The History of St. Perpetua's Parish

A Moment in Time in History - A Bright Future Ahead with the Lord
By Tom Gorzenski

St. Perpetua Catholic Church contains a rich and vibrant history.  This history is full of dedicated people all serving the Lord through one another, which continues today.

During the period of time of the founding of St. Perpetua Catholic Church, there were many historical moments including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and Vatican II.  The year 1964 will be remembered by the parishioners of St. Perpetua parish as the beginning of an enriching faith building and holy relationship with the Lord and each other through the founding of a parish. 

St. Perpetua Parish was established by Archbishop John f. Dearden on June 24, 1964.
The first Mass at the parish took place on June 28, 1964 at Pierce Junior High School.  This school served as a temporary location for Mass until a permanent church was constructed in late 1964.  Mass was held at 7:15 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. on Sundays.  Baptisms and weddings were held at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Pontiac, Michigan. 

"The Mass was in the auditorium and all the chairs were set up", remembers Jane Niemenski, a charter member of St. Perpetua parish. 

"It was fine.  It was no problem.  We knew we were getting a new church so we were happy with it", said Yvette Heitzeg, another parish charter member.

While many of the original members came from surrounding parishes, most came from St. Benedict Church in Pontiac.  While attending St. Benedict's, many parishioners were invited to join the parish of St. Perpetua.

St. Perpetua's first pastor was Father Bernard J. Zaglaniczny.  Fr. Ben arrived from St. Mark's parish in Warren in 1964.  Because there was no permanent residence, Fr. Ben stayed at St. Benedict's rectory.  With the goal of having a church and facilities, an eleven acre site was established near the corner of Airport and Elizabeth Lake Roads.  "It was part of the real estate purchased by the Archdiocese of Detroit", said charter member Joe Drapek.

The groundbreaking and blessing of the parish site took place on July 26, 1964.  In surprisingly only five months, the first church was constructed.  It was never meant to be permanent.  "There was more than one church built with this architecture," said Joe Drapek.  "There was one in Walled Lake, Milford and South Lyon with the same plan."

The dedication of the first church took place on December 19, 1964.  Present at the ceremony were the Archbishop of Detroit, John F. Dearden, Fr. Ben and Fr. Stanley E. Milewski, procurator of St. Mary's College in Orchard Lake.

According to Joe Drapek, the rectory was built above a spring, which resulted in the basement flooding occasionally.  To address the flooding issue, a hole was dug behind the rectory and piping installed from the rectory basement, resulting in the present day pond.

Large evergreens on the grounds of the parish were planted shortly after the church was constructed, through the generous efforts of Joe Drapek, Stan Steck, and Casper Tarchalski.  Later, Joe Schaad and his sons, Joe and Mike contributed generously by planting more trees on the parish grounds.

The original church served parishioners for more than nineteen years.  In the early years, there were 305 families within the parish.  The church had a seating capacity for 504 people. The altar was black with brushed aluminum furnishings and the sanctuary carpeting was red tinged with black.  The total cost of the church was $300,000. 

The founding of a parish resulted in the establishment of many programs.  One of the first was a catechism program started by Fr. Ben and Sister Pius of the Oxford Dominican Order.  Classes were held Saturday mornings at Della Lutes and Riverside schools.  Early catechism teachers were Carol Morris, Bill and Annie Archambeau, Bill and Mary Sue Dean, Paul Wilhelm, Gen Block, Ann Buelter and Sharon Holler.

Other early programs and social events at St. Perpetua parish included the Rosary Altar Society and the Ushers Club.  The Teen Club and Men's Club soon followed.  The Christmas Bazaar and the always popular and well-attended parish festival also began in the mid 60's.  Jane Niemenski pointed out that the festival was started one year after the church was built and was held on a Sunday afternoon every year for several years.

Programs and social events are important to the life of a parish.  However, no parish would be complete without a parish council.  In 1969, the first parish council of  St. Perpetua consisted of William Dean Jr., president, Joe Drapek, president-elect and Estele Trudell, secretary.  The parish council members were chosen through an election process and the results announced to the parish assembly.  In six short years, St. Perpetua parish was on its way to becoming an established and seasoned parish.

In 1971, Fr. Ben celebrated his 25th anniversary in the priesthood.  He resigned as pastor in 1973, turning over his duties to Fr. Christopher Leahy and Fr. Valerian Jasinski.  Fr. Leahy became interim pastor until 1974.

St. Perpetua received its second permanent pastor with the appointment of Fr. John R. German in 1974.  Fr. John had been a priest for ten years when he arrived.  He was previously an assistant to Fr. Jerome Krieg at St. Athanasius parish in Roseville, Michigan.  Fr. John was well liked by the parishioners.  He had a listening ear and an outstanding memory.  Fr. John believed the parish belonged to the people and loved to see parishioners involved in church activities.

The parish celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1974 and more events and programs were established.  These included the Holy Thursday potluck supper and the communal Penance services.  That same year, Sr. Margaret James arrived from St. Clair Shores as Religious Education Coordinator.  Following coordinators were Sr. Charlotte Potter (1979-85), Howard Whitehouse, (1985-87) Rita Senseman (1987-88), Joe Leddy and Dolores Budnik (1988-97), and Bonnie Banaszek, current Religious Education Director. 

In 1975, the Senior Citizen Group was founded, currently known as the 50-Up Club.  The purpose of this group was to give senior citizens a chance to meet for activities and socializing.  Membership was open to all seniors, regardless of creed or parish membership.

Sr. Mary Schmidlin arrived as Pastoral Assistant in 1976 and remained until 1988.  The duties and responsibilities of this position included conducting prayer services, coordinating programs and helping with funeral preparations.  During this time, John and Carleen Ward led the parish Youth Group.  A special Communal Anointing of the Sick Mass offering special prayers and blessings for the ill and/or elderly was initiated in 1976.

The first parish Red Cross blood drive was begun in 1977.  Coffee and donuts were also enjoyed on a regular basis after Mass at this time.  The following year, the Oxford Benedictine monks, including Fr. Nic Pitzen, joined the parish staff as weekend help, and the Lenten Eucharistic Day was launched.

In 1979, girls began joining the altar boys as Mass helpers, now known as altar servers.  The Jail Ministry program and Summer Garden Vegetable Exchange were also started. Joe Drapek told how parishioners used to bring in vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash and put them on a table for anyone who wanted them. 

Early programs begun in the 1980s were the Marriage Anniversary Mass and Breakfast, Immediate Action Fund, Clothing Drive and Sale, Las Vegas Nights and the Soup Kitchen. 

The parish grew in size from 305 in 1964 to 900 in 1983.  With the increasing numbers, it became apparent that the original church could no longer meet the needs of the parish.  Therefore, Fr. German and the Planning Commission spearheaded the planning process for a new church.  At first, renovation of the existing church was considered. However, after meeting with the architect, Rex Reichenbach, it was decided that construction of a new church would be more practical.  Construction of a new building was estimated to cost only $100,000 more than the cost of renovation. 

To finance the project of a new church, it was determined that a fundraiser was necessary, with a projected goal of $275,000. A fundraising committee, chaired by Howard Heitzeg and Tom Marcero was formed.  The parish also sought the help of a professional fundraising group, McCarthy & Assistants.  The fundraising effort was an overwhelming success, with the goal of $275,000 met and surpassed.  With the construction plan and financing in place, the Diocesan board gave final approval for the new church.

Rex Reichenbach was not only the architect and general contractor for the project, but also worked at carpentry and masonry.  Many volunteers participated in the construction from installing insulation to hauling away debris. 

Special features of the new church included the architectural prominence of octagonal and hexagonal shapes throughout the church and stained glass windows depicting the four seasons of the year.  Each window has a dominant color representing a different season.

The dedication of the new church took place on July 16, 1983 with Bishop Melczek and Fr. John German presiding.

After the new church was constructed, the renovation of the social hall, kitchen and chapel followed.  Altogether, the church and landscaping were five years in the making. 

As the parish continued to grow, more activities took place.  In 1988, 570 balloons were launched after Pentecost Masses.  The message, "Our Spirit of Love Reaches Out to Touch You" was included in each balloon as well as personal messages by some parishioners.  Replies to the launched balloons were received as from locations as far away as Windsor, Ontario and Ohio, thanking the parish for the message of God's love and support.

The 25th Silver Anniversary of the parish in 1988 was celebrated with many special events throughout the year.  A Mass celebrated by Bishop Melszek and Fr. German began the yearlong celebration.  Anniversary events included a Halloween costume party in October, decorating a Christmas tree with silver ornaments in December and an ice cream social featuring memories of the early years.  The anniversary year concluded with Mass and an elegant catered dinner for parishioners, including a strolling violinist to serenade the diners. 

The late 1980s were a sad time for the parish.  Fr. John German after battling cancer for 20 months was growing increasingly weak.  After his long illness, Fr. John died on July 26, 1988. 

Fr. Maurice Decker arrived in October, 1988, becoming the parish's third pastor.  He came from St. Christine parish in Detroit and served as pastor of St. Perpetua for two years until his retirement in September of 1990. 

Other changes in the parish during this period included the departure of Sr. Mary Schmidlin who was replaced by Sister Rosemary Cassar, I.H.M. as Pastoral Assistant.  Sister Rosemary remained from 1989 to 1990.  Also at this time, Cindy Panasiewicz coordinated and directed the Youth Group.

The parish's fourth pastor was Fr. Ronald Sayes who joined the parish in September, 1990.  Born in Detroit in 1932 and ordained a priest in 1957, Fr. Sayes previously served as pastor at Sts. John and Paul parish in Washington Township, Michigan before joining St. Perpetua parish.  Noted for his beautiful singing voice, Fr. Sayes remained as pastor until his retirement on May 14, 1995. 

The early 1990s brought more staff changes.  Sister Beatrice Zawisza, a Franciscan from Sylvania, Ohio joined the pastoral team as the new Christian Service Coordinator, replacing Patricia Kline.  Deacon Frank DeSmedt became the new Pastoral Assistant from 1991-1992.  Michael Marcum followed Cindy Panasiewicz as the new Youth Group director.  Patricia Oliver, current Youth Group Director, took that position in 1995.

With the transfer of Fr. Sayes, Fr. Walter Stanevich, a retired priest, filled the position as temporary pastor for six weeks.

St. Perpetua parish welcomed Fr. Richard Rakoczy on July 1, 1995 as its fifth and current pastor.  Fr. Richard was born in River Rouge in 1933 and ordained a priest in 1959.  Among the parishes he served prior to St. Perpetua were St. Clement Parish, Dearborn and St. Patrick Parish in Carleton.  Fr. Richard  also served as chaplain for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Allen park. 

Christian Service Coordinator, Sr. Beatrice left St. Perpetua Parish in August of 1995 to accept a position at Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington.  She was the last full time nun on the parish staff.  Sr. Beatrice was followed in this position by Dorothy Daly and then Mary Kay Allman, the current Christian Service Coordinator. 

St. Perpetua parish has benefited from dedicated and generous parishioners.  In 1995, Benedict Evola donated a digital electronic piano for the use of the music ministry.  A group of parishioners established a fund to purchase the nativity set that is displayed every Christmas in the church.

Another significant donation was the installation of the bells in the steeple tower of the church.  The largest bell was mainly funded from the parish's participation in the CSA campaign.  The family of Frances Malek and Karol and Kay Staszkiewicz donated the second and third bells.

The bells were blessed by Bishop Britt on September 7, 1997.  The largest bell was dedicated in honor of St. Mary, the middle bell in honor of St. Joseph and the smallest bell in honor of St. Felicity, the servant of St. Perpetua who died with her in the Roman Coliseum.  The bells are programmed to ring one minute before Mass and every day at 12:00 noon and 6:00 p.m. The combined weight of the three bells is approximately 2400 pounds with the largest bell weighing 1500 pounds. 

Mr. And Mrs. Steven Cloonan donated the large outdoor crucifix on the north side of the church.  The Madonna Book Store donated the statue of St. Perpetua in 1964, the year of the founding of the parish.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Reichenbach, the original church architect, installed a cabinet in the sacristy to hold the sacred vessels.  The installation of kneelers in the church was completed the same year. 

The parish has grown in the 40 years since its founding, increasing from 305 families to over 1380 families today.
Saint Perpetua Parish
134 Airport Road
Waterford, Michigan 48327
(248) 682-6431
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