History: First Church

Early in the spring of 1887 as the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie and Atlantic Railway began to push eastward from Turtle Lake to make its connection with the eastern seaboard, the important question arose in the minds of many, 'Where will the road touch Lake Michigan?' For at that point, all agreed, a city would arise.

Richard Mason and F.H. VanCleve, who owned Saunders Point, the present site of Gladstone, agreed to donate 160 acres of that land to the railroad in exchange for the establishment of the port at Saunders Point. In the spring of that year, therefore, these men who formed the Sault Ste. Marie Land Company were busily engaged in platting the city and advertising its future possibilities.

So beginning with nothing in 1887 except her matchless harbor and geographical position, Gladstone quickly became a bustling city. Within one year the town's population had reached 1,800. Many of the people who came to Gladstone seeking employment and a place to raise their families were of the Catholic faith. First the Irish and French-Canadians, followed a few years later by the Belgians; then in the early 1900's by the Croatians.

The Franciscan Fathers of St. Joseph's Church in Escanaba, who served missions from Ford River to Lathrop, ministered to the needs of Gladstone's earliest Catholics by offering mass occasionally in a local boarding house or someone's parlor. St. Joseph's Church records show the first recorded Gladstone baptism to have been that of Polycarp Portelance on June 20, 1887.

A movement was under way by 1888 for the construction of a house of worship with over $300 already pledged for that purpose. The first minutes of the founding record book indicate a parish meeting was called on October 25, 1888 to elect a building committee. The building contemplated would be erected at a cost of $1,500, including the price of the land. By March 16, 1889 plans were finalized to purchase Lots 5, 6, and 7 in Block 72 from the Sault Ste. Marie Land Co. and commence to build on Lot 5 which is today 1215 Michigan Avenue. Under the supervision of Andrew Z. White (LeBlanc), a local contractor and church member, and with much labor performed by men of the congregation, the first church, a small frame structure, was completed by the summer of 1889.

The Franciscan Fathers served the new church until a priest was assigned, performing three marriages and twenty-one baptisms in the little church. The first baptism was that of Mary Agnes, daughter of Eugene and Virginia Gableau on November 6, 1889.

As a result of continued petitions and the good will exhibited by the people, Bishop Vertin finally sent a resident priest, Father Fidelis Sutter, to be the first pastor. The church was dedicated on May 4, 1890 and named St. Fidelis in honor of the pastor's patron saint. The Gladstone church would then serve the Lathrop mission until 1896.

In 1890 a rectory was built on Lot 6, a much more impressive structure than the little church to its east. The cost of purchasing land, building and furnishing the church and rectory kept the parishioners very busy paying off their debts.This they did through subscriptions, fairs, and parish dinners.

On December 15, 1891 Father Rezek, the parish's third pastor, arrived in Gladstone. He immediately set to work and, along with his many duties, turned the sacristy of the church into a workshop, and with chisel and jackknife, he carved a main altar that would be considered worthy enough to be used in the second church.

Main Altar carved by Father Antoine Rezek for St. Fidelis. Later moved to second church.