Florian Rasch II - early settler of Warren, Michigan and St. Florian, Alabama
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What does the St. Clement's Cemetery in Center Line, MI have in common with St. Michael's Cemetery in St. Florian, AL?  They are both the final resting places of men named Florian Rasch!

Florian Franz Rasch I, was born in 1793 (his headstone date of 1791 is in error) in the village of Groß Olbersdorf, Silesia, Prussia (now called Olbrachcice Wielkie, which is about 4 km northwest of Zabkowice Slaskie, Poland). 

Florian Rasch II family Portrait circa 1853 (click to enlarge)At the age of 21, Florian was a Captain in the Quartermaster section of Napoleon's Grande Armée as it prepared to invade Imperial Russia in the summer of 1812.   As Napoleon's army of 700,000 men advanced into Russia, the Czar's army fell back, burning their own towns and crops to deny the invaders food and shelter.  Napoleon ordered his infantry forward on long, forced marches to try and engage the Russians, but they quickly found themselves beyond the reach of their quartermaster's supply lines due to the rutted, axle-busting paths that passed for roads in that region. By the end of 1812, the Grande Armée had advanced as far as Moscow and was then forced to retreat, losing 600,000 men in battle as well as to disease, hunger and exposure. It's been passed down through the generations that Florian and all of the men under his command survived the war, a proposition made all the more likely by the fact that their supply lines were unable to keep up with their infantry as they advanced farther into Russia.

On November 7, 1815, Florian married Carolina Schindler and together they had five children, the first being a son born on Nov. 22, 1819 and who was named Florian Franz Rasch II. Carolina was dead by the time young Florian was 10 years old and his father soon married a second time.  Florian's new wife was Barbara Gutkorn (1804-1843) and she would bear him another six children.1875 Plat Map showing the Warren Township farm of Florian Rasch II

Florian II also became a farmer in a nearby village and in 1849 he married Caroline Nickel (1827-1880).  Their firstborn child was Paul Joseph Rasch (1851-1910) and on August 5, 1851, the three of them boarded the ship "Stepane" in Bremen, Germany, bound for New York City, NY.   Later that year, Florian II arrived at the Macomb County courthouse in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, where he purchased 80 acres of land in Section 16 of Warren Township. In 1852 Florian II returned to Germany to bring his father to the U.S. 

Headstone of Florian Rasch I, St. Clement Cemetery, Center Line, MI (click to enlarge)Florian I arrived in the USA with his family on May 19, 1852 and settled in Warren Township with his son, where they were among the first members of St. Clement Parish in nearby Center Line.  Florian I would become one of the first parishoners to be buried in St. Clement Cemetery three days after his death on September 11, 1855.  He is undoubtedly the only veteran of Napoleon's Grande Armée to be buried in that cemetery.

Years later, Florian II's wife Caroline came down with tuberculosis. Believing that a warmer climate would help her condition, Florian II moved her and 10 of their 11 children to northwest Alabama in the spring of 1873 (by that time, their son Paul had entered the Capuchin Order at Holy Cross Monastery, Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin; he became known as Fr. Luke Rasch when he was ordained to the priesthood on Sept. 21, 1877).  

Florian II ended up in Alabama because, several years after the end of the Civil War, the Homestead Society of Cincinnati, Ohio had purchased the 2,436 acre Wilson Plantation near Florence, Alabama. Their intention in making this purchase was to establish a colony of German Catholic settlers in Alabama, as had previously been done in Tennessee with the nearby colonies of Lawrenceburg, Loretto, St. Joseph, and St. Mary. The former Wilson Plantation land was sold to the settlers at a price of $8 to $15 per acre, depending on the location and improvement of the lots. The first settlers of this new colony included Florian Rasch II and by 1876 forty pieces of land had been sold to forty different families.  

Eventually, all but one of Florian II's siblings left southeast Michigan and moved to other locations such as Grand Rapids (Michigan), Louisiana and California(1) .

All sources agree that the community formed by the new colony was named for Florian Rasch II. The family legend is that he was a very holy man who went to daily Mass. Because theirs was a religious colony, one of the first tasks had been to build a place of worship.  So in 1872, the settlers organized St. Michael Roman Catholic Parish and built a simple frame church. Florian Rasch II is said to have made the first donation to the church when he gave a bell for the church tower. Because of this donation, it was decided to use his baptismal name, Florian, in giving a name to their new community, which is called St. Florian to this day.

Caroline's health continued to deteriorate and she died in 1880.  Florian II grieved bitterly over her death, going to the cemetery daily and weeping at her grave.  To help recover, he traveled to Wisconsin and spent some time there with his son, Fr. Luke. He returned home to St. Florian and a few years later, Florian Rasch II died inside St. Michael's church on February 12, 1891.  A few days later he was laid to rest next to his beloved Caroline in Row 17 of St. Michael's Cemetery.

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 (1) August Rasch (1836-1913), the son of Florian I and Barbara Gutkorn, was the only sibling of Florian II who stayed behind in the Detroit area.  He was a successful tailor, businessman and philanthropist in the city of Detroit.  In 1954, August's great-granddaughter Barbara Ann Rasch married Roger B. Smith, who would go on to become the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation.
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Sources:
a) Genealogy of the Rasch Family

b) History of St. Michael Parish, St. Florian, AL
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updated: Feb. 28, 2014

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