By Lon Medd
The Catholic Weekly
Over its 104 years of existence, the current St. Joseph Catholic Church building in Traverse City has survived a break-in, flooding, a windstorm, and a near closing in 2002.
The building has served the parish well over the years, but according to Fr. Edwin A. Thome, it’s time to move to a larger building that will accommodate this still-vibrant parish in northwest Michigan.
“We’ve certainly outgrown it,” Fr. Thome said.
Fr. Thome, 83, has been with the parish since 2002, when he volunteered to keep the church going when it was on the verge of closing. At the time, Fr. Thome was retired and his installation was only supposed to be temporary. However, Fr. Thome stayed on and the parish began to grow.
“I just so happened to be energetic and in good health and I volunteered to keep the church open,” he said.
The present-day St. Joseph Catholic Church was built in 1907 and it served 35 families. Today, the parish serves 300 families, with more than 800 members. The church seats 200 people and hosts three weekend Masses. In the past two years, net growth of membership has been nearly 6 percent.
At one time, it was recommended that St. Joseph be merged with Immaculate Conception in Traverse City. In case anything happened with Fr. Thome, Immaculate Conception would send a priest to do Mass at St. Joseph. However, a diocesan task force recommended that St. Joseph remain a stand-alone parish provided it could build a bigger church to hold fewer Masses and build a rectory, which it currently does not have.
If fewer Masses are offered, the current building cannot hold enough parishioners, which would force people to go elsewhere.
“This is a viable parish, which is very beneficial to the diocese,” Fr. Thome said. “It would be a tremendous loss if it could not survive.”
Plans call for a new church to be built on a site adjacent to the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery near the intersection of Center Road and Island View Road, about a half mile from the present location. The total cost of the project is $4.1 million.
The new church would have seating for 550 people. The building would include space for classrooms, a nursery, kitchen, parish offices, and fellowship hall, along with a small rectory to serve as a home for up to two priests.
In keeping with preservation efforts on the peninsula, the old St. Joseph Catholic Church will be moved to the new site for use as a chapel. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late spring 2012.
At this time, a full-fledged capital campaign has not begun because the local township board approves the rezoning request. A recent meeting, where the issue was on the agenda, was canceled because the board did not have enough members to have a quorum. Despite the setback, Fr. Thome said, “I’m sure reason will prevail.”
“This is a very enticing place to work,” he said. “I keep working because I enjoy it.” †