St. Mark celebrates 50 years

Published 7:08 am Saturday, June 25, 2005

By By EMILY DREITZLER / Niles Daily Star
NILES - St. Mark Catholic Church began 50 years ago with nine acres of land and a vision to help bring spirituality to the Niles community.
Since 1955, St. Mark has grown into a place of love, comfort, stability, and compassion for the many individuals who have walked through its doors and approximately 260 families currently involved in the parish.
This Sunday, St. Mark Church of Niles will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a special mass at 2 p.m., celebrated by Rev. Joseph W. Koma, C.S.C., and Bishop James. A. Murray, head of the Roman Catholic Church of Kalamazoo.
Afterwards, a gathering will begin at 3 p.m. in the St. Mark Parish Hall, just north of St. Mark Church. It will include refreshments, a parish history exhibit, and congregation camaraderie.
On June 29, 1955, Bishop Albers, of the Diocese of Lansing, issued a decree establishing St. Mark Church and on July 20, 1955, the Rev. E. Timmons was appointed St. Mark's first pastor.
Oak Manor Elementary School's gymnasium was the first home for the congregation of St. Mark. The accommodations were difficult forcing parishioners to kneel on the wooden gym floor and Father Timmons to celebrate daily Mass on a portable altar.
In March of 1956, the parish borrowed $9,000 from the Diocese to begin the construction of the first St. Mark Church. The construction on the first building, and what is now known as St. Mark Parish Hall, cost $160,000.
The church was consecrated on Oct. 21, 1956. It was almost immediately apparent that the structure would be inadequate for the needs of the parish. In October of 1967, construction on the new church began, this time costing $210,000.
St. Mark Church became part of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, founded on July 21, 1971. In 1972, the parish sold a piece land on the north end of the property in order to generate funds to build a convent. In November of 1972, Sister M. Edmund and Sister Albana, two Holy Cross nuns from Notre Dame, Ind. were hired to serve the parish as the first directors of Religious Education.
Father Timmons was eventually succeeded by Father Julius Hengesbach on Aug. 1, 1974. Father Hengesbach was followed by the Rev. Donald Weiber in 1981, who was then succeeded by the Rev. Stanley Sulka. Sulka's pastorate was cut short in 1994, after a debilitating stroke.
Current pastor, the Rev. Joseph W. Koma, has been serving St. Mark for the past 11 years. Koma is a Holy Cross priest, of Notre Dame, Ind., and has served the Diocese of Kalamazoo for 26 years this August.
St. Mark Church is at 115 N. 19th St. in Niles. Regular Masses are at 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. on Sundays.