St. Ambrose, Ironwood
By Reverend Darryl J. Pepin
The people of Ironwood's mother church, St. Ambrose, began a tradition of Catholicism that eventually led to the erection of two additional churches in the community. Parishioners supported an elementary school and a combined high school. In the 1920's a larger church with a new rectory was constructed. Today, that church building is the house of worship for all Ironwood Catholics whose sacrifices led to the 1986 merger into Our Lady of Peace Parish.
In 1885 Father John Hennessy, an assistant priest serving Bessemer, began offering Sunday Mass in the Ironwood schoolhouse on Vaughn Street. About a year later, in the summer of 1886, the community's first Catholic Church - St. Ambrose - was erected. Fr. Hennessy was transferred during the next year and Fr. Joseph Barron took over his duties. During that time, the small church was decorated. The next priest to take over the reigns of serving the people of Ironwood was a disciple of our diocese's founder, Bishop Baraga, and famed Indian missionary, Fr. John Chebul. He only served a few months and the care of the Ironwood Catholics reverted back to Bessemer with Fr. Fabian Pawler who was pastor there. Following him was Fr. Conrad Rotter, Fr. J. Ignatius Otis and then, Fr. Francis X. Becker was assigned to Ironwood. He only stayed a little over a year and during that time a parish rectory was constructed and was made ready just prior to the arrival of Father Martin Kehoe, the first resident pastor, November of 1890.
Immediately upon his arrival at St. Ambrose, Father Kehoe got to work establishing a parish school. He felt that a school would bring a more solid growth to the parish. And so, five lots were purchased on Ayer Street just a few blocks from the church. By 1892 construction of the facility was complete and the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wis., were called on to staff the school. A high school department was added in 1894.
The success of the school in the mid- to late- 1920s led to overcrowding and the need for larger facilities. The Ashland Annex Building and Frobel buildings were purchased for this purpose. The parishes of St. Michael and Holy Trinity also established a school, so that at one time, there were two Catholic grade schools (in three places!) and a Catholic high school in Ironwood.
At the time of the 1986 consolidation of the three Ironwood parishes, grades seventh through 12th were eliminated from the school system and the two Ironwood elementary schools became one.
Fr. Kehoe served as pastor until 1901 and after eleven years as pastor, was called to serve a parish in Ishpeming. Father N. H. Nobisch was the next pastor of St. Ambrose Parish. His poor health caused him to resign in 1904. Succeeding him was Father Henry A. Bucholtz. He served as pastor for eight years. Part of the time he was assisted by Father Edward Feldhaus. In 1912, when Fr. Bucholtz was sent to Negaunee, Fr. Jeremiah B. Moriarty arrived to lead the people of St. Ambrose Parish.
St. Ambrose parishioners were blessed by the 40-year pastorate of Father Jeremiah Moriarty, who served from 1912 until his death in 1951.
Under Father Moriarty's leadership the people united in support of a larger church structure. Plans were changed and set aside. 1914 saw many men of parish being called to serve in World War I. As it was, one hundred and ninety-one went to war and seven never returned home alive. The plans received an additional set back in 1922 since Father Moriarty was transferred to St. Patrick's Church in Escanaba. In the interim, Father Joseph Hollinger served as pastor. But in the fall of1923, Father Moriarty returned to Ironwood and with a renewed vigor, began to make plans to see that a new church would be built. Dedicated May 5, 1926, the new church building and the accompanying new rectory were financed by parishioner donations. Fund-raisers, such as, dinners, bazaars and other events over the years were also held to cover the costs of construction.
In 1930 a new pipe organ was installed in the church. In 1945, Father Moriarty was honored for his zealous work and was elevated with the honor of Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor.
The parish experienced extreme sadness when on November 25, 1951 its beloved pastor entered Eternal Rest.
A former assistant priest was then named to be the new pastor. Fr. Joseph H. Seifert, of Immaculate Conception Parish in Iron Mountain, came was to be the new pastor of St. Ambrose. Under his leadership in the 1950's, the church was renovated and redecorated and stained glass windows were installed. While he was pastor, he too was elevated to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title of Monsignor.
It was he who built a new convent for the nuns who taught in the grade school and high school. Also, he built the Catholic grade school which are still stands this day. Monsignor Seifert died on February 1, 1965 at the age of 59.
In April of the same year, Monsignor Joseph J. Dunleavy became pastor. He over saw the demolition of the old St. Ambrose High School and the classes moved into the St. Ambrose Grade School building. He also had the gymnasium added on to the school.
In 1971, Father Thomas Ruppe came to be the new pastor. One of the notable things about Father Ruppe was that he was am avid local sports fan. It was said that he was often seen in the bleachers at basketball games. After fourteen years as pastor, he retired from active ministry, but continued to live in the area offering his services as priest when needed.
In 1985, Fathers Emmett Norden and Paul Manderfield came as copastors to serve as the new pastors of St. Ambrose and Holy Trinity Parishes. It was under them that a study was made of the area. With the mines closed and a population declining, along with a projected shortage of priests for the diocese, it was decided that Ironwood could not support three Catholic parishes. Plans were started to consolidate all three of the Ironwood parishes, which took place on July 1, 1986. The St. Ambrose Church building, being that it was the largest of the three churches, was selected as the site for the new parish.
Fr. Norbert Landreville was appointed the new pastor of the consolidated parish. It should be noted that Fr. Landreville had previously served as an associate pastor at St. Ambrose Church a few years previous.) At the inaugural liturgy of the newly formed parish, banners representing the three parishes were carried in procession. At the offertory time, these three banners were retired and one banner, emblazoned with the name of the new parish - Our Lady of Peace - was carried forward and placed in the sanctuary. This action signified the birth of the new parish and a new era for the Ironwood Catholic Community.
Records for St. Ambrose Parish are located at Our Lady of Peace Church in Ironwood.
Father Martin Kehoe 1890-1901
Father N.H. Nobisch 1901-1904
Monsignor Henry A. Buchholtz 1904-1912
Monsignor Jeremiah B. Moriarty 1912-1922
Father Joseph L. Hollinger (1922-1923)
Monsignor Jeremiah B. Moriarty 1923-1951
Monsignor Joseph H. Seifert 1951-1965
Monsignor Joseph J. Dunleavy 1965-1971
Father Thomas Ruppe 1971- 1985
Fathers Emmett Norden & Paul Manderfield (co-pastors) 1985 -1986