St. Michael’s Parish History
The history of St. Michaei’s Parish began with the mining operations in the valley. And with the miners and their families came missionaries to minister to the religious welfare of the new community. The Oblate Fathers, already established in the East Kootenays, now extended their services to include the mining towns which had sprung up in the valley of the Elk. The parishes were fortunate to have such prominent personalities as Reverend Fathers N. Coccola and A. Meleaux to help and guide them in establishing the parish and the building of St. Michael’s Church in Michel in 1904.
However, even though the church was built, the new parish was without a resident priest for another thirty years and the needs of the congregation continued to be performed by the Oblate Fathers from their headquarters in Fernie, with Father Meisner administering the parish for the next twelve years with the assistance of Fathers Salles, O’Neil, Anthony, Michels and Murphy. During this early period new towns developed and church services were often held a month and even two months apart, Michel sharing the missionaries with Crows Nest, Corbin, Hosmer, Coal Creek, Morrissey, Elko and Baynes Lake. It was not unusual for local weddings and baptisims [sic] to be performed in Fernie and celebrated at home in Michel.
In 1916 Father Meisner was replaced by Father Anthony Swenceski (Father Anthony) and for the next eight years the parish came to know and love the mild mannered priest. When he left in March, 1924, Fathers Barney and Tedrow completed the year. Father Ehman came in 1925 followed by Father Birch in i927. In I928 Father H. J. Barney returned and became first resident priest, living in the rectory and carrying water from an outside spring behind the church. Father J.A.R. Cote took over the parish in 1930, residing in Fernie and very often bringing along altar boys to assist at mass. During his three years in charge of the missions, he gathered and compiled the records of St. Michael’s Parish and conducted the first census of Catholics in the area.
In October, 1933, St. Michael’s Parish ceased to be considered a mission with the arrival of Father Cregg and his Model A, and for the next four years the familiar due became a by-word with the citizens and children of Michel, Catholics and non-Catholics. With the assistance of parishioners, Father Cregg installed running water in the rectory and then began the building of St. Stephen’s Chapei in Natal with second hand lumber from Corbin. However, Father is best remembered by the monument of kindness and cheerfulness he instilled in the hearts of all who knew him during those trying years.
Father Harrison came to Michei in September, 1937, and, although he only served the parish for one year, he was able to raise a considerable amount of money for a new church he was planning for Natal. The church plans were shelved when Father Downey relieved Father Harrison in September of the following year. The next four years saw the organization of the C.Y.O. and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Societies.