The French Jesuit missionaries brought the Catholic faith to Southwest Michigan in the late 1600's. St. Joseph began as a Mission in 1690 and became a Parish in 1720. The Catholics in the Benton Harbor area attended Mass in St. Joseph until 1891, when St. John's was established as a Mission, named after St. John the Evangelist. Fr. James Gore, Pastor of St. Joseph's, cared for St. John's until 1895. Fr. Dennis Mulchay was the first resident Pastor, serving from 1895 until his death in 1924. The rectory was built in 1912.
St. John's School opened in 1915 with five Sisters
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The high school
opened the following year and its first class
graduated in 1920. St. John's High School
graduated 1,145 students through 1969, when
St. John's and St. Joseph's merged to form Lake
Michigan Catholic Schools.
Fr. George Witteman came as Pastor in 1925 and served until 1948. A new convent for the Sisters was built in 1927. The gymnasium-Parish hall was built in 1931, and was used for Sunday Masses from 1935-1938 while the church was being reconstructed.
Fr. Joseph Byrne served as Pastor from 1948 until 1972. In 1952, a new 12-room high school was built. Also during this time, a cafeteria and 6 additional classrooms were built as well as a new heating plant in 1959. The radio broadcast of Sunday morning Mass began in 1953 and still continues every Sunday, 10:00-11:00 a.m. on WSJM (AM 1400).
St. Bernard Parish was established in 1961,
named for St. Bernard of Clairvaux, with about
400 families from St. John's, on 15 acres on
Delaware Avenue in Fairplain, purchased in
1955 by Msgr. Byrne. Fr. Charles Beuscher
(1961-1967) served as its first Pastor, during the
building of the church and classrooms (1962).
Fr. David Bell followed as Pastor (1967-1969).
Fr. Eugene Sears (1969-1974) served as Pastor, and helped in the merger of St. John's and St.
Joseph's into Lake Michigan Catholic Schools, and in the formation of the Twin City Area
Catholic School Fund.
Meanwhile, Fr. Leroy White became Pastor of St. John's in 1972, serving until 1982. During this period the Church reached out to the community through the newly-established Catholic Community Center and the Readiness Center (under the direction of the Sisters of Mercy). The Soup Kitchen and the Housing Counseling Center were also started and are now independent institutions.
Fr. Leo Taubitz came to St. Bernard's in 1974 and served as Pastor until 1981, during which time two classrooms were transformed into the social hall and the church sanctuary was moved to the west side of the church. Fr. Brendan Tarrier, O.P., served as St. Bernard's Pastor from 1981-1995, as the Parish grew to over 500 families.
Fr. David Adams came to St. John's as Pastor in 1982 and was also made administrator of St. Bernard's in 1995 when Fr. Tarrier retired.
On July 1, 1996, when St. John's was 105 years old and St. Bernard's was 35 years old, the two Parishes were combined into one by official decree of Bishop Alfred Markiewics. Fr. Adams was named as the Pastor of this newly-established parish of St. John-Bernard (now SS. John and Bernard Parish). A new Pastoral council and a new finance council were chosen to serve the new Parish. Both church facilities are utilized for liturgical worship, meetings, R.C.I.A., socials and religious education, serving the needs of the entire Parish community.
In August 2001, Bishop James Murray assigned Fr. Lawrence Kroll as Pastor of SS. John and Bernard Parish. Fr. Kroll began major renovations of the St. John rectory and was instrumental in the stabilization of the enrollment and finances at Lake Michigan Catholic Schools.
On August 6, 2003, Fr. Bill Jacobs became the third Pastor of the
combined SS. John and Bernard Parish. Fr. Bill began an immediate
five-year plan of renovations, property upgrade, and construction.
The old St. John's High School, gymnasium, and cafeteria were
scheduled for demolition as this historic setting had fallen upon
hard times and disrepair. The old St. John's cafeteria was salvaged
and remodeled into a new, state-of-the-art Readiness Center,
dedicated by Bishop James Murray on February 12, 2004. Next,
work began on a new Catholic Community Center at the corner of
Pearl and Catalpa Streets. The facility was donated by Bud and
Frances Piggot. Dedication was by Bishop Paul Donovan on
May 21, 2006.
In the summer of 2006, work began on a $1 million Parish Center at the St. Bernard site. This wonderful addition was donated by Frank and Grace Sink and opened in 2007. Also in 2006, Sam and Connie Monte donated an entire new Altar space at St. Bernard's. There is also a new Tabernacle in this space donated in memory of James McQuillan by his loving family.
Then on August 29, 2015, Fr. German Perez-Diaz was installed as the new Pastor of SS. John and Bernard Parish. While only with us for a short time, Fr. German Perez-Diaz was a stabilizing figure, helping the parish transition and move forward.
Fr. Brian Stanley was then installed as the new Pastor of SS. John and Bernard Parish on July 1, 2016.
SS. John & Bernard Parish loves to get together and will use any excuse to do it. There is a “Parish Appreciation Dinner” annually for all adults that volunteer their time & talent in any capacity with the Church: Eucharistic Minister, Lector, Christmas decorating helper, funeral luncheon helper, etc. It’s a catered dinner and a fun time for all.
There is a wonderful “Parish Picnic” in the fall on the grounds at St. Bernard’s. There are games for kids, bingo, horse shoes and much more. Hamburgers, hot dogs, & brats are served. Parishioners bring a dish to pass. Lots of volunteers are needed to help set up, but everyone pitches in and all have a great time!
An annual “Christmas Party” with Santa is something kids & adults look forward to. The Knights of Columbus hold an annual “Easter Egg Hunt” on Holy Saturday on the grounds at St. Bernard’s. It takes place after the “Blessing of the Easter Baskets” which is a long time tradition at the Parish.
As the Parish history grows, so does the size and closeness of the Parish Family, just as the Parish mission statement suggests: "To grow as a Catholic community, united by the Holy Spirit, living our faith in Jesus Christ and sharing God's truth and love with all people."
Click Here to download a copy of the St. John 125th Anniversary booklet.
History of St. John the Evangelist History of St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Jesus falls for
the first time
SS. John & Bernard Parish
To grow as a Catholic community, united by the Holy Spirit, living our faith in Jesus Christ and sharing God's truth and love with all people