Our Lady of Peace, Ironwood
By Father Darryl J. Pepin
Since the founding of Our Lady of Peace Parish in 1986, parishioners have overcome the devastation of a church fire and grown into a unified faith community. The people have joined forces to make additional improvements to their house of worship and continue supporting a parochial school.
On June 30, 1986, three Ironwood parishes consolidated to form one single parish. St. Ambrose, St. Michael and Holy Trinity became Our Lady of Peace. The parish's new house of worship is the former St. Ambrose church building.
At the time of the consolidation all three parishes were said to be economically sound and the buildings in relatively good condition. The merger was the result of fewer priests to serve the area and a declining overall membership and area population due to the iron ore mines closing.
Our Lady of Peace Parish celebrated its first Masses the weekend of July 5 and 6, 1986 with its new pastor, Father Norbert Landreville. At the Mass, a special ceremony marked the change. At the start of Mass, three banners signifying the three original churches were carried forward in the entrance procession. At the offertory time, those three banners were retired from the sanctuary and a new banner emblazoned with the name of the new parish - Our Lady of Peace - was carried forward and elevating in the sanctuary. This signified the oneness of the new parish with parishioners from all three former parishes.
In 1990, just four years after the new parish was getting off the ground, its people were forced to cope with a devastating fire. A blaze on Friday, July 13, ripped through the sanctuary area of the church. The fire completely destroyed the sanctuary area of the church and smoke and soot damaged much of the rest of the church. Volunteers banded together and readied the parish gym with an altar, ambo and chairs for coming weekend services. In fact, the very first service to be held in the gym due to the fire was a wedding that had been scheduled for the next day. The parish continued its work and ministry without hitch in the interim.
Plans were made with the help of insurance estimators, contractors and the diocese to repair, renovate and redecorate the church. It was decided that some structural changes would be made to bring the worship space into the era of Second Vatican Council. The altar platform was to be moved forward. A Blessed Sacrament Chapel would use the space formerly occupied by the altar area. And a new reconciliation room in keeping with the changes in the Sacrament of Penance would be added to replace the old-time confessionals. Almost a year later, on March 17, 1991, the church was set for occupancy and rededicated. In a grand Eucharistic liturgy celebrated by Bishop Mark Schmitt and concelebrated by Fr. Landreville and numerous area clergy, the Church and Altar were blessed and dedicated to the glory of God. It was truly a festive day!
While the church was up-to-date and many improvements had been made, a significant number of older parishioners were not able to attend Mass since the church was not barrier-free or handicapped accessible. The large porch containing seven steps and the interior vestibule with an additional four steps made it most difficult for parishioners with walking and climbing difficulties to enter the church. To rectify this, a study was done to determine how the church could be made barrier-free and handicapped accessible. After months of study and planning, it was decided to build a large, spacious addition to the south side of the church. It would contain a barrier-free entrance, handicapped restrooms, offices and meeting rooms. It would also join j the church, parish rectory and school together and provided barrier-free access to both the church and school facilities. After a successful and major fund-raising campaign, in 1996, the St. Joseph Family Room became a reality. Those with walking difficulties were now to come and enter the church via a direct and no-stair access to the church.
Since the St. Joseph Room surrounded the rectory on three sides, the living space was no longer private for the priests residing there. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who formerly taught in the school, had moved out of the convent and out of the area in the summer of 1998. Since the convent was empty, plans were made to renovate the former convent into the parish rectory and the former rectory into office space. This would afford the priests private living quarters as well as bring the parishes offices into a better configuration. This change took place in the later summer of 1999. Since a garage was torn down in the process of building the St. Joseph Family Room, a new garage was also added to the former convent for the priest's cars.
As was mentioned previously, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wisconsin served the educational needs of the Ironwood area. And after 106 years of continuous service in Ironwood, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity left the Ironwood area in 1998. On July 12 of that year, Our Lady of Peace Parish hosted a Mass of Thanksgiving and reception honoring the women and their hard work. Several former teachers and administrators who had previously served in the school came and shared in the festivities of the day.
Additional repair work was done on the Spanish clay tile roof of the church and major restoration on the brickwork of the main bell tower was done over the following years. Plans are now being made to do some renovation and upgrade work in Parish Hall, the church basement to make it more aesthetically pleasing and functionally practical with upgraded electrical work and acoustical tile ceilings.
The parish today continues to bravely witness to the presence of Christ in the Ironwood area. Despite a severe drop in population over the past decade, the parish works diligently to continue the work of the Church, support a Catholic elementary school - All Saints Catholic Academy - as well as provide outreach programs that touch many people, Catholic and non-Catholic, in the greater Ironwood area.
St. Ambrose Parish served the educational needs of the elementary and high school students with schools throughout the years. When Our Lady of Peace School was founded in 1986 with the merger of the three Ironwood parishes, it was decided that a consolidation of the former St. Ambrose and the Holy Trinity-St. Michael parish schools would be in order. The St. Ambrose/Ironwood Catholic High School closed in 1986 and thus, the with that building empty, the elementary schools were consolidated in the St. Ambrose school building and renamed Ironwood Catholic Grade School. The following year, with the merger of the parishes, the school was renamed Our Lady of Peace Catholic Grade School. A pre-kindergarten program was started in 1987 and in 1993 a pre-school was begun. Since the Franciscans sisters left the Ironwood area, laymen and women have staffed and administered the school along with a lay Board of Education. For more information, see the separate article on the school elsewhere.
Father Norbert J. Landreville 1986 - 1998
Father Darryl J. Pepin 1998- present