Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

Rev. Peter A. Baart

Morning Star, March 17, 2002, pg. 15

A big change is occurring in one of our local churches in the next couple of weeks, as St. John’s Catholic Church at 501 E. Cass St. is moving. The congregation will be moving to St. John’s School on Irwin Avenue in April, where services will subsequently be held pending the erection of a new church building on property there. The upcoming move to the Irwin Avenue site will mean handicap access, better parking, and other benefits that were not readily available on E. Cass St. Albion College purchased the church building last year, and plans to use it for storage until a more fitting use can be found in the future.

The local church history dates back to the 1840s, when several Catholic families arrived in town, and services were held in private homes. In 1866, Rev. Father Peter Koopman purchased the property at 501 E. Cass St. for $500 from Methodist minister and real estate dealer Rev. William H. Brockway. A brick church costing $4,000 was erected 1873-74, with much “sweat equity” put in by church members. The church was dedicated in 1875, and had 45 families attending. This building served the needs of the congregation until the Great Depression.

The church gained numerous members as the result of many Catholic immigrant families coming to Albion in the 1910s and 1920s to work at the Albion Malleable Iron Company, and the church became overcrowded. The building was demolished in 1933, and a new church, the present one, was erected on the same site in 1933. The cornerstone was laid on November 19 of that year.

Albion was a mission of the Marshall parish from 1854 until 1890, and of the Hillsdale parish from 1890 to 1899. One prominent early “shared” pastor was Rev. Father Peter Baart (1858-1908), who served the Marshall St. Mary’s parish a total of 26 years from 1882 until his death in 1908. A native of Coldwater, Fr. Baart was considered “the best known Roman Catholic priest in Michigan,” according to one reference. He was extremely educated, dedicated, involved in the church and its work, and wrote numerous works about the Catholic faith. A long biography about him appears on pg. 431 of the “Men of Progress” book, published in Detroit in 1900.

Locally, it was Fr. Baart who purchased three acres of land from the heirs of David I. Kinney on October 26, 1885 for the sum of $400 for a separate Catholic burying ground adjacent to Riverside Cemetery. Prior to this time Catholics in Albion were buried at the Catholic cemetery in Jackson. Thus Fr. Baart left his mark on Albion history as the one who bought the Catholic Section in Riverside Cemetery. In an interesting sidelight, the deed to the cemetery property was in his name, not in the name of the church.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a 1900 photograph of Rev. Peter A. Baart, an early pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church in Albion.

Rev. Peter A. Baart

Bonus! Here is a related story: Father Baart: Fact or Fiction thanks to the archivists at John Bellairs: the man, the manuscripts and the magic, Walter Lornten and Craig Seemann for letting us know about this


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