Laudetur Iesus Christus!
Nunc et in aeternum! Amen.
Today is the patronal feast day of the Archdiocese of Detroit and thus all Catholics in metro Detroit! YAY!
I am a Detroit Church history nerd. I have a few books on the history of the Catholic Church in the Detroit area, one of which is a scholarly work that goes all the way back to the days of the French and the British who controlled the area over the years previous to Michigan being annexed into the nascent United States (I haven’t made a real sizable dent in it … yet). I have a few books on the many parishes in the AOD but my favorites are on the different ethnic parishes that developed in the city when persons from different countries immigrated to the US for the opportunities offered here and to escape various issues and oppression.
That and they have reallllllllly pretty pictures of the glorious church architecture!
The first parish in Detroit was Sainte Anne de Detroit which was founded on July 26, 1701, two days after Antoine de La Mothe-Cadillac and other members of his party, landed on the shores of the Detroit River and founded Fort Pontchartrain. Cadillac’s wife, Madame Marie Therese arrived in September with her thirteen year old son and Marie-Anne Picote de Bellestre. Madame Cadillac and Marie-Anne were the first European women to come to Michigan.
You can learn more about the history of this first parish in Detroit (and the second oldest continuously-running parish in the United States) here.
I have always found the history of individual parishes to be interesting because a parish is a microcosm of the neighborhood in which the church is established. For example, Sainte Anne started out as a predominantly French parish and over time different ethnic and socio-economic groups move into the area and make the parish their own. Currently, Sainte Anne is in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood (southwest Detroit has a HUGE Hispanic population) and thus offers Mass in both English and Spanish. It transitioned from an upper-class parish to a middle-class parish then there was a period of a high transient population when the economy in the area went south, now the area is being revitalized thanks to the vibrant Hispanic community and redevelopment.
The Catholic history of Detroit is a very rich one. Up until about the mid-1960s (in the times preceding the 1967 riots that only accelerated the already present “white flight”), Detroit was a VERY Catholic city. Parishes were EVERYWHERE and they almost always had a parish (with a rectory full of priests) grade school and perhaps even a high school and, of course, until about the 196s-ish (depends on the parish) they were all packed with students and there were plenty of religious to staff them.
The parishes developed around the ethnic groups that settled in the different parts of the city. You had the Polish immigrants founding churches such as Saint Albertus (the first Polish parish in Detroit and mother church of Poletown), Sweetest Heart of Mary, and Saint Josaphat along with several other parishes outside Poletown (Saint Hyacinth, Saint Hedwig, Saint Francis d’Assisi, and Saint Cunegunda). Of course, Poles also founded the parishes in the enclave known as Hamtramck (Saint Florian, Our Lady Queen of Apostles, and Saint Ladislaus).
Germans founded Old Saint Mary’s (in Greektown), Saint Joseph, and Sacred Heart (a few blocks from the Polish parishes), and Saint Anthony (now closed) parishes. Hungarians founded Holy Cross in southwest Detroit. Lithuanians founded Saint Anthony also in southwest Detroit.
Germans and Irish founded Most Holy Redeemer in southwest Detroit; Holy Redeemer is now the nucleus of the Hispanic population in the area. Irish also founded Most Holy Trinity in 1834 which was the first English-speaking parish in the city and it was also the first Catholic Church to have electric lighting (probably in the city). Flemish immigrants founded Saint Charles Borromeo while Belgians and Dutch founded Our Lady of Sorrows.
And that is just a listing that I can come up with off the top of my head, if I felt like getting my books, I could list them all but that would be a whole thesis.
One sad thing is that the Catholic population in Detroit has been shrinking for decades now. This led to many more parishes than were needed for the amount of Catholics present in the city. Which led to many closings and mergers. In the late 1980s, there was a slew of closures (30) in the city that was controversial but needed in many cases. There just were not enough Catholics or clergy to make maintaining all those parishes feasible. There have been more closings (canonically, they are called “suppressions”), clusters (when a group of parishes pool resources and commonly share clergy while maintaining their own church sites) and mergers (when a group of parishes become one parish and unite resources) in the city since but not on such a major scale.
The really really sad thing about that: all those beautiful churches (many built by the skill and sacrifice of poor immigrants) are empty and sometimes fall victim to vandals and scrappers.
It is one thing that makes me sick, these gorgeous churches in the city are closing while the suburban churches (the more recent ones) tend to be more modern and not possessing (in my humble traddy opinion) the same level of ethereal aesthetics as their urban counterparts. Though they do try to salvage as much of the churches as they can by making the sacred objects and decor of the churches available to other parishes in the Archdiocese.
*gets off soap/rantbox*
Over the history of the Church of Detroit, she has had a four different churches to have served as her cathedral.
(BTW, click some of the images to give you the source sites where I found them. The majority I got from Andrew at Detroit Church Blog all due credit and mantilla flips (what is the mantilla equivalent of a “biretta tip?”) go to him.)
Saints Peter and Paul off the Detroit River served as the first diocesan cathedral from 1844 to 1877 when it was given to the Jesuits who remain to this day.
Saint Aloysius (hey! hey! hey!) Church served as the diocesan cathedral from 1877 until 1890. Saint Aloysius is the only tri-level church in the AOD and it is literally right next to the Archdiocesan chancery. The facade of Saint Aloysius was actually redone to match the Romanesque styling of the chancery that was built in 1926.
After Saint Aloysius (I am just looking for excuses to type “Aloysius”), Saint Patrick Church became the diocesan cathedral and remained as such until 1937 when the Diocese of Detroit was elevated to that of an archdiocese. I could not find a good picture Saint Patrick’s online. Makes sense since it, though the parish was prosperous enough during its heyday that it needed to establish an auxiliary chapel (the present parish church) dedicated to Saint Therese, did see a dramatic decline in the more recent history of the parish. Because of that decline, the parishioners who remained could not afford to maintain the large church so they moved to the smaller chapel. The property was sold to the City of Detroit and it stood empty and quickly falling into disrepair until it caught fire (some say there was a homeless person trying to keep warm. Others say there was a homeless person or addict doing drugs) and subsequently razed.
When Detroit was made an archdiocese, the Blessed Sacrament Church was made the cathedral and so it remains to this day. Blessed Sacrament is not very far from Sacred Heart Major Seminary, my (hear me, God) grad school this Fall/Winter.
As you can see, I am totally a Detroit Church nerd. Srsly. I love Detroit Church history. And I have been since I was in about grade school. Yeah, I’m that much of a Church nerd.
And I have only covered the churches in the city proper (and it was no where near exhaustive)! My knowledge of suburban parishes is not as extensive save for a few parishes that have particular historical significance such as the National Shrine of the Little Flower (“Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin was the founder of the parish) and my own parish (I even played the first principal of the parish grade school in our 75th anniversary pageant … 10 years ago … my first encounter with a habit).
What can I say? Church history is a passion of mine. Besides liturgiology and canon law, Church history is one of my great loves. Detroit Church history is a particular love of mine because it connects me and my area to the greater history of the Church in the country and the Church at large. One of the many reasons why being Catholic is so amazing.
All right, I could write much much much more but I’ll spare you. I hope you have learned a little bit about my dear local Church. Detroit has a wonderful Catholic history; we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us: the immigrants who came over to Detroit looking for work and a better life. Their lives were centered on their beautiful parish churches and the Faith imbued their lives and gave them strength to persevere even through the toughest of times. May Sainte Anne de Detroit, the mother of Our Lady, intercede for and guide the Church of Detroit for years and generations to come.
Have a great evening!
In case you would like to learn more, here are some fine publications and websites for your perusal (I have to admit that a good chunk of my knowledge comes from lots of personal research on the Internet (don’t worry, I check my sources) and books I can find):
Archdiocese of Detroit : “Images of America” book about many aspects of the history of the Archdiocese of Detroit in the 20th century told in pictures, some of them very rare or never before seen. By Roman Godzak.
Catholic Churches of Detroit : “Images of America” book that specifically focuses on the many churches in the Archdiocese of Detroit from beautiful inner-city churches in ethnic neighborhoods to the more modern suburban churches and including a section of some of the churches that have closed over the years. By Roman Godzak.
Make Straight the Path: A 300 year Pilgrimage Archdiocese of Detroit : Coffee table-style book published by the Archdiocese of Detroit to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city and the birth of the Church in Detroit (though was not made a diocese until the early 19th century). Tells the stories of selected parishes in the Archdiocese, has fold-out section with a chronology of the first three hundred years of the history of Detroit paralleling it with the local Church and the universal Church. I think this is also written by Roman Godzak.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of texts but these are my favorite for just random reading. I can’t recall the title of the scholarly book I have … *facepalm*.