History of St. Michael Parish
St. Michael Parish was founded in 1838, but the Catholic faith in this area dates as far back as 1749 when the French explorer Pierre-Joseph Celoron and his detachment of 246 men made camp along what is now known as Loramie Creek. It was at this place that the Chaplain and geographer for the expedition, Father Joseph Peter Bonnecamps, offered the Holy Sacrifice of Mass during their encampment here, from September 13 to 21, 1749. It has been suggested that St. Michael Parish could conceivably be the scene of the first Mass said in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
In 1769 Pierre Louis Lorimier, usually referred to as Pierre or Peter Loramie, opened a trading post along Loramie Creek. Accounts vary as to whether Pierre Loramie was a Jesuit Priest, but his influence over the native people is not in doubt. In 1782 George Rogers Clark destroyed the trading post and in 1793 General Anthony Wayne built Fort Loramie at the same place. These events along with the construction of the Miami Erie Canal brought more families to the area, and by 1838 a Catholic Church was becoming a necessity.
In 1838 a log church was erected, and occasionally a priest from Minster would arrive to read mass, baptize children, solemnize marriages and inter the dead. Also in 1838 Bishop John Baptist Purcell appointed Rev. Louis Navarron as the Cincinnati Archdiocesan delegate in what are now Darke, Shelby, Auglaize, Mercer and Allen Counties. Rev. Navarron would travel throughout the area and would often stay with the James Pilliod family when he served at St. Michael.
The log church, which was located just south of the present Wilderness Trail Museum, served the parish well, but by 1849 a larger church was needed as the parish had grown from the original 40 families to over 100. Construction began on a larger brick church, what is now the chapel, thirty feet wide by sixty feet long. The church however was not completed until 1851 because of the cholera outbreak during which 28 parishioners perished in two months. During the next 20 years the parish continued to grow, and around 1868 the church was lengthened by twenty feet.
In 1874 Archbishop Purcell appointed Rev. Wilhelm Bigot as pastor of St. Michael. Rev. Bigot was issued a challenge by the Archbishop. “In Berlin (as Fort Loramie was called at that time) you will find work enough to do, a large parish, and there you must build a church.” By 1879 the idea of a new church began to become a reality, and on October 11 the cornerstone was laid by Archbishop Purcell. Work progressed steadily on the 170 by 64 foot structure over the next two years, and by October of 1881 the church had been completed and entirely paid for. It was estimated that the total cost including cash and donated labor exceeded $40,000.
The day of consecration was Sunday, October 2, 1881, the Feast of the Holy Rosary. Bishop Elder performed the consecration, followed by Mass, Sermons and Vespers. The entire celebration lasted until 12:30 in the afternoon. It was estimated that at least 6,000 people were on hand for the celebration and ceremonies.
On the east side of the church can be found a cornerstone marking the celebration. It reads (in German):
In honor of St. Michael, the Archangel, the Right Rev. Bishop Elder from Cincinnati performed the solemn consecration ceremonies on October 2, 1881, the Feast of the Holy Rosary in the presence of a large crowd.