Sainte Anne Church, commonly called 'Ste. Anne Church' or 'Ste. Anne's Church', is a Roman Catholic church that serves the parish of Sainte Anne de Michilimackinac in Mackinac Island, Michigan. The Jesuit missionary Claude Dablon inaugurated the rites of the Catholic faith on Mackinac Island in 1670, but the earliest surviving parish records list sacraments performed starting in April 1695.[1] After moving from Fort de Buade to Fort Michilimackinac about 1708 and from Fort Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island in 1781, the parish constructed the current church complex starting in 1874.[2]

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History Edit

Jesuit mission Edit

The parish began as a mission church of the Society of Jesus, served by Jesuits at Fort de Buade at the site of the current St. Ignace, and then by members of the same Order at Fort Michilimackinac at the site of the present Mackinaw City.[3] The parish's Jesuit heritage became diluted in the 1740s when a primary focus of the mission outreach, the Odawa(Ottawa) peoples of the Straits of Mackinac, moved in search of fertile farmland from the sandy region around Fort Michilimackinac to new L'Arbre Croche locations southwestward along the Lake Michigan coast, grouped around the current site of Cross Village.[3] The Fort Michilimackinac location evolved into service as a parish church for a partly transient population that included many traveling fur traders and voyageurs.[3] The fort's church and parish were increasingly identified with Saint Anne, whom many voyageurs reverenced as a patron saint.[3]

The remaining ties between the Society of Jesus and the parish of Sainte Anne de Michilimackinac were broken in 1765 when the news of the Suppression of the Society of Jesus was brought to the interior of North America.[3] The Jesuit Order could no longer staff this or other Great Lakes mission churches, and the parish was maintained through the devoted efforts of a succession of lay parishioners, many of them women.[3]This status, which under other circumstances might have been seen as slightly irregular by the standards of that day, was accepted and celebrated by the Church because of the devotion of the parishioners. For example, the lay leadership carefully maintained a dwelling space, attached to the church, for the absent priest.[3] It was during this period of de factolay leadership, during which time the parish did not have an assigned priest, that the church building was disassembled and moved (under British orders) from Fort Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island, its new permanent home, in 1780-1781.[3]

American frontier Edit

The island and parish passed from British-Canadian into American hands in 1796 and became the focus of a thriving frontier community, but the economic growth of the Island's commerce and harbor, which appears to have been coupled with some indifference by the new American military authorities to the Catholic faith, led to the temporary disintegration of the church's structure of lay leadership. By 1803 Father Gabriel Richard, visiting the parish to offer thesacraments, found that the altar had been desecrated and the priest's quarters adapted for use as a brothel.[3] After the War of 1812, the parish was saved by a prominent local fur trader, Madeline La Framboise, who worked with a succession of visiting priests to restore the church's status as a place of worship.[3]

The continued advance of the North American frontier made it possible for the Catholic Church to re-establish a geographically structured system of Catholic life and worship in Michigan Territory. The first resident priest in 65 years, Father Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli, was assigned to Sainte Anne de Michilimackinac in 1830.[3]The parish was reassigned to a predecessor of the current Diocese of Marquette in 1853.[2]Further population and economic growth made it possible for the church to demolish its historic log structure in the 1870s and to replace it with the timber-framed church, begun in 1874 and completed in the 1880s, that is in use today.[2]

Today Edit

As the 300th anniversary of the church's parish record book approached, Sainte Anne Church became a registered Michigan historic site in 1992. A historic marker was erected, and the site was designated as Michigan registered site SO622.[1] As measured by the continuity of its parish records, the parish of Sainte Anne de Michilimackinac is one of the oldest Roman Catholic parishes in the interior of North America.[2] A museum, describing and displaying the artifacts of the parish's history, is operated in the church's ground floor.[2]


The man digging with a shovel next to a gravestone in the courtyard of St. Anne’s Church is adding an accidental element of eerie to this late-afternoon ghost tour.

Haunts of Mackinac tour manager and guide Kimberly Cenci has spun a long tale about fascinating fur trader Madeline LaFramboise, buried with her daughter and grandson under this white marble sepulcher.

LaFramboise is not happy that the church moved her bones from beneath the altar to build a basement gift shop in the 1950s, not after making a promise that she and her family could lie there for eternity in exchange for her donation of the land upon which the church sits, Cenci said. After the move, the steeple started to lean, the foundation to crumble. Up went two statues alongside the side yard crypt — of St. Anne and the Virgin Mary — and the crumbling stopped.

“But they’ve rewired the church from top to bottom four times, and lights still turn off and on above people’s heads,” she said. “I’ve seen it myself.”

Sometimes, tour-goers detect a blue mist floating above the grave, Cenci said, as we move to the sidewalk. And I can’t help myself; I peer through the bushes in expectation.

And so it goes throughout town, that anticipation of a glimpse of a face in the window in which beds are said to shake or the rooming house in which a terminally ill guest was supposedly visited by a long-dead physician who assured her all would be well — and was cured. Or might we see that soldier with a handlebar mustache, who was said to have insulted a few island ladies before he vanished and later was identified as a private who died in a canon misfiring?

Tours by buggy, horseback, kayak, airplane and even parasail are popular ways to see this 3.7-square-mile island and explore the many layers of its fascinating topography and history. But those centered around its legends, lore and even spirits increasingly are drawing crowds. And not just on Halloween.

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