Before the corner stone for the first Church was laid by the Right Reverend William O’Hara, the early Catholic population was served by circuit Priests who journeyed to Canton from surrounding parishes dating as far back as the early 1800’s. During this period Mass was celebrated in individual homes throughout the countryside and in Canton.
The Rev. M. H. Dunn was the first Pastor and builder of the first Church. Like his predecessors, Father Dunn celebrated Mass in individual homes during the week, and on the fourth Sunday of every month Mass was celebrated in the Jim Fennell home on Troy Street. This was followed by Sunday School in the afternoon at two o’clock. The ground on which the first Church stood was sold by Samuel Owens for building lots.
The first Church was a wooden edifice, which faced East Union Street. There was one large door in the center, and as you entered the vestibule there were two swinging doors leading to the two side aisles of the Church. It was considered one of the best lighted Churches in town having one large chandelier in the center with six side lamps along the aisles. The altars used in this first Church are the same ones in use today, and over the main altar were large letters "GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO." This Church was in existence for approximately twenty-six years when it was decided to erect a new Church.
Rev. William H. Connolly was the Pastor during that time. While the new Church was being built, Mass was celebrated in what was known as the John Vroman skating rink on Lycoming Street. Some of the foundation of the old skating rink is still visible today down in back of the Fred Johonnis property. In order to finance the cost of the new Church, the parishioners put on bazaars, contests, picnics, and dinners. Two outstanding bazaars were held. The first one was held in the Cleveland Building, now known as the Reynard Building, and lasted one week with a large parish supper being held the last night. Fifteen Hundred Dollars was realized from this bazaar. A diamond ring contest was held with Katie King and Anna Hassett acting as contest leaders. Katie King was the winner of the diamond ring having collected approximately Three Hundred Dollars, with Anna Hassett a close second having collected approximately Two Hundred Fifty Dollars. It is said Katie King always kept and cherished this diamond ring, and when her nephew, Father John King, was ordained to the Holy Priesthood she gave him this diamond to be put in his chalice.
The second bazaar was held in the Lewis Building and was run on the same order as the first one, and this netted approximately Eleven Hundred Dollars. A diamond ring contest was also held at this bazaar with Thomas D. Hurley and Edward Wynne acting as contest leaders. Thomas D. Hurley was the winner of the diamond ring having raised Two Hundred Seventeen Dollars and Eighty-seven cents. Edward Wynne was a close second having raised Two Hundred Thirteen Dollars and Forty-eight cents. Other winners were: D. E. Shannon won a shawl; Mrs. T. Burk won a lace handkerchief; Miss Mary Brann won a dozen photographs; and Michael Brann won a sideboard cover.
Two church suppers were also held to help finance the new church. On September 26, 1899, the ladies of St. Michael’s Church held a supper at the home of Mrs. P. J. Ronan and served the following menu: Scalloped potatoes, cabbage salad, cold ham, pickles, biscuits, tea, coffee, ice cream and cake, price twenty five cents. On October 10, 1899, the ladies held a supper at Miss Bolan’s dining room with the following menu: Oysters, chicken pie, salad, tea, coffee, etc. price fifteen cents. Twenty–Four Dollars was realized from this supper. Three days before the new church was dedicated the ladies served a dedication dinner and supper in the Lewis Building, tickets twenty-five cents.
Father Connolly was assisted by the following Building Committee: T. Burk, John King, P. J. Ronan, Patrick Wynne, Thomas Brann Sr., John Collins, R. J. O’Donnell, and Michael McCarthy. The architects were Considine and Waltz of Elmira, New York, and the builders were Taylor and Northrup of Canton, Pennsylvania. The corner stone for the new edifice was laid by the Rt. Rev. M. J. Hoban on July 4, 1899, the sermon being delivered by Rev. P. F. Brodrick of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. The silver trowel used in laying the first corner stone is now in the possession of Katie King, a former resident of Canton. Work moved rapidly on the edifice and exactly ten months after the building contract had been given, St. Michael’s Church was completed at a cost of $14,000 the first original contract figure being estimated at approximately $12,000. This was exclusive of Altar Rail, Bell, Statuary, Memorial Windows, etc.
The first Midnight Mass was celebrated by Father Connolly on January 1, 1900, thus ushering in the 20th Century. It was a High Mass and was sung by the following members of St. Michael’s Choir: Elizabeth Adams, Mary Adams, Mary Leahy, Mary Hickey, Eileen Hickey, Mayme Ryan, Nellie Ryan, May Churchill, Ted Burk, Edward Leahy, Martin Powers, Daniel Leahy, with Mrs. P. J. Ronan organist and director.
On February 23, 1900, the Rt. Rev. M. J. Hoban, D. D. Bishop of Scranton, dedicated Saint Michael’s Church with most impressive ceremonies. These ceremonies were witnessed by over six hundred invited guests, and there were present many Clergymen from many parishes including several former Rectors. At an early hour every seat in the large auditorium was filled and extra chairs brought in. Promptly at 9:30 AM the Rt. Rev. M. J. Hoban, preceded by Cross Bearers, Acolytes, and Clergy, marched down the center aisle to the exterior where, after prayer, the usual ceremony for such occasions was performed. They then marched back to the Sanctuary where the Litany of the Saints was chanted, after which a circuit of the interior was made, the Bishop blessing and sprinkling the walls. The ceremony of dedication was followed by a Solemn High Mass, the Rev. W. F. Dwyer of Brooklyn, New York, being the Celebrant; Rev. M. H. Dunn, Deacon; Rev. Father Colligan of Ashley, Sub-Deacon; Rev. Father Koeper of Williamsport and Father Bloomer of Elmira, Deacons of Honor; Rev. M. F. O’Rourke of Williamsport, Master of Ceremonies. Among the Clergy in the Sanctuary were Rev. Father Winters of Hawley; Father Gerarghty of Ralston; Dr. Lucas of Blossburg and Father William H. Connolly. Rev. T. J. Comerford, a former Rector of Archibald, delivered the morning sermon. He was an eloquent speaker and in his discourse outlined the doctrine of the Catholic Church. He congratulated Father Connolly and the congregation of St. Michael’s on the successful completion of their work in building so magnificent an edifice, and wished them many blessings in return for their generosity. Bishop Hoban followed with a few words of commendation and in receiving the Church expressed his appreciation of the generosity on the part of the people that made possible the carrying out of the Tector’s plans. Father Connolly also spoke briefly expressing his personal thanks for the hearty cooperation given him, and speaking very commendatory of the work of the architects and builders. A Solemn High Mass was sung by the choir of the Annunciation Church of Williamsport.
Another large audience was present at the evening services. The new bell, whose donor at that time wished to remain anonymous, was consecrated by the Bishop, assisted by Rev. Father Dwyer, Father Costello, and Father Gerarghty. It was an impressive ceremony with long Psalms being intoned by the Clergy. Solemn Vespers were sung by the Bishop assisted by the Clergy. The sermon was delivered by Rev. J. J. Costello of Williamsport. The services concluded with the Solemn Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The following is a description of the new Church as recorded in 1900: "The new St. Michael’s Church is an ornament to Canton of which every citizen should be proud. Very few of the larger towns can boast of such an edifice. Father Connolly is to be congratulated on the complete success of his efforts to make the Canton Church as fine as any within the Diocese of Scranton. It is a model of up-to-date church architecture containing all the conveniences, and has ample accommodations for many years to come. The Church has fine proportions. It is designed in the Gothic order, which is carried out in all details. It is substantially built of Ralston pressed brick, cinnamon color, trimmed with Hullelstown brownstone and terra cotta with a green slate roof. Its fine proportioned square tower with belfry, turrets, and the octagonal shaped small tower and the large rose window command admiration. Two main entrances open into a vestibule is finished in oak with burlap wainscoting. The side walls and ceiling are tinted in light Italian Brown. From the vestibule are two swinging doors and one large leather covered door leading to the auditorium. Here awaits a surprise for the visitor. Everything from the light effect of the decorations, the subdued light from the art glass windows and the Sanctuary, ceiling, and choir all combined give a rich and elegant appearance. The inside Church is 42 x 77 feet to the Sanctuary. There are three Altars, the Main Altar, the Blessed Virgin’s Altar, and the St. Joseph’s Altar.
There are two Sacristies in the rear connected by a hall. This allows the Pastor to pass from one Sacristy to the other and is designed as a vaulted Gothic ceiling as used in the old Gothic Cathedrals, minus the columns as the roof and ceiling are self-supporting. The interior woodwork is highly finished oak, and the pews are quartered oak in Gothic design with carved seat and back. And a hinged kneeler. The decorative plaster work, Sanctuary, arches, soffits, pendants, and front choir rail are all in stereo relief, decorations being so very artistically brought out in light Italian Brown, which harmonize with the light from the opalescent cut glass window. The Main Altar presents a beautiful appearance particularly at night when circles of incandescent lights arranged inside the arches of the Sanctuary are illuminated. The Sanctuary carpet is Wilton Velvet, and separating the Sanctuary is an Altar Rail of oak and brass with velvet draperies.
The following donations were received for the new Church:
Statuary: Pieta – Rev. W. F. Dwyer
Sacred Heart – League of the Sacred Heart
St. Anthony – James Brann, Sr.
Guardian Angel – Sunday School
St. Aloysius – Mrs. Mary Cruise
Baptismal Font – Mrs. P. J. Ronan and Mrs. John Gorman
Sacred Heart – Rt. Rev. Bishop Hoban
Adoring Angels – Patrick Ronan and Catherine Ronan
Large window on North – T. Burk
Large window on South – Rev. M. H. Dunn
Rose Window – James Kenny
Dennis Fennell, Mrs. Thomas Brann, Jr., Kate Conlon
Thomas Wilson and Mrs. John Turberty
Mrs. Mary Cruise and John Cruise
Stations of the Cross:
First Station C. C. Coe and Wife
Second Station Anthony and Catherine Dwyer
Third Station Joseph King
Fourth Station Patrick Gorman
Fifth Station James Connolly
Sixth Station Mary Connolly
Seventh Station Francis C. Fitzpatrick
Eighth Station Patrick and Bridget Fitzpatrick
Ninth Station Daniel and Nora Murray
Tenth Station Mrs. Mary Maley
Eleventh Station Mrs. Bridget McDermitt
Twelfth Station John Greene
Thirteenth Station Michael Hurley
Fourteenth Station James and Margaret Clancy
Altar Rail – Father Comerford
Sanctuary Lamp – Mrs. P. J. Ronan
Crucifix – Edward Ronan
Gold Lace – Mrs. William Butler
Church Bell – Father Connolly
Altar Linens – made and donated by Mrs. P. J. Ronan
Oak Chairs – money collected and chairs purchased by Mrs. Mary Ronan
The heating and ventilating plant was installed by Lindley and Ronan; decorations by E. M. Bien of Elmira, New York; electrical work by the Elmira Illuminating Company.
Father Connolly was the builder and first Pastor of the present Church; the first wedding was Mrs. Mary McDermott’s; the first child baptized was Miss Gertrude Brann, and the first funeral was that of Mrs. Katherine Powers.
The following is a list of the Pastors since 1859:
Father C. Mangin 1859 – 1860
Father Severin Sommer 1860 – 1861
Father McCarthy 1861 – 1864
Father J. M. Laughlin 1864 – 1866
Father P. Stack 1866 – 1869
Father M. H. Dunn 1869 – 1884
Father J. Bergan 1884 – 1885
Father P. C. Hurst 1885 – 1886
Father M. J. Hoban 1886 – 1887
Father M. J. Comerford 1887 – 1892
Father W. H. Connolly 1892 – 1904
Father M. J. Shields 1904 – 1913
Father P. J. Durkan 1913 – 1921
Father J. J. Golden 1921 – 1926
Father J. J. Mulholland 1926 – 1929
Father E. J. Melley 1929 – 1930
Father J. J. King 1930 – 1933
Father J. A. O’Neill 1933 – 1938
Father J. L. McHugh 1938 – 1943
Father J. Burnett 1943 – 1945
Father T. J. Knight 1945 –
From 1900 to the present date, many additional improvements have been made in both the interior and exterior of the Church. These improvements include the following:
The following persons have entered the Religious life:
Father W. F. Dwyer
Father Peter Kane
Father Regis Watts
Father John King (son of Dan King)
Brother Jerome (Francis P. McCarthy)
Sister M. Hilary (Catherine King)
Sister M. Waltrude (Margaret King)
Sister Xaveria (Nora King)
Sister M. Rosalind (Mary Nailen)
Sister M. Leonard (Margaret Wynne)
Sister M. Bernadette (Mary Brown)
Lizzie Bolin – religious name unknown
St. Michael’s Cemetery, formerly known as Clancy’s Hill, was donated by Mr. Clancy. It is located to the north of Lycoming Street and is cared for by a cemetery committee.
Catechism Instruction is held each Sunday morning after Mass for all the children and is taught by various members of the Altar and Rosary Society. An advanced Class in Religious Instruction is held once a week for all high school pupils.
In celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the dedication of St. Michael’s new Church, a High Mass was celebrated on Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, October 29, 1950 by Rev. Thomas J. Knight. The choir, under the direction of Miss Madelaine Ronan, sang a High Mass in Honor of the Immaculate Conception, which was composed by J. Wiegand.
St. Michael’s Church was beautifully decorated for this occasion with all three Altars resplendent with the original Altar Linens and gold lace which were used fifty years ago. A profusion of gorgeous autumn flowers graced the Altars and the choir loft.
At six o’clock in the evening Priests, visitors, friends, and parishioners numbering approximately two hundred in all, assembled in the church hall to celebrate the golden jubilee with a banquet which was prepared and served by the ladies of the church. The hall was beautifully decorated with baskets of autumn flowers, and centerpieces of gold pompoms and colorful autumn leaves, flanked by tall tapers, embellished the linen covered tables. A most enjoyable evening was spent reminiscing in various ways such as viewing the collection of souvenirs on the memory table which included pictures of former Pastors and the Religious of the parish, the silver trowel used in laying the corner stone, Catholic Directories of earlier years, pictures of both the interior and exterior of the church from the time of the dedication to the present, singing of old familiar songs led by Mr. Philip Hawkins and accompanied by Miss Madeline Ronan, and the History of the Church was given by Mr. John Ryan who acted at Toastmaster and Narrator. The following Guests of Honor were seated at a table specially prepared for them: Mr. Thomas Powers Sr., Mrs. Mary Ronan, Mr. John F. Brann, Mrs. M. J. Brann, Mrs. John Wynne, Mr. and Mrs. Will Hurley, Mr. Edward Leahy, Mrs. Daniel Fitzgerald, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas D. Hurley, Mrs. Mary McDermott, Mrs. William Looney, Mr. Michael McCarthy, Mrs. Gertrude Heywood, Mrs. Charles McLaughlin, Mrs. Michael Madigan, Mr. Thomas Burk, Mr. Michael Hurley, Mrs. Aleck Cease, Mrs. Elnora Bullock, Miss Mary Adams, and Miss Nell Wert.
Cake and flowers were sent to the following people who were unable to attend the festivities: Mrs. M. J. Ryan, Mr. John Wynne, Mrs. Galen Williams, Mr. and Mrs. James Wynne, Mrs. M. Norton, Miss Jennie Fitzpatrick, Mrs. Fred King, Mrs. Herman Kilbourn, Mr. M. J. Brann, Mr. Edward Hawkins, Mr. Thomas Fitzgerald.
The golden jubilee celebration was concluded with a few congratulatory remarks and Blessing by Father T. J. Knight, the present Pastor.
The following Anniversary Committee was in charge of the Golden Jubilee Celebration:
Miss Madelaine Ronan, Chairman
Mrs. Floyd Crist
Mrs. Dan Greene
Mrs. O. W. Greene
Mrs. Philip Hawkins
Mrs. John Livesey
Mrs. William Powers
Miss Marcella Ronan
Mrs. John F. Ryan
In the past years many improvements have taken place. As well as the new rectory being built in Canton in 1985, the church hall has been painted and carpeted, the stained glass windows have been repaired, the tower cross has been painted and lighted, the exterior brick has been cleaned and repointed, and new steps and a ramp installed. The renovation was completed in the fall of 1989 when the interior of the church was redecorated. Since then the sacristies and vestibule have been painted together with the installation of fiberglass meshing to combat water seepage, an new roof has been placed on the church, a special Eucharistic Wood Carving has been placed behind the tabernacle and numerous other structural, cosmetic and liturgical renovations have been done in order to maintain the splendor and beauty of St. Michael’s.
[From the 15th Annual Summerfest Booklet, August 2002]