Notre Dame Parish began through the initiative of Catholic families living near the Indiana shores of Lake Michigan. They were unable to enroll their children at Saint Mary School in Michigan City for lack of space. A representative group met with church authorities on March 8, 1953, to discuss the possibility of establishing a parish.
Recognizing the spirit of the people and the providential availability of desirable property, Archbishop John F. Noll of Fort Wayne and his apostolic administrator, Archbishop Leo A. Pursley, gave their permission and blessing to the endeavor. Father James A. Stapleton, pastor at Hamlet, Indiana, who had ministered formerly in Michigan City, was appointed the first pastor.
The proximity of Notre Dame University, thirty miles away in South Bend, Indiana, and the prevailing Irish-American culture of residents and summer visitors naturally influenced the choice of patron for the parish.
The only building on the thirty acres of land was a barn that had been converted to a restaurant. It needed repair, cleaning, and modification to serve as a church. However, on June 14, 1953, the first Mass was celebrated in it.
The immediate concern of the parish was the construction of a school. A building committee selected Mr. H.O. Fullerton of Albany, New York as the architect, who was schooled in the Georgian style of architecture. Ground was broken in May 1954, and the school building was completed one year later, in May 1955. Three sisters from the Congregation of the Holy Cross in South Bend and one lay teacher constituted the first faculty when the school opened in September 1955. Initial enrollment was 146 children. The first eighth-grade graduation of 14 students occurred in spring 1956. The school auditorium was used for Mass and parish gatherings now.
The next pastor, Father Albert Van Nevel, was appointed pastor in June 1957. He is remembered as a dynamic man who encouraged the organization of a Holy Name Society and an annual parish festival. The festival was a midsummer event that brought parishioners, vacationers, and the local community together for chicken dinners. During Father Van Nevel’s tenure, all parish debt was eliminated.
The next pastorate focused on the building needs of the parish. Assigned in spring 1963, Father Leo Armbruster approved a convent for the Holy Cross Sisters who had lived on the second floor of the school building. It was completed in November 1964. By 1965 the Sisters were educating 276 children.
The convent completed, the parish began to consider the building of a church. After studying numerous styles, the present church design was approved and William Butorac was engaged as architect. Parishioners Andrew McKenna and Raymond Beahan co-chaired the steering committee for construction of the new church. Begun on the heels of Vatican Council II, it encourages the people’s participation and common worship with a semi-circular seating arrangement with a capacity of nearly nine hundred people. The Most Reverend Andrew G. Grutka dedicated the new church on May 18, 1969.
The building needs were not complete. A new rectory was finished in June 1970 through the generosity of Thomas J. Burke, a summer parishioner from Chicago.
Father Armbruster, requesting reassignment because of illness, was succeeded by Monsignor F.J. Melevage in July 1971. By this time the parish was serving 500 families. After so much building, it also had a debt. Monsignor Melevage and his successor, Monsignor Edward Litot, worked to reduce the parish debt.