In the Spring of 1854 my father bought a farm of 160 acres in what was called the Barron Lake settlement, some ten miles west of Cassopolis and six miles east of Niles, but in Cass County. Here we had quite a number of Catholic neighbors. There must have been as many as ten families within a radius of five miles, and others came in later. The Barron Lake settlement belonged to the Niles Mission, but just at that time there was no priest in the Diocese of Detroit nearer than Kalamazoo, forty miles away. By an arrangement, however, the priests of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame, Indiana, cared for this southwest corner of Michigan. At Niles there was a small frame church and the Catholics of the town combined with those of the surrounding country made up a very respectable congregation.
Catholics were not numerous among the earliest settlers of this vicinity. The building of the Michigan Central Railroad brought many to the village, and others agriculturally inclined to the surrounding country. The land was mostly wild and the settler had to build his log cabin, chop down the trees, clean away the underbrush and fence in his little open space before he could attempt to plow and plant a crop. Of course everybody was poor and the idea of supporting a permanent pastor was not practical for several years. Notre Dame, being but eight miles away, sent priests pretty often, but how often I cannot now remember. I still have the recollection of the coming of a Father Flynn and a Father Schilling. A resident pastor came in about 1856 person of the Rev. John DeNeve, and from that time the congregation seemed to grow. The church was enlarged, and a gallery put in and even then it was soon crowded. Father DeNeve remained about three years when he was appointed Rector of the New American College in Louvain, Belgium, where he ever afterwards remained.
The farm my father bought had a few acres cleared and a log house that was almost a ruin, for no one had lived on the place for several years. Making the house habitable was the first task. Then came the clearing of the land. The trees were felled, out into convenient lengths and put into piles with the brush and set on fire. The underbrush also had to be removed and this was grubbed out by the roots or cut down to the ground and piled for the burning. We had great fun with these fires at night when a whole section would be lighted up with burning waste, but the gathering into piles was a laborious work which we children did not relish. It certainly was hard work and we got many a scratch on our hands and bruises on our feet while doing that pioneer work.
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