Growth and Controversy
By 1852, however, a church had been erected. It was a 30 by 60 foot structure that stood on West Kalamazoo Avenue west of Park Street. In 1856, the Rev. Anthony Isidoro Lebel was assigned to the "mission" at Kalamazoo, which now contained 47 Catholic families. He built a pastoral residence, then began work on a new church in the same area. Fr. Lebel had more members of the congregation than money. He turned to a rich farmer in his flock, Patrick Bunbury, for help. Bunbury mortgaged his farm with a promise from the good father that the money would be repaid. After the church was built, Bunbury, of course, expected his money returned. A less than unbiased report in Harper's Weekly describes the mayhem that ensued. Bunbury was not aware that all church properties became the possession of the bishop. Bishop Borgess refused to repay him. In desperation, Bunbury sued the bishop for his money. The bishop, in turn, threatened Bunbury with excommunication for his action, and the poor, faithful and faith-filled farmer was torn between financial ruin and the very real threat, to him, of damnation and separation from his faith. He capitulated and withdrew the suit. The second church was completed in 1869. Its twin spires stood as a landmark on the city's skyline for nearly a century.
Mystery of Fr. Lebel’s Death
While all this was going on, Fr. Lebel, amid rumors that he had appropriated some of the monies for building the church for his own use, died under suspicious circumstances. He had had his usual active day, eaten dinner, gone to bed and was found dead the next morning. It was determined that he had died from eating the oysters he had had for dinner. What was probably food poisoning turned into rumors that the oysters had been poisoned. Fr. Lebel was buried in Catholic Riverside Cemetery but his body was later exhumed and re-buried beneath the floor of the Church of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bournbonnais, Illinois. This was the first church Fr. Lebel built and a place for which he held great affection.