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St. Mary Parish - Otis IN

A history of the parish from the 1948 Jubilee Book

In looking up the early records of New Durham township, one finds Otis was the third village to he formed in the township. The first name of the place was Salem Crossing, given by the Michigan Southern Railroad in 1852, which was the name recognized by the United States government when the post office was established there. Matthias Seberger was the first postmaster.

When the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago, now the Monon railroad, was built through the place in 1853, that corporation named it LaCroix. As it was confusing to call the place by two names, years afterwards some offered as a substitute the name of Packard, after the Hon. Jasper Packard, at that time the representative to Congress. The modesty of that gentleman led him to recommend another name, and accordingly, in 1872, the name was changed to Otis.

During the Civil War, all who went south from northeastern Indiana were compelled to come to Otis and take the Monon line. The hotel was always full of travelers and it was a lively place. Dr. Clark C. Warren was the first resident physician. The business of the village of Otis in 1876 comprised two blacksmith shops, one carpenter, one depot agent. two druggists, three general stores, one hotel, one market, two physicians, two shoemakers, one tailor, one telegraph operator, one undertaker and one wagon maker.

This interesting bit of history was taken from the History 0f LaPorte County by Jasper Packard and also from the Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of LaPorte County by the Rev. E. D. Daniels, found in the Westville Library.

The history of St. Mary's Parish of Otis, is typical of all Catholic parishes in the United States. They all undergo the same process; founding. Growth and stabilizing and sometimes decline as is the case of if many so called farmer parishes.

It is interesting to go “way, way, back” and learn why a certain group of people settled in a certain community. With the Poles as with other groups of immigrants. two factors were responsible for their leaving Europe ‑ quest for a livelihood (bread) and freedom for oppression.

Once a family settled, in a short time, relatives, friends. a so all from the same village or country of Europe joined them.

With Otis was the same. The first parishioners came from Posen ‑ then under Germany ‑ more specifically from the villages of Keynia. Szubin arid Krolikowo. a few families from East Prussia. Why they settled near Otis?

Already in 1855 Poles were settling in Northern Indiana LaPorte counts offered an opportunity for the immigrants to follow their European vocation, farming. The first settlers hired out as farm hands arid lumberjacks. In time they cleared the laud of timber arid started farming, bought a tract of land arid settled down A Pole and a Roman Catholic is synonymous: I tell the number of families grew to about 100 families, their spiritual needs were ministered to them by Father Bartosz. a Pole, who was pastor of St. Joseph's church of LaPorte, Indiana. Holy Mass was said and the Sacraments administered in private homes of the farmers, especially in the home of Jacob Lewandowski, as being centrally located.

This state of affairs existed until 1871. In the fall of that year. Rev. Francis Szulak, a Jesuit and his host Jacob Lewandowski cattle to the conclusion, that the Poles should have their own place of worship ‑ a church. Food and fuel were plentiful, but money was scarce, nevertheless the first appeal of Father Szulak, "as responsible for $200.00) in cash and pledges. Father Szulak, encouraged by this generosity of the group appointed John Kajzer. Albert Nowak, Martin Janicki and John Wozniak to carry on. In a few months, these pioneers. contributed $712.00. With this "enormous capitol" work began on finding a suitable place for the new church. There were three sug­gestions: One was to build the church in Holmsville ‑ second on the farm of Albert Nowak and the third on the farm of Mr. Tomczak, finally it was decided to build near the crossing of two Railroads ‑ Salem Crossing. Even then there were varied opinions as to the exact location of the new church. After many pros and cons ‑ the majority decided on the present site, This property was owned by Frederich arid Dorothy Hannemanon. The area consisted of two acres ‑ 37,100 feet. The deal was closed on April 13, 1872 for the price of $454..00. In the fall of that year, ground was broken for the new church, which was completed in the spring of 1873.

The new church was a wooden structure; 50 feet long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet high, with a tower 70 feet high. The price of the building was $2,530.00 and John Renkawic was the contractor, of Michigan City, Indiana. With the permission of the Bishop Joseph Dwenger, Rev. Szulak, blessed the new edifice, in the presence of Rev. John Oechtering, of LaPorte and Rev. Peter Koncz, of Chesterton, Indiana. The first resident pastor of St. Mary's was Rev. Peter Korrcz. This Rev. Koncz, held the pastorate of Otis until July of 1875, during all this time he, served a church at South Bend, Indiana once a north and held services at Rolling Prairie, New Carlisle and Terre Coupe, a few times a year. Until 1876. there were no other parish buildings, but the church. In the month of May of that year, the priest's residence was built by the above mentioned Renkawic for the price of $975.00. In 1877 plans were laid for a burial place, surveying, landscaping and fencing was completed in 1878. The following year, in 1879, Rev. Vincent Barzynski, C. R., of Chicago, conducted the first five day mission.

After the year 1876, the Poles began settling in other parts of Indiana. The parish records of St. Mary's Church of Otis, show Poles of Rolling Prairie, New Carlisle, Terre Coupe and South Bend, affiliated with Otis. When in the year 1876, the Poles of South Bend erected their own church, the above mentioned villages were served from South Bend.

The first resident pastor of Otis was the Rev. Peter Konca. The salary of the pastor at that time was $400.00 from Otis and $175.00 from South Bend. Rev. Louis Machdzicki, succeeded as the second pastor of St. Mary's. This zealous priest organized many church and fraternal societies.

The Stations of the Cross were erected and consecrated on January 13, 1878. He devoted his entire time and energy to the new parish, since more Polish priests were serving the newly organized parishes.

On August 6. 1881, a Polish refugee Franciscan priest, the Rev. Urban Raszkiewicz, became the pas­tor of Otis. This pious priest left many fine memories in the minds of the many ‑ now living people of Otis. Besides the spiritual care of his flock, Father Urban devoted much of his spare time to his vineyard. From the talks of many old priests still living ‑ Monsignor Frank Jensen of Hammond ‑ Otis was the sure place to obtain liturgical sacramental wine, made with painstaking care and even piety, by Rev. Urban and the school boys. The visits to Otis, by the few priests, were numerous and long, as Father Urban had the reputation as a generous host. As the "old priest" was growing old, he was assisted by the Rev. Alexander Buechier. This young priest was a "product" of Otis. He was raised at the rectory, as Mrs. Buechler, was a house keeper for Father Raszkiewicz, young Alex attended the Otis parochial school and after the death of his benefactor, Father Urban Raszkiewicz, became pastor.

The "old priest", Father Raszkiewicz "is" still with his Otis people. A fine red granite stone at the parish cemetery marks his resting place. The stone bears this inscription:

Rev. Urban Raszkiewicz

Born in Lithuania

July 27, 1824

Ordained Priest, September 8, 1848

Died at Otis, February 11, 1909

He is the only priest buried in the parish ceme­tery. Many are the stories told of Father Urban. The one told by Monsignor Frank Jansen, of St. Joseph's church of Hammond, Indiana, speaks of his great humility. According to Monsignor Jansen, Bishop Aldering, offered Father Urban "The Purple". The bishop received a very humble letter from Father Urban, which said in part, "I must thank you for this high honor, as I thank your predecessor, but on judgment day, I want to appear as a Franciscan". It must be remembered, Father Raszkiewicz, was a "son" of St. Francis of Assisi; leaving Germany during Emperor Bismarck's "Kulturkampf". After the death of Father Raszkiewicz, the records of the parish show, that three Polish priests served the spiritual needs of the Otis parish: Rev. Alexander Buechler, Rev. Peter Budnik and Rev. Thomas Jankowski. Their stay was of a short duration, but our Vital Statistics Records show, that the life of the parish went on as usual. Speaking of records, in another part of this Memorial are pictures of records: Birth, Marriage and Death. These records even today are of vital importance. The old timers did not "bother" the County with their records of birth or death, so the church records are the only proof of age and events.

On July 6, 1914, Rev. John Wroblewski, came as pastor of St. Mary's at Otis. This "artist priest" began at once to add his artistic touch to both the buildings and the grounds. Both the interior and exterior of the church were redecorated. Three new altars decorated the church. The interior of the church was lined with tin. Even after all these years ‑ the coster‑blue spruces, hemlocks, birches, junipers, and four or five varities of pine, are a "growing monument" to Rev. John Wroblewski.

Just as the buildings were all in excellent condition; misfortune struck Otis. Fire on February 21, 1917, destroyed the church and the rectory. The school was the only building left standing, and in this building Holy Mass was said. Undaunted by this severe blow, on May of 1918 the people of Otis, began the building of a new church, which was completed in May of 1919. The price of the new church was $24,000.00. For a year Rev. Wroblewski "boarded out", as the new rectory was not completed until 1922. The remaining five years of his stay at Otis, Rev. John Wroblewski, devoted to trees ‑ all kinds of trees, and paying off the parish debt, which was quite a task, since the parish had dwindled down to 90 families.

Rev. John Biernacki, now Very Rev. Monsignor, pastor of St. Casimir's church of Hammond, was the next pastor of Otis. When the writer of this history asked Monsignor Biernacki, for his "biography" while at Otis, Monsignor Biernacki wrote this: "I was in Otis from July 15, 1927 to September 15, 1932. If you say that much in your book, I will be satisfied. It won't make much copy for your book, I know. But really, I can't remember that I did anything noteworthy for the Otis parish. The paying of a few thousand dollars should not count; it was done for my own peace of mind as well as for the relief of the people. The one thing which I remember best of all is that I was happy in Otis and that I was leaving it with a heavy heart The experiences of the past 15 years have made the Otis part of my life a bit dim and hazy". Monsignor Biernacki, we will respect your modesty, but for your own personal satisfaction, your five years are well remembered here, and I am sure, they will add before Almighty God, to the many fine achievements in your priestly career.

On September 15, 1932 Rev. John Biernacki and Rev. John S. Hosinski, "exchanged" parishes. The former going to St. Casmir's at Hammond, and the Rev. John S. Hosinski coming to Otis. During his six years at Otis, the Rev. John S. Hosinski did a lot of "repair work". The rectory was stucco covered. The new pastor removed the stucco and put on wood. The school basement was excavated and made into a "refreshment place" during the famous Otis chicken dinners. On November 15, 1938, the Rev. John S. Hosinski left Otis to realize his life's ambition to become a gentleman farmer.

The present pastor, Rev. Louis F. Bozik, came here from San Pierre, Indiana. As this history is written by this pastor, anything he did or what he contributed to this parish must be judged by visiting Otis and talking to the members of this parish.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011