History of St. Ann Parish

by Kim Briggeman

 
The Mission Years: 1905-1938
 
The first of three St. Ann churches in Bonner, Montana, was built in 1905 to serve some 40 Catholic families, mostly French Canadians, who made their livings at the local lumber mill. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company donated the ground for the church, which was designed by Missoula architect A.J. Gibson. A portion of that earliest church remains standing in 2012, flanking the present church and used for storage by Bonner School.
Father Julian Loiseau from St. Francis Xavier in Missoula directed the construction, and for the first three years St. Ann was attended by Jesuit fathers from the Missoula parish. In 1908, St. Ann was attached to St. John the Baptist parish of Frenchtown, some 20 miles to the west of St. Francis. There were probably at least three reasons: St. Francis, Missoula’s lone Catholic parish, was being stretched to capacity; the French language bound Frenchtown and Bonner; and Father Lionel LeGris had a car and knew how to use it. LeGris, a big man, drove to Bonner from Frenchtown on a regular basis for more than 15 years. He preached in French to families with names like LaForge, Cyr, Boileau, Beaulieu, Doucette, Dufresne, and Gauthier.
 
There was talk in the early 1920s of St. Ann becoming its own parish, but on Aug. 24, 1923, Bishop John Carroll of Helena notified Rev. J.J. O’Kennedy of Missoula’s new church on the south side, St. Anthony, that he was attaching to that parish “the mission of Bonner and the stations Bonita, Clinton and Potomac.”  Rev. Denis Meade, Father A.J. Harrington or Father James O’Brien came to Bonner each week from St. Anthony to celebrate mass. Most weddings were held at St. Anthony. Funeral masses were said at St. Ann and the remains taken by train to Missoula for burial. Priests from St. Anthony served St. Ann on a weekly basis for 15 years.
 
A Parish of Our Own: 1938-1985
By 1938, Rev. Denis Meade had his hands full. His St. Anthony parish had grown extensively on Missoula’s south side, which included the state university. Meade asked to be relieved of St. Ann. The Helena Diocese made the separation on Oct. 1, 1938, and appointed Father John J. Connolly administrator of St. Ann.
Second St. Ann Church
 Under Connolly’s direction funds were raised for a bigger, better church. Ground was broken June 10, 1939, and the first mass held in the basement hall of the uncompleted church on Oct. 28 of that year. William Soucie was construction foreman, and the building committee consisted of Soucie, chairman Ben Rae, George Cyr, Armand Dufresne, William Leibel and Peter Willey. The main floor was completed just in time for Christmas, 1939, and Bonner’s second Catholic church was formally opened on Jan. 28, 1940, with High Mass said by Father Connolly. In April, ground was broken for an adjacent modern living quarters for the pastor, and Bishop J.M. Gilmore, who drew up the plans, formally dedicated both church and rectory on Aug. 25, 1940. Father Connolly moved in a couple months later from a boarding house across from St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula in October.
Soucie had motivation to finish the church. On Aug. 10 he married Jeannette LaForge in the first wedding at the new St. Ann. On Sept. 2 Jeannette’s twin sister Genevieve married John McClellan in the second.
Poor health forced Father Connolly’s retirement in 1945. For the next 23 years, the face of St. Ann was Father James Major. The Chicago-born Major, who practiced law before becoming a priest, came to Bonner from Helmville. He remains the parish’s longest-serving pastor. He retired in 1968 after years of ill health and died in 1971. A successor wasn’t named until 1970, and just as in St. Ann’s earliest days, Jesuits from St. Francis Xavier in Missoula filled the gap. Father Sarsfield O’Sullivan was in Bonner for less than a year before being transferred to Butte in 1971.
Father John Mackin
Paul Mackin, a former professor at Carroll College in Helena, replaced him and remained in Bonner until he retired in 1979. Father Mackin was succeeded by Thomas Gannon, who also retired from St. Ann, in July 1985 --  seven months after the fire that destroyed the second church.
Father Thomas Gannon

Fire, resurrection and the rest of the story: 1985-2012
A guard from the Champion International mill across Highway 200 noticed flames at the church just before  3 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1985. Firefighters from Missoula Rural Fire soonhad the fire under control, but the altar from the 1939 church was burned and the sanctuary and hall were destroyed. John McClellan reported that Bishop Elden Curtiss cited the enthusiasm by the St. Ann community in saying a new church would have to be built, keeping in mind one thought: “That ten years from now we would probably have no pastor as even now the number of priests in the diocese is hardly able to take care of the parishes we have.”
Dedication of new church
After months of discussion it was decided to demolish the old building and rebuild from scratch. Rud Jennings chaired the St. Ann building committee, which also included Jo Labbe, Shirley Cuplin, Fritz Thibodeau, Al Ployhar and Don Householder.
Upon Father Tom Gannon’s retirement in July 1985, Father William Morley became St. Ann’s sixth pastor and spearheaded fundraising for a new church. Our Savior Lutheran opened its doors to Sunday Catholic masses, and footings were poured on April 1, 1986. The first mass was held Sept. 27, 1986, although construction was not yet complete. Five children received First Communion on Oct. 5 and the first pot luck was held that day. The church was formally dedicated on Dec. 7, 1986, by Bishop Curtiss, Father Morley and eight area priests.
Father Morley remained at St. Ann until 1990, when he was succeeded by Michael Smith. Father Smith remained in Bonner for 10 years – longer than any pastor to date except Father Major (23 years from 1945-1968).  He was also the first St. Ann pastor to serve Living Water of Seeley. Father Smith was reassigned to Stevensville-Florence in 2000, and Ray Gilmore took his place
.  Health problems forced Father Gilmore to take a sabbatical from late December 2004 until mid-April of 2005, when he had another setback, suffering a broken shoulder. He was back at Mass on Memorial Day weekend, 2005, and was pastor when St. Ann celebrated its centennial on Sept. 10, 2005, with Bishop George Thomas in attendance.
Upon Father Gilmore’s retirement, retired priests filled in at Bonner, chief among them Stephen Tallman and John Wang. Carl Deitchman, a Benedictine priest, served the parish from September 2006 until July 2007, followed by Bob Noonan. Father Noonan retired in 2009. Michael Poole took over a few months later and remains at St. Ann in 2012.
Father Mike Poole, a Butte native, was ordained in 1998. He served as an associate priest at the Cathedral of St. Helena for 15 months, followed by three years as an administrator at St. Joseph Parish in Harlowton and St. Bartholomew Parish in White Sulphur Springs with missions at Judith Gap and Shawmut. He served for several years as pastor at St. Michael Parish in Conrad, with St. William Parish in Dutton and Guardian Angel Mission in Powers before his reassignment to Bonner.
 
In November 2012, St. Ann is a parish of 94 families. We lost our patriarch, Fritz Thibodeau,
in September at age 98. Mass times were recently moved from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
The St. Ann Parish staff includes Doug Lawrence, pastoral council president; Rory Page, office manager; Ginny Woods, religious education and youth director; Alverta Symes, bookkeeper; Anne Wright, music ministry; Hal and Ken Karl, building maintenance, and Craig Sandberg, janitorial staff.  
The pastoral council meets the second Sunday of the month; the Ladies of St. Ann the second Monday; Generations Faith Formation either the third Wednesday evening or after the third Sunday mass. Shirley Cuplin spearheads the pancake breakfast on the final Sunday of the month.

Update to St. Ann's History:  On September 3, 2014, Alverta Symes passed away after a battle with cancer.  
In September 2014, we decided to no longer meet using Generations for Faith Formation but will be using the new program Decision Point by Matthew Kelly.  Ginny Woods will be turning over the reigns of religious education after 30 years in that position at St. Ann's.  Joanna Eichner will be taking over the pre-school through grade school using the Pflaum program, a parent/child program using weekly booklets to be done at home and on-line. 
In August, 2017, Father Michael Poole, pastor of St. Ann Parish for 8 years, retired and Father Jozef Perehubka was assigned to our parish as our new pastor.  Father Jozef is from Poland and has been serving the Diocese of Helena for over 15 years.
Our Mass times are now 8:00 A.M. and 9:30 A.M.on Sunday mornings to accommodate those early risers.

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