty-five years, havelabored against great odds. The Sister at present in charge is St. Cyrilla,assisted by Sisters Cherubina, Regina, Alphonsine, Callista and Francesca.

1889 - 1914


1. Baptisms 73

2. Converts 15

3. Marriages 6

4. Deaths 22

5. Communions 28,000

6. Number of children in school 290

7. Number of children confirmed 116


All members of the Parish should have their names entered in the Pew-rentRegister. This rule includes the single men and women, as well as the married.There are single sittings for the single wage-earner or salary-drawer.

Pew-rent must be paid quarterly in advance.

Pew-holders requiring more time to pay their pew-rent should notify thePastor. Pew-holders behind in their payments two or more quarters are supposedto have relinquished all rights to their pew or sitting, and pew or sitting maybe rented without further notice.

The ushers will protect the pew-holders rights. Reasonable complaints may bemade to the Pastor.

No pew will be reserved after the Gloria of the Mass has commenced.

If there be anyone who, on account of circ*mstances, cannot rent a sitting,let him inform the Pastor, and he shall have a sitting assigned to him andreceive credit for full payment in the annual report. This is all we require ofthe poor, but this is expected.

A contribution is expected from every wage-earned at the Sunday collection.In all well-regulated parishes offerings of pennies are accepted from childrenonly.



Altar Society 100 members


Holy Name Society 160 members


Ladies of the Holy Family 260 members


Young Ladies’ Sodality 96 members


Children of Mary 80 members


Junior Holy Name Society 68 members

(From the 50th Anniversary booklet.)

  • Rev. Theodore Lamy, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Terence Clarke, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Ferreol Girardey, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Daniel Mullane, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Joseph A. Distler, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Patrick H. Barrett, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Patrick H. Barrett, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. George A. Hild, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Joseph A. Firle, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Joseph Chapoton, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Edward K. Cantwell, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Mathias M. Meyer, C.Ss. R.


    Rev. Patrick Dunne, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. John J. Britz, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Charles J. Harrison, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Thomas Condon, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Marcellus C. Ryan, C.Ss.R.


    Rev. Walter L. Polk, C.Ss.R.


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