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About Our Church

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Rev. Peter Wigton

Holy Cross History

In 1832, the first Mass on record was said on Beaver Island by Reverend Frederic Baraga. Father Baraga spent a considerable amount of time on the Island in the spring of 1832 for the purpose of converting Native Americans who were living there. In a letter dated July 1, 1832, from Abre Croche (now Harbor Springs) to his sponsoring foundation in Austria, he shared, “As soon as my parishioners here had made their Easter confessions, I set out on the Journey to go and announce to nearby Indian villages the word of God, which they had never heard from the mouth of a priest.  First, I proceeded to a charming Island in the great Lake Michigan, which is so far away from the mainland that one barely sees it as a hazy strip of fog. It is rather large: it is approximately four hours in circumference (meaning four hours walk); and it is called “Bever Island”, so named from the many beavers that were there once upon a time; now nearly all are exterminated.  On this Island is a small Indian village of eight houses, or rather huts. The inhabitants of this Island live very happily by tilling their fields and by fishing, which is very productive here, and they also produce much sugar on their Island.”

During his stay, on May 11, 1832, Father Baraga baptized 22 Native Americans. After a short visit to what is now known as Manistee, Father Baraga returned to the Island where the newly converted Indians determined to erect a chapel on the northwest section of the Island known as “Indian Point”. Father Baraga reported the small church was built out of tree branches, sail cloth, and blankets, which gave him a grateful feeling. He said Mass daily and held religious instructions. Six Indians were baptized. Father Baraga was confronted by non-Christian Indians who declared their belief of their ancestors. He stated that he hoped that in time these Indians, or at least some of them would be converted to the Christian religion. He promised the inhabitants of the Island he would visit them often.

Father Baraga remained at Arbre Croche until 1833 when he transferred to the area where the city of Grand Rapids now stands. He founded a mission and remained until 1835 when he was transferred to the Upper Peninsula, where he spent the rest of his days.  Beaver Island was then cared for by the pastors at Harbor Springs, Cross Village, and Middle Village until a permanent pastor was assigned on the Island.

In 1832, all of Michigan was in the Diocese of Cincinnati, but the following year, 1833, the Diocese of Detroit was established. In 1857, the Upper Peninsula was established as the Diocese of Marquette, and Father Baraga became its first Bishop.

Because of the poor means of transportation and communication, if not the lack of it, the Bishop of Detroit asked Bishop Baraga to take over the administration of northern Michigan, including Beaver and Garden Islands.  He remained the administrator of this area until his death in 1868. Beaver and Garden Islands remained assigned to the Marquette Diocese until 1871 when the Islands were returned to the Detroit Diocese. In 1882, the newly established Diocese of Grand Rapids which included the Islands in its territory. In 1971, the Islands became part of the newly established Gaylord Diocese.

Bishop Baraga established a permanent parish on Beaver Island and assigned the first resident pastor in 1860, with Rev. Patrick Murray having this assignment.  Bishop Baraga arranged to purchase, for $50, land from the State of Michigan on the hill next to the four corners, to be used for a cemetery and original church and convent. Father Murray arranged the building of the first church with a contract between Bishop Baraga and Alexander Guilbeault dated July 23, 1860. The church was built near the southeast corner of the cemetery. Father Murray erected a small church in honor of St. Ignatius on the southeast end of the Island, two miles north of Cables Bay. This church operated for 10 years or so.

In 1864, the first nun is believed to have arrived on the Island. Sister Dympheny kept house for the priest on the Island for 1.5 years before her untimely death at 48 years of age. Bishop Baraga last visited the Island during the summer of 1864. He confirmed 60 persons, many of whom were older as they had not had a chance to receive this sacrament. He gave Holy Communion to 110 people.


Father Murray was reassigned in the spring of 1866. Father Gallagher was appointed his successor where he remained until his death in November 1898. The care of the Island parish fell to the Franciscan Fathers of the Sacred Heart Province who were based at Harbor Springs.  

Father Alexander Zugelder was appointed as the pastor of Holy Cross in July 1889. He arranged to have Dominican Sisters of Marywood in Grand Rapids to come to the Island and teach in the schools. In 1899, four Sisters arrived on the Island. They taught in two grade schools, McKinley (located on the present school’s property) and Sunnyside. The Little Red School House continued to be taught by lay teachers until 1941, when it closed. High School was added in 1908. The first convent was a private home located next to the Parish Hall. Father Zugelder lived in the house across the street from the first convent while the rectory was being torn down and replaced.

In 1901, the original convent, located next to the cemetery, was completed. In 1902, the rectory was under construction, with stone walls 20 inches thick. Father Zugelder also arranged for the enlargement of the church to twice its size, work which was completed in 1905. Father Zugelder was reassigned in 1905, and the Franciscans at Harbor Springs resumed care of the parish. Between 1907 and 1910, Father Wilhelm was assigned the parish. He arranged for the construction of the parish hall in 1908 with lumber donated by the original Beaver Island Lumber Co.

By the time of the church’s 125th anniversary in 1985, 22 priests were assigned to the Holy Cross Parish. In 1957, Father Herp arranged for the church to move to its present site. The property was donated to the church by the WJ Gallagher Estate through the generous actions of Father Bernard Schied of Chicago, formerly of Beaver Island.

The church was cut in two just beyond the second window from the front and each section was moved separately. During the movement operations (November 1957 – February 1958), Mass was held in the parish hall. A new convent and rectory were built near the church, which with the parish hall making a church complex of which the parishioners are proud.

By 1985, over 100 Dominican Sisters served on Beaver Island. In 1988, the last two Sisters remained, one of whom was still a teacher. The story of Dominican Sisters on Beaver Island was coming to an end. Teaching duties were transferred to lay teachers. The convent was later converted to a rental unit, supplementing the income for the parish.

Priests were assigned to Holy Cross off and on between 1985 and 2021. In early 2021, the administration of the parish was assigned to Rev. Peter Wigton, who will continue to be the pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption in Charlevoix. It is expected that a part-time priest will continue serving Holy Cross in the future.  


This History of Holy Cross Parish was prepared on May 27, 2021. Most of this historical report is based on the booklet, “A Historical Sketch of Holy Cross Parish – Beaver Island, 125 years, 1860-1985”.

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