St. Mary Church (Lansing)

Saint Mary Church of Lansing was the first Catholic church built in Lansing, Michigan, as well as having the distinction of the first brick church edifice, brick parsonage and church bells in the city. It was part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. The church was dedicated in 1866 and served the parish until 1904. It was demolished in 1905 and eventually replaced by the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in 1913.

St. Mary Church
Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church of Lansing
First Roman Catholic Church and Parson's House in Lansing, Michigan.jpg
The Saint Mary Church in Lansing, Michigan, in winter (ca. 1881) viewed from across the intersection of Madison and Chestnut Street. The parsonage can be seen just north of the church, at the far right of the photo, and a one-story addition is barely visible around the corner of the transept.
42°44′33″N 84°33′33″W / 42.7424804°N 84.5590588°W / 42.7424804; -84.5590588Coordinates: 42°44′33″N 84°33′33″W / 42.7424804°N 84.5590588°W / 42.7424804; -84.5590588
Location807 North Chestnut Street Lansing, Michigan (former address)[1]
CountryUnited States
DenominationRoman Catholic
Membership900 (ca. 1880)[2]
Weekly attendance850 (ca. 1880)[2]
Former name(s)First Catholic Church of Lansing
Founder(s)Fr. Francis X. Krutil
DedicationSaint Mary
DedicatedFebruary 19, 1865; 157 years ago (February 19, 1865)
ConsecratedAugust 4, 1866
EventsCornerstone laid: September 8, 1859
Addition: 1873
Transept added: 1879
Spire added: 1880
Past bishop(s)Most Rev. Peter Paul Lefevere (during mission)
Associated peopleFirst Trustees:
John P. Miller
Burn Kelly
Martin Fitzpatrick
John Muiney
Architectural typeparish church
StyleRomanesque revival, Gothic revival
Years built1856-1864
Groundbreaking1856; 166 years ago (1856)
CompletedNovember 23, 1864
Construction cost$2,000
ClosedJanuary 1, 1904
Demolished1905; 117 years ago (1905)[3]
Capacity850+ (after 1879)[2]
Length120 ft (37 m)
Nave length60 ft (18 m)
Width80 ft (24 m)
Nave width40 ft (12 m)
Width across transepts80 ft (24 m)
Nave height40 ft (12 m)
Number of floors1 nave
2 transept wings
3 bell tower
1 cellar
2.5 rectory
Number of towers1
Tower height60 ft (18 m)
Number of spires1
Spire height100 ft (30 m)
Materialsred brick
ArchdioceseRoman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit
ParishSt. Mary Parish, Lansing (August 4, 1866)
Pastor(s)Rev. Fr. Louis Van den Driessche (Van Driss) (August 4, 1866-April 1891)
Rev. Fr. Timothy F. Slattery (May 1891-November 1897)Note E
Fr. Lafayette Isadore Brancheau (December 1897-January 1, 1905)
(January 1, 1905-December 1913 at parish hall)
(December 1913-November 1915 at St. Mary Cathedral)


St. Mary Church was built at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Madison Street, on the northwest corner[4][5][6] in what is now known as the Old Forest Neighborhood, on land donated by Thomas and Aleaneas (Elenora) N. Saier (née Vogelweid),[7] who came to Lansing from Württemberg, Germany in 1851[8] and who held the first Catholic mass in Lansing in 1854 at their log cabin.[9][10][11] From 1859 until the church was dedicated in 1865, Catholic services in Lansing were held irregularly at Representative Hall,[12][13] the senate room in the Second Capitol Building at Allegan and Washtenaw.[14] Lansing remained a mission of Corunna, receiving a visit by a missionary priest approximately every three months until 1866.[3]


The St. Mary Church was an early (1860s) example of a mixed Romanesque revival/Gothic revival style with Germanic influences. The distinctive lines of the red brick structure, tower, and gabled roof are Romanesque elements, while the pointed-arch windows and tall, steep spire are characteristic of Gothic architecture. Later churches that employed this mix of styles are the 1878 St. Patrick's Parish Complex (Ann Arbor, Michigan), the St. Patrick Church (Shepherd, Michigan)[15] and the 1883 St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church and Rectory (Taos, Missouri). However, the extant churches of this style lack the unique transept that transformed the St. Mary Church into a cathedral layout with a cross-gabled roof,[16] which are elements of the Gothic revival style. This was to be the first church edifice (and parsonage) in Lansing that were built of brick.[17]

Early constructionEdit

Between 1856 and 1866, Lansing was in the territory of missionary priests from Corunna, a city thirty five miles to the northeast. Father Francis X. Krutil, a Moravian Redemptorist from the first (1841) St. Mary Roman Catholic Church (Detroit), was sent as a missionary by Bishop Peter Paul Lefevere to serve the Catholics of Lansing and other outlying areas in January, 1856.[18] He was reportedly an 11-language polyglot, known for his ability to unite immigrants of different nationalities. He served 39 missions in the midwest from 1852-1858, typically spending 10 days at a time in any community.[19] Fr. Krutil accepted the donation of two lots offered by Thomas and Eleanora Saier (née Vogelueidt) for the construction of a new church. The lots (E5 and E6) were at the top of a hill at the edge of town and had already been partially cleared for use as pasture land.[11] Groundbreaking was held the year he arrived, the cellar was completed,[9] and work was begun on a 36 by 50 foot foundation for the church.Note A

In July 1857 the church in Lansing (still little more than a cellar at the time) was placed under the care of the newly completed Corunna Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,[9] itself a mission of St. Michael's Church of Flint,[20] a parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. The mission was administered by Most Rev. Peter Paul Lefevere, the Coadjutor Bishop of the Archdiocese.


Although the corner-stone for the building was laid by Bishop Le Fevere on September 8, 1859[21] (marking the first time a Catholic bishop visited Lansing)[10] and the foundation commenced using funds raised from the local Catholic community,[22] construction was halted after the completion of the cellar and foundation due to a lack of funds[17] and organization. At the time, only about 30 families comprised the congregation.[11]

Completion and dedicationEdit

Rev. Louis Van den Driessche (Van Driss) became pastor of the Annunciation in Corunna and its missions in December 1863,[3] and took a special interest in the Lansing community, raising about $1,000 in funds to complete the church. Construction resumed in 1863 under his direction. Because of the persistence of Rev. Van Driss, the main building of the church, 40 by 60 feet, was completed in autumn 1864,[12] although late in construction, the workers removed and buried the stained glass windows for lack of payment. Rev. Van Driss wrote to Bishop Caspar Henry Borgess for assistance, who allocated $200 to settle accounts and have the windows re-installed.[3] On February 19, 1865 the church was dedicated and the congregation began to hold regular weekly services there instead of their informal prior location at Representative Hall.[13] "Elaborate decoration"Note B was added to the interior of the church in the spring of 1866.[23] On August 4, 1866, the Bishop of Detroit officially constituted the Saint Mary Church of Lansing. Father Van Driss was appointed as its first pastor,[24] who reportedly walked to Lansing from Detroit after his appointment on New Year's Day 1866.[11] He would serve there until April 1891.[3][25]


The St. Mary church underwent numerous changes over its 50 year history. A brick parsonage was built on the grounds in 1870[26] as a permanent residence for the pastor, which was a first for Lansing.[17] In 1873, a 36 by 50 foot addition to the edifice of the church was built to accommodate a growing congregation.[27] In 1873, a six room[3] wooden parochial school was built a block north of the church,[1] and in 1879, seating was expanded by adding a pair of 20 by 30 foot two-story wings to the east and west sides of the earlier addition, forming a transept, which was a highly unusual feature for this style of church, as it required the removal and replacement of large sections of the edifice with structural arches. The tower and spire were completed soon after in 1880, the spire and one of the three bells having been paid for personally by Rev. Van Driss.[3] By that time, the congregation numbered approximately 900, with 850 regularly attending Sunday services.[2] The church was notable at the time for having the only church bells in Lansing.[4][5]Note C

Three Sisters of Charity came from Cincinnati, Ohio to staff the parochial school in August 1874,[9][3] with Sister Octavia McKenna as Principal, who had taught the previous year in Bay City. In its first year, the school had 100 students. An addition to the west side of the parsonage served as the first convent in Lansing from 1874 until 1909, when the sisters moved to a permanent convent on Seymour Avenue in Lansing.[28]

Modern lighting was added after 1890 in the form of two large chandeliers in the center of the nave that used combination gas electric lighting, where the vertical chimney lamps were fueled by gas, and the downward-facing lamps held electric bulbs. This form of lighting was common in Lansing between 1890 and 1915 during the transition from gas to electric lighting.[29]

Contentious YearsEdit

Rev. Van Driss often refused to accept his salary in order to pay bills, and his personal contributions to complete the tower and steeple eventually caused a dispute. The Bishop sent a commission to Lansing to settle the dispute in 1889, and in May 1891, Rev. Van Driss took a half year sabbatical to his native Belgium. Upon returning to the United States, he took a position as chaplain to the Sisters of Charity at Mount St. Joseph, Ohio.[3]

Father Timothy F. Slattery of Ireland was appointed pastor in Lansing after the departure of Rev. Van Driss. The new pastor soon found himself at odds with the trustees, and a group of parishioners rebelled against him, publishing an article in the local paper titled, "Set HIM Out".[30] He found himself involved in a three year feud, culminating with a group of sixteen men carrying him out of the rectory. Although he quickly reclaimed the rectory, the feud continued until his failing health forced him to retire from the parish in 1897.[3][31]


The third pastor of Lansing parish, Father Lafayette Isadore Brancheau, arrived in December 1897[24] and soon made plans to relocate the parish to a more central location for the Catholic community, which had spread out over the decades since the first church was built. Property was purchased about half a mile south of the original church. Fr. Brancheau oversaw the construction of a larger, brick school building in 1903 on Walnut Street (one block north of the new Capitol building) at a cost of $24,000,[4] as well as a new thirteen room parish hall[9][3] that temporarily served as the church from January 1, 1904 to December 1913 while the St. Mary's Cathedral was under construction.[32] Property for a permanent high school and convent was acquired on Seymour Avenue by 1908.[24] The last service at the church on Chestnut Street was held on January 1, 1904, and the first service at the new parish hall on Walnut Street was held later that day.[11] The edifice of the Saint Mary Church was razed in 1905Note D and the property (including the parsonage, now referred to by locals as "The Nunnery") was sold for residential use by 1909, becoming part of Seymour's Subdivision.[26][33] Most of the bricks were cleaned up and sold, with the remainder of the damaged bricks being stacked and buried at the property boundaries. After the cleanup was completed, it was rumored that the headstones of two graves of the Sisters of Charity were lost on the south side of the rectory. The graves had been slated to move to the Mount St. Joseph Sisters of Charity Motherhouse Cemetery center circle, but the consolidation was not completed until 1909.[34] The records for that property were lost in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception fire of 1938.[35]


A.^ The dimensions of the foundation are reported as 36x50 feet by Durant 1880 and 35x50 feet by Michalek 1987 but the completed dimensions of the church were reported as 40x60 feet in the November 23, 1864 issue of the Lansing State Republican. The discrepancy could be caused by interior vs. exterior measurements, incomplete tower and/or apse, and the presence of a double brick wall, which was how the parsonage was constructed several years later.
B.^ The "elaborate interior decoration" may (in part) refer to the frieze on the plaster ceiling of the nave.
C.^ It is clear that the Lansing Journal compilation, "Yesterdays" (1930) copied the "chime" quote from Cowles 1905 but left out the word "bells". Via Michalek 1987, we know the Saint Mary Church didn't have a chime (stationary bell instrument) but rather three church bells.
D.^ Reported dates on the building's demolition range from 1905 (Michalek 1987) to 1906 (Capitol Area District Libraries Local History Online).
E.^ Rev. Fr. Timothy F. Slattery b. January 27, 1846 (Ireland) d. September 24, 1931 (Southfield, Michigan).


  1. ^ a b "Fire Insurance Map" (Map). Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan (June, 1898 ed.). 1:600. Broadway, New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co. Limited. 1898. Lansing, Michigan 14 inset. hdl:loc.gmd/g4114lm.g040711898.
  2. ^ a b c d Durant, Samuel W. (1880). History of Ingham and Eaton counties, Michigan. Philadelphia: D.W. Ensign & Co. p. 177. hdl:loc.gdc/scd0001.00147541867. OCLC 3512437.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Michalek, George C. (1987). Golden Jubilee, Diocese of Lansing Parish Historical Sketches. Lansing, Michigan: Diocese of Lansing. pp. 115–117, 127, 144. hdl:2027/mdp.39015071424363. OCLC 490812817. The Lansing community remained a mission of Corunna until 1866, and was visited about once every three months. Services were held in the capital senate room because the church remained uncompleted. Fr. Louis Van Driss became pastor of the Annunciation parish and its vast missions in December, 1863. He took great interest in the Lansing community and made up his mind that the church would be completed. Bishop Borgess was asked to help and contributed $200. This was used to pay for the window frames which had been installed and taken away for lack of payment. By the fall of 1864 the church was complete enough to be dedicated.
  4. ^ a b c Cowles, Albert Eugene (1905). Past and present of the city of Lansing and Ingham county, Michigan, by Albert E. Cowles, historically. Together with biographical sketches of many of its leading and prominent citizens and illustrious dead. Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Historical Publishing Association. pp. 83, 85. hdl:2027/mdp.39015024829692. The Roman Catholic Church, in 1903, erected a fine large brick school building on Walnut Street, between Ionia and Ottawa streets, at a cost of $24,000.
    In 1859, the Roman Catholics build a large brick church, St. Mary's, on the northwest corner of Madison and Chestnut streets. It contained the only chime of bells Lansing has had.
  5. ^ a b Lansing and Its Yesterdays: A Compilation of a Portion of the Historical Material Published in the Seventy-fifth Anniversary Edition of the Lansing State Journal, January 1, 1930. Lansing, Michigan: State Journal Co. 1930. p. 154. 1859 at the northwest corner of Madison and Chestnut Streets, with the only chime bells Lansing had at the time.
  6. ^ Ruger, Albert (1866). "Lansing, Michigan" (aerial drawing). Birds eye view of the city of Lansing, Michigan (image). Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Lithographing Co. § 15. Catholic Church.
  7. ^ "Thomas Saier", United States census, 1870; Lansing Ward 3, Ingham, Michigan; roll M593_675, page 143A, line 30. Retrieved on 2022-01-05.
  8. ^ Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society; Stebbins, C.B. (1896). "Ingham County". Collections and researches made by the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society. Historical Collections. Vol. XXVI. Lansing, Michigan: Robert Smith & Co. p. 115. OCLC 154468952. Thomas Saier was a German, born in 1819, aged 74 years. He came to Lansing in 1851, where he resided until his death, accumulating a handsome property. He left, living, two sons and three daughters.
  9. ^ a b c d e Clark, Diane. "Our Church History". St. Mary Cathedral - A Roman Catholic Parish. Diocese of Lansing. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  10. ^ a b Horning, Bob; Michalek, George (2008-01-01). "Meet 176 Catholics who got us here. A history of our diocese". Faith Magazine. Vol. 9, no. 1. Lansing, Michigan: Diocese of Lansing. pp. 10–11. Archived from the original on December 31, 2007.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  11. ^ a b c d e Darling, Birt (1950). City in the Forest. The Story of Lansing (PDF). New York, New York: Stratford House. pp. 206–207. hdl:2027/mdp.39015058019434. OCLC 578626038.
  12. ^ a b "The Catholic Church". Lansing State Republican. No. Vol 10, No. 32, Issue 500. Lansing, Michigan: John A. Kerr & Co. November 23, 1864. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 13, 2021. This edifice, 40 by 60 feet in size, is now completed externally, and we understand that the interior will be so far completed in January that the congregation will be able to hold weekly services therein. Catholic meetings have been held in Representative Hall during the past year, but only once in four weeks.
  13. ^ a b "Catholic Church". Lansing State Republican. No. Vol 10, No. 45, Issue 513. Lansing, Michigan: John A. Kerr & Co. February 22, 1865. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 19, 2021. This church is so far completed, that it was dedicated last Sunday with appropriate ceremonies. Morning and evening meetings were held last Sunday, and the attendance was very large, all the sitting and standing room occupied. The erection of this church will prove a great convenience to the Catholic population in and around this city, as the numbers of that denomination have been increasing among us for some time, and they have hitherto had no regular place of worship.
  14. ^ "Capitol History. The Second Capitol". Michigan State Senate. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  15. ^ Litwiller, Lisa Yanick (July 8, 2017). "Irishtown settlement lives on in history of 1860s Gratiot County church" (online). The Morning Sun. Alma, Michigan: MediaNews Group, Inc.
  16. ^ St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church (image), Lansing, Michigan: Capitol Area District Libraries Local History Online, 1881, Catalog No. 2017-09-001.310
  17. ^ a b c Longyear, John Munro (1870). "Chapter IX. Religious Information". A History of the City of Lansing: From the Foundation Thereof Down to the Present Time (PDF). Lansing, Michigan: W.S. George & Co. p. 22. hdl:2027/miua.3125337.0001.001. OCLC 12443892. The first brick church edifice was the Catholic church, which was commenced in the year 1859, but was not completed until a year or two subsequent, owing to pecuniary difficulties, but the church is now in a flourishing condition, furnishing a brick residence for its priest, which no other church in the city does for its pastor.
  18. ^ Garraghan, Gilbert Joseph (1938). "20, The Ministry of the Exercises". The Jesuits of the middle United States. Vol. II. New York: America Press. p. 79. OCLC 1231900. This is the third retreat with which, within the brief period of five months, the Catholics of Chicago have been blessed, the first being given by the Jesuit Father Weninger, and the second soon after by the Redemptorist, Father Krutil. May we not hope that henceforth the religious progress of our city will keep even in advance of its astonishing material prosperity. Concedat Deus Amen. M. Dillon, St. Louis Leader, August 15, 1856.
  19. ^ Mentag, John V. (1957). Catholic Spiritual Revivals, Parish Missions in the Midwest to 1865 (PhD). Loyola University Chicago.
  20. ^ Warren, Cheryll (September 6, 2008). "Celebrating 150 years" (online). The Argus-Press. Owosso, Michigan: The Argus-Press Company.
  21. ^ "Corner Stone". Lansing State Republican. No. Vol 5, No. 20, Issue 228. Lansing, Michigan: Hosmer & Kerr. September 6, 1859. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2021. The corner-stone of the Catholic Church in this city will be placed by the hands of Bisop (sic) Le Fever, on Tuesday, Sept. 8th.
  22. ^ "New Church". Lansing State Republican. No. Vol 5, No. 45, Issue 201. Lansing, Michigan: Hosmer & Kerr. March 1, 1859. p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2021. A Catholic Church is to be erected in Lansing during the coming season; a part of the needful having been already raised by subscription.
  23. ^ "Catholic Church". Lansing State Republican. No. Vol 12, No. 8, Issue 580. Lansing, Michigan: John A. Kerr & Co. June 6, 1866. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 25, 2021. The "Cathedral," the central house of worship of the Catholic denomination of this city, has during the present spring been greatly improved by elaborate interior decoration.
  24. ^ a b c "St. Mary Cathedral. National Park Service National Register of Historic Places" (PDF). United States Department of the Interior. October 1, 1990. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  25. ^ "Michigan News Notes" (PDF). The Saline Observer. No. Vol. XXIV, No. 28. Saline, Michigan: LeBaron & Nissly. April 28, 1904. p. 2. Fr. Louis Van Driss, who instituted St. Mary parish in Lansing, and who was its priest for twenty-seven years, leaving in 1891, is dead in Belgium, his native country, where he had retired to a home for priests. His age was 79. He was known all over Michigan.
  26. ^ a b Belon Real Estate Collection, Chestnut Street North (PDF), Lansing, Michigan: Capitol Area District Libraries, Forest Parke Library and Archives, 1952–1970, pp. 67–68, Catalog No. 2017-09-001.310
  27. ^ "County Atlas" (Map). County Atlas of Ingham, Michigan from Recent Aerial Surveys and Records under the superintendence of F. W. Beers (1874 ed.). 20 rods to the inch. New York: F.W. Beers and Co. 1874. pp. 28–29. Lansing City - Wards 2 and 4 inset.
  28. ^ "History of Saint Mary School (Lansing, Michigan)". Saint Mary School (Lansing, Michigan) Collection. Mount Saint Joseph, Ohio: Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati Archives. SC-MIS-0093-2017. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  29. ^ Putnam, Judy (June 17, 2019). "Bohnet lighting retail store goes dark after 113 years in the business" (online). Lansing State Journal. Lansing, Michigan: Gannett.
  30. ^ "Set HIM Out". Lansing Journal. Lansing, Michigan. December 20, 1895.
  31. ^ Saint Mary Cathedral. Lansing, Michigan. 1980. p. 62. hdl:2027/mdp.39015071403409. OCLC 605708676.
  32. ^ Duval, Danielle (August 27, 2015). "See inside St. Mary Cathedral as it celebrates 150 years" (online). MLive. Walker, Michigan: Advance Local Media LLC.
  33. ^ "Fire Insurance Map" (Map). Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan (1913 ed.). 1:600. Broadway, New York: Sanborn Map Company. Vol. 1. 1913. pp. 105 sheets. Lansing, Michigan 6 inset. hdl:loc.gmd/g4114lm.g04071195101.
  34. ^ McCann, Sister Mary Agnes (1917). The History of Mother Seton's Daughters. Vol. II. New York: Longmans, Green and Co.
  35. ^ Michalek, George (2012). "History of the Bishops". Diocese of Lansing. Archived from the original on October 27, 2014. Retrieved March 18, 2016.