ALGOMA — One hundred and fifty years of service was celebrated on Sunday, Feb. 23, at St. Mary Church. Bishop David Ricken presided at a Mass marking the milestone anniversary of the parish’s Rosary Society.
In February of 1870, 10 years after Bohemian settlers established a congregation in Ahnapee (the town’s original name, which was changed to Algoma in 1899), the Rosary Society was organized. The primary objective for the original members was to furnish articles for the church, including altar linens, vestments and candles. Today, according to the description on the parish website, “The Rosary Society seeks to foster devotion to the rosary and serve the interest of our St. Mary Parish Community with spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
In recognition of 150 years, member Jane Michalik chronicled the history of the Rosary Society. The organization was responsible for the church being dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mary. The first church was built in 1863. When a new church was constructed in 1872, the Rosary Society pledged a larger donation than the St. Joseph Society, so St. Mary was selected as the name at their request.
“For 150 years, prayer has served this organization,” said Bishop Ricken in his homily. “In fact, it could be said that any parish flourishes to the degree that prayer is going on inside of the parish, and so I think we owe an awful lot to these women of the Rosary Society and their predecessors, who have maintained their presence of prayer and devotion to the Blessed Mother here at St. Mary’s.”
Rosary Society business in the early years was conducted in German. In 1895, the first minutes were recorded in both German and English. Since 1907, business has been conducted in English only.
Membership started with the married women of the parish. In the 1930s, membership was approximately 150. In 1944, unmarried women, 35 years and older, were invited to join. Membership peaked at more than 400 by 1956. Today, women of all ages are invited to join. The society currently has 115 members.
Society meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month with the exception of July and August. The rosary is recited at the start of each business meeting. A social follows.
The Rosary Society took on an expanded prayer role during the World War II years. Members prayed daily for peace and supported local men serving in the military. Christmas cards and rosaries were sent to soldiers, and a Mass kit was purchased for a military chaplain. Members also collected and packed clothing for war relief countries over the years.
Hosting dinners for special occasions has been a function of the Rosary Society. An Easter sale and dinner on Easter Monday traces back to as early as 1903. Dinners were served for parish sons who returned to celebrate their first Masses after being ordained to the priesthood. The Rosary Society also has provided meals after funeral liturgies and for socials following confirmation Masses.
Acts of charity and fundraising are staples for the Rosary Society. During the Great Depression, members did mission work. For many years, the Rosary Society made quilts from old suits and overcoats for missions.
Society members have supported the homebound, sick and needy, including assembling and delivering Christmas baskets, visiting hospitals and homes, and sending cards. The society has sponsored seminarians and students attending Camp Tekakwitha. Funds raised by the Rosary Society have also been used for furnishing and maintaining the parish kitchen, the rectory, the sisters’ home, church renovations and parish debt relief. To commemorate 150 years, the Rosary Society is working on a fundraiser, a “150th Anniversary Cookbook.”
Judi Ortlieb, current president of the St. Mary Parish Rosary Society, credits the “many strong leaders in the past” for the organization’s longevity. She also points to the support of Fr. Alvan Amadi, administrator at St. Mary Parish.
“I love what the Rosary Society is all about. We have a great group of ladies and I love working with them,” said Ortlieb. “I hope and pray that we continue to grow, serve our parish and families, and our Lord for another 150 years.”