The History of Immaculate Conception Church
The Milan Catholic community began in Milan Township in Monroe County in 1854 when an acre of land on Welch Road was given to Peter Paul Lefevere, Bishop of Detroit, for a church. Under the title of St. Mary’s, a modest wooden church was built.A section of the donated land was designated as St. Mary’s Cemetery, which continues to be maintained and cared for by Immaculate Conception’s Knights of Columbus Howard Heath Council 7587.
By 1900, use of the country church had been discontinued and Mass was celebrated in homes in Milan. Unable to achieve parochial status, Milan became a mission parish of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Whittaker. Soon after Rev. Lawrence H. Soest became pastor of Whittaker, he met with the lay leaders in Milan to discuss building a church. Twenty-five Catholic families with the help of good-hearted Protestants began the construction in 19ll of the first Immaculate Conception Church, which is pictured above. This new $5,000 structure was dedicated in July 1912.
During the pastorate of Rev. John V. Zindler, the people and the priest decided that Milan would be the better location from which to serve the faithful. He moved to Milan from Whittaker and built a rectory in 1926. That same year, the Diocese of Detroit granted Immaculate Conception of Milan the full status as a parish with Whittaker as the mission parish.
When Rev. Lee J. Laige arrived as pastor in 1927, the parish was heavily in debt and many fundraisers, including chicken dinners, were held. Before Fr. Laige left in 1939, the Ypsilanti State Hospital and the Federal Detention Farm (Federal Correctional Institution/FCI Milan) were opened. Fr. Laige was given the responsibility of caring for the Catholics in these institutions.
After Rev. Albert J. Folta became pastor in 1946, he put in place plans to open a school. On August 29, 1948, ground was broken for the parish school, which was completed in August 1949, at a cost of seventy thousand dollars. The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis from Garfield Heights, Ohio, opened the school, which was dedicated by Cardinal Edward Mooney, the Archbishop of Detroit, in October 1949. The school currently houses the parish offices.
Rev. Roman F. Narkun served Milan and Whittaker as pastor from 1959 to 1965. He set in motion plans to build a new church. Land at the corner of Michigan and North Streets was purchased in 1964 for $34,000. Groundbreaking for the new structure occurred in October. In June of 1965, Fr. Narkun was promoted to another post and Rev. Joseph S. Strzelewicz was appointed priest in Milan; Rev. Raymond Klauke was appointed Administrator in Whittaker. Fr. Strzelewicz saw the building project to completion. The church was built at a cost of $226,000 with an additional $40,000 for furnishings. Archbishop John Dearden of Detroit dedicated the new edifice on October 29, 1966.
Immaculate Conception Church became part of the Lansing Diocese in July of 1971 when diocesan boundaries were changed and Washtenaw County became part of the Lansing Diocese. Fr. Strzelewicz also oversaw the construction of a family center, which would be used for religious education and parish as well as community activities. The 8,100 square foot center was named for Fr. Strzelewicz and dedicated by Bishop Kenneth J. Povish on August 20, 1978. As an additional mark of reverence and gratitude to the parish founders, builders and benefactors, some of the original stained glass from the old church was blended into the new family center.
Rev. John M. Bosco succeeded Fr. Strzelewicz as pastor in 1988. While Fr. Bosco was in Milan a grotto and forty-six foot high bell tower were erected at a cost of $113,000. Bishop Povish blessed them on the parish feast day, December 8, 1990. A new rectory was dedicated on November 9, 1997.
In June 2001, Rev. Robert J. Pienta became pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish. He oversaw completion of the extensive renovation of the church in 2003. Bishop Mengeling came to consecrate the new altar and bless a new ambo and baptismal pool just before marking our 150th anniversary in 2004.
We welcomed Fr. Vincent VanDoan as our pastor in July 2007. Fr. Vincent brings strong leadership and organizational skills to our Parish, with a vision for our future. With his personality and dedication, he is a true shepherd for our parish. He reaches out to young and old alike. He encourages the children to learn about their faith; he comforts the sick and the homebound. He has received the support of the parish for the ongoing window project, and six new stained glass windows now beautify our church.
In 2009, we welcomed newly ordained Deacon Jack Flanagan and his wife Terri to our parish family. He has provided strong direction for the R.C.I.A. program, and other adult formation programs. Both are so willing to share their faith!
We have welcomed many new families to our parish. Through our faith, courage, love, and tradition, may we continue to use our time, talent and treasure for the benefit of our church and community. May we continue to live worthy of our calling as members of the Body of Christ at Immaculate Conception Church in Milan.