St. Robert was ordained a priest in his native village of Gargrave, in Yorkshire in the 1120’s, and a few years later entered the historic abbey of Whitby. It was a time of great religious stirrings, and soon Robert got permission to join another group of Benedictines who were attempting to revive the austere rule of St. Benedict. In a desert valley, they founded “Fountains Abbey”, a religious house that soon became famous for its fervor and devotion.
In 1138, Ralph de Merly, Lord of Morpeth, visited the abbey. He was so struck by the religious life there that he built a Cistercian abbey in his own territory. St. Robert was chosen as Abbot of this new abbey, called Newminster, where he remained in charge until his death June 7, 1159. The monks of Newminster founded three other monasteries.
Robert was a man of great prayer. His reputation for penance and fasting is still luminous despite the centuries.
Legend recalls that he frequently visited St. Godric, the hermit. On the night Robert died, Godric saw his soul ascending to Heaven like a ball of fire.
The roots of St. Robert’s Parish began in 1836, when Ottawa Indians built a small Catholic chapel in Ada Township. For the next two decades, a settlement of Ottawas, Christians and farmers was located near Knapp and Pettis. In the old records at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, there are numerous entries with the note: “Baptized in the chapel at Ada.”
In the Cascade settlement, mass was said in private homes from 1849. After World War II, there was considerable growth east of Grand Rapids, and an increasing number of Catholic families seemed to justify forming a parish in or about Ada. Effective November 14, 1951, Bishop Haas assigned the Reverend Frederick J. Voss to the pastorate of the Ada parish. Father Voss named the parish St. Robert of Newminster to honor the chancellor of the diocese at the time, the Right Reverend Robert W. Bogg. The first services were held the next day at the Kennedy Restaurant on M-21 (Fulton). Eighty-four people attended.
By 1952, there were 110 registered families and a groundbreaking took place on September 18, 1952 at 7215 Headley Street. A red brick, colonial-style building that seated 320 people was erected. Father Voss remained as pastor until 1956, when Rev. Donald Farrell succeeded him until 1966.
At this time it was decided to erect a new church, rectory and administration building. Fifteen acres of land was purchased at 6477 Ada Drive (our current location). Rev. Henry J. Niedzwiecki was pastor. Groundbreaking for this new site took place on August 24, 1969. The first mass was celebrated on July 12, 1970 in the new church with a seating capacity of 750.
In 1973, Father John W. McGee became pastor of St. Robert’s Parish, which now had a total of 430 families. Father McGee had a serious interest in history and always insisted that the parish know its roots in the communities of Ada, Cascade and Parnell. He wrote, “Our Indian history, to be sure, extends back over the centuries, with Indian mounds in our own city that date from near the time of Christ.”
In July of 1979, a new pastor, Father David Hawley arrived. The Parish continued to grow, and the organization of parish life found its way through all the challenges of the seventies and eighties as roles changed in the world and in the Church. Social consciousness grew for us as a faith community and it brought with it a whole new set of ways to look at the world and Church.
Monsignor Ernest Schneider began as pastor of St. Robert in 1988. He led the goal-setting, planning and dedication of the new church, which was dedicated on October 25, 1998. The beautiful new sanctuary seats 1300 people. The nineties brought continued rapid growth and the “2000 families by the year 2000” prediction of the 1980’s came true.