Hubbardston’s St. John the Baptist Parish marks 160th anniversary

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 3:02 pm on Monday, June 17, 2013

A photograph of St. John the Baptist Church in the 1900s. The parish will mark its 160th anniversary on Sunday, June 23. — Courtesy photo


HUBBARDSTON — The year of 1853 is at least two lifetimes in the past.

Franklin Pierce was the 14th president of the United States.

Troops under the direction of American attorney/journalist William Walker captured La Paz in Baja, Calif., and declared the Republic of California, which proved to be short-lived.

Future painter Vincent van Gogh was born and past U.S. Vice President William King died.

And a church parish came into existence in the small village of Hubbardston.

St. John the Baptist Parish will celebrate its 160th anniversary on Sunday, June 23. The event will begin with a 9 a.m. Mass, a history of the parish and coffee hour.

In conjunction with this event, a special presentation, “The Historical Roots of Contemporary Ireland,” will be presented by Christopher “Patrick” Commins of De La Salle Brothers in Dublin, Ireland, on Thursday, June 20, at the Parish Hall in Hubbardston. Lunch will be served at noon and the presentation will follow. The free event is sponsored by the Hubbardston Area Historical Society.

John Cowman was the first known Irish Catholic immigrant to come to North Plains Township, arriving in 1849. His sheep shed became the area’s first church and his hilltop meadow became the area’s first cemetery.

With the help of Father Godez of Westphalia, Cowman registered St. John the Baptist Parish with the Detroit Diocese on June 23, 1853. The parish on Fish Creek grew from 70 families by 1868 and the church was Ionia County’s largest building at that time. The Dominican Sisters of Racine, Wis., arrived in 1888 and a Catholic school system was established.

In the late 1880s, Bishop Henry Ritcher ordered St. John parishioners north of the Montcalm County line to form a new parish — St. Mary’s in Carson City. Shortly after the turn of the century, the portion of St. John’s Parish south of the brick schoolhouse road was ordered to form a new parish — St. Joseph’s in Pewamo.

Today, St. John the Baptist Cemetery and church complex is a Michigan Historical Designation site and is also listed on the national Register of Historic Sites.


Joanne Burns Howard provided historical research for this article.

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