Once a well known and well loved resident of Harbor Springs, Father Philip S. Zorn will soon be returned to the community he called home for more than 22 years.
Father Philip Zorn, the namesake of Zorn Park in downtown Harbor Springs, served as priest of the Holy Childhood of Jesus Church on Main Street from 1862 to 1884, and will be re-interred here in June.
Father Zorn's life and his journey back to northern Michigan will be the topic of discussion at the next Harbor History Talk, hosted by the Harbor Springs Area Historical Society on April 18, at 5:30 p.m.
According to Father Francis Patridge, of the Augustine Center at the Sacramentine Monastery in Conway, who will be presenting at the Harbor History Talk, Zorn made a lasting impact not only in Harbor Springs, but also much of northern Michigan.
"Harbor Springs was the main church up here at the time," Patridge explained, "so the majority of the other area churches were under his domain. Churches in Petoskey and as far away as Beaver Island and Suttons Bay were all stations he was responsible for."
A German immigrant, Philip Zorn had come to northern Michigan in 1855 with a group of nuns and brothers under the leadership of Father Johann Bernard Weikamp who settled in Cross Village. Bishop Frederic Baraga who was operating a mission in the area was thrilled to have additional help in ministering to the residents here at the time, Patridge said. After a year of training, Father Zorn was ordained in 1856 and following this, served as priest at the Holy Cross Parish in Cross Village.
"After a year, though, Bishop Baraga moved Zorn to Harbor Springs, since he had a little more pizazz than the priest who was currently there," Patridge said. "Zorn was extremely capable and Harbor Springs was the larger of the two parishes."
Zorn worked closely with the Native American population and in time, learned their language. According to Partridge, Zorn was highly respected by the Native Americans and was given the native name Wassigijig, which means bright or heaven.
Most Harbor Springs residents are only familiar with the name Zorn because of Zorn Park, located on Bay and Main Streets. The property which is now Zorn Park was once owned by Father Zorn and it's thought that's where his residence was located. Following his death, the land was given to his brother who later sold it to the city of Harbor Springs.
In 1884, Zorn was sent to another Native American church in Elbridge, Michigan and ministered there for the remainder of his life. In 1900, he fell ill and was taken to the Catholic hospital in Manistee where he died on April 14 of pneumonia. He was buried in Manistee, much to the curiosity of Patridge.
"They just ended up burying him where he died," he said. "It didn't make sense, because they didn't even really know him in Manistee. He was never stationed there. Why wasn't he buried in Elbridge where he was serving? Or Cheboygan where he had relatives or Harbor Springs where he lived for many years?"
Partridge noted that lack of finances on the part of Zorn's family is what most likely kept them from having him buried elsewhere. It has been Partridge's mission for over 40 years to see that Father Zorn was returned to the place he served the longest.
"I thought to myself what a shame it was for him to be buried in a place that held no meaning to him at all," Partridge explained. "He should be back home where he belongs."
Father Zorn will return home this summer and be buried at the Holy Childhood of Jesus Parish on Main Street in Harbor Springs. Zorn's remains were exhumed last fall and transported to Stone Funeral Home in Petoskey where they are being stored until a funeral service is held at some point this upcoming summer.
Partridge noted that he is happy his goal of bringing Father Zorn back to Harbor Springs has come to fruition. He also said he is happy to be able to share Zorn's life at the upcoming Harbor History Talk.
"Most people around here don't know much about Father Zorn," he said. "They know the name from Zorn Park, but that's about it."
The Harbor History Talk will be held on Thursday, April 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Harbor Springs History Museum, 349 E. Main Street in Harbor Springs. Reservations are not required but appreciated. Coffee and cookies will be provided and admission is $5 per person and free for Historical Society members. For more information, call 231-526-9771.