The Twenties

Writer and Editor: Rita O’Neill-Wiseman
Special recognition to the St. Thomas Historical Commission whose efforts in compiling the Golden Jubilee Book helped us greatly in documenting this 75 year timeline.

The completed St. Thomas church and school in 1925

This is the story of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, conceived and nurtured by people of simple faith. Gently, as parents who join with God in creation, they provide a place of serenity and peace for the arrival of their offspring. Showered with gifts of love and guided by calm, sure hands, the parish takes those first baby steps into the Roaring Twenties. 1923 In a world adjusting to peace in the aftermath of World War I, Catholic Families living on the south east side of a rapidly growing city make their way downtown to worship at the Cathedral of St. Andrew. Hopes and dreams of having a church near to home are soon realized as Bishop Edward Kelley makes the decision to create a new parish to be located on Wilcox Park Drive, SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1924 On May 8, St. Thomas the Apostle parish is canonically established. Ground is broken, and 75 enthusiastic families eagerly await completion of the combination church/school building. Graciously, the Little Sisters of the Poor offer their chapel on Lafayette Avenue for Sunday Mass during construction. Mrs. Oscar Varneau begins the music ministry of the parish by playing the organ for these first St. Thomas Masses. At the meeting in September in the home of Bishop Kelley, the Women’s Guild is organized. A grateful parish holds a card party and uses the proceeds to purchase Christmas gifts for elderly residents cared for by the Little Sisters. This is one of the first Guild activities, becoming a tradition to be carried on for as long as the work of the the Little Sisters continues in Grand Rapids. 1925 Reverend Aloysisus M. Fitzpatrick, Chancellor of the Grand Rapids Diocese, assumes duties as the first pastor and Mass is celebrated in the new church on Sunday, October 18. The simple, reverent dignity of the new church is evident in the tasteful appointments donated by its members. In addition to the church, which occupies half of the ground floor, the new building also has three classrooms for 63 children who start school in October of 1925. Women of the parish organize a flower guild to provide flowers for the altars. 1926 Fr. Robert W. Bogg, Diocesan secretary, is appointed pastor of St. Thomas following the illness and resignation of Father Fitzpatrick. Ordained in 1924, Father Bogg had been administrator at St. Catherine & St. Francis, Ravenna and St. Francis de Sales, Holland, before coming here. It is a year of “firsts” in the new St. Thomas Church. 1927 Choirs are formed in these very early days. At the 8 a.m. Mass, sweet treble voices of school children echo beautiful old Latin and English hymns. The mature blending of male and female adult voices add significant dimensions to the solemnity of the 11 o’clock High Mass. Mrs. S.H. Sichterman is the organist. 1928 Reverend Joseph F. Drew comes to St. Thomas. His experience as pastor of St. James, Montague, assistant at St. Andrew Cathedral, and chaplain in the armed forces equip him well to minister to the needs of our fledgling parish. 1929 The stock market crash creates unforeseen difficulties, testing the faith of a nation.