This brief history of St. Agnes Parish is a compilation
of excerpts from the Centennial Celebration booklet, the book A Walk Through The History of
the Diocese of Marquette, and our own memories. It began with the discovery and mining of
iron ore and the subsequent settlement of the area.
1883, Father Anatole Pelisson was given charge of the area with neither church or rectory.
He resided in the homes of parishioners and said Mass in school buildings. In 1885,
the first church was built to provide for the young and growing community. He was
the first in a succession of priests to serve the spiritual needs of the Catholic communities.
On September 1, 1898, Rev. James Lenhardt began his long pastorate and
continued until his untimely death in 1934, murdered by a mentally unbalanced
man outside of the rectory.
In 1900, St. Agnes Parish, the mother church of the entire west side of Iron county,
totaled 125 families and served the villages and settlements of Iron River, Stambaugh,
Saunders, Pentoga, Watersmeet, Atkinson Interior, and later Caspian and Gaastra.
St. Agnes Parish continued to grow in membership and prosperity under
Father Lenhart's leadership.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the parish was in debt, church and
rectory were in need of repair, and the parish in a state of decline. During that
time Fr. George Dingfelder began the ardous task of restoring the well-being
of St. Agnes . His partorate co-insided with the
Second World War and the parish began to be
re-established, physically and spiritually.
After the fire, in 1954, which destroyed the first St. Agnes
Church, a new church was built and dedicated in 1956.
St Agnes School opened its doors in September, 1948
to over 100 children, the Convent completed
in 1961 and a new Rectory in 1965.
A widespread closing of the local iron mines
in the 60's and a subsequent decline in the
economy of the area, together with the marked
reduction of priests, had unfortunate affects and
in 1970, St. Agnes School had to close its doors.
With the closing of Assumption Church,
Blessed Sacrament in Stambaugh, and St. Mary's
in Gaastra; there remains only St. Agnes in Iron
River and St. Cecilia's in Caspian. Father Norman
Clisch was named Pastor of both churches.
Many repairs and improvements were made
during the pastorate of Father Norman Clisch
from 2000 to 2011 until his retirement.
The improvements have continued with
the installation of Father Gregory Veneklase
who was named as Pastor/Administrator of
St. Agnes and St. Cecilia on July 1, 2011. In addition, he was then given charge of the
Sister Parish of Immaculate Conception in Watersmeet on July 1, 2019.