Detroit's Historic Assumption Grotto, Then and Now

On my To-Do List for a long time now:  An article on Detroit’s historic Assumption Grotto Catholic Church.

Founded in 1830, the parish was in the news in November, when the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Pastoral Council submitted to the archbishop their list of recommended parish closures and consolidations.  Under the proposed plan, 60 parishes would merge down to 21 and an additional seven church buildings would close. One of the parishes at risk if the proposal is accepted is Assumption Grotto:  the Pastoral Council recommended that it be merged with another church and closed down in the future, if Father Perrone retires and a replacement is not found.

Assumption Grotto is an historic church—in fact, it’s the second-oldest parish in Detroit—and although I’ve moved far away, it’s always been a part of my life. 

  • I was just two weeks old when my parents took me to Grotto to be baptized.  My mother was finally well enough, after the delivery, to leave the house; and it was the custom then to baptize infants as soon as possible after birth.
  • As a small child of two or three, I lived for a short time with my parents and a pleasant array of aunts and uncles in my grandfather’s home on Cedargrove, just a few short blocks from the church.  On sunny Sundays we’d sometimes stroll through the neighborhood, out the back gate and into the cemetery behind Grotto’s imposing facade.  There we’d stop at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and visit ancestors’ graves in the cemetery before climbing the steps to the church.
  • Later in elementary school, although our family was growing and we’d moved to a small bungalow in the suburbs, I went back to Assumption Grotto.  At five, I accompanied my mother and aunts as they made excited plans for an aunt’s wedding.  I was bored—I’ll admit it!—sitting impatiently in the pew as the women met with the pastor to finalize the arrangements.  I remember the fine details of the church, though:  the elaborately crafted wood choir loft, the hefty ceiling beams, the tall gold tabernacle, the communion rail, the gothic arches, the stained glass and the art.
  • My husband and I, when we first married, rented a home just a few blocks from Assumption Grotto; and it was there our three children were born.  Our next door neighbor on Glenwood was the Director of Religious Education at the parish.
  • Finally, many years later, I was producing Al Kresta’s radio show and we did a live broadcast from the parish grounds on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception—broadcasting the outdoor Mass at the shrine.  I spent the day in a lawn chair in the same cemetery which I’d visited so often in childhood.

In 2008, Bishop John Quinn and Fr. Frank Pavone celebrated Mass there and held a burial for the unborn, burying the remains of three children who died due to miscarriage and seven aborted fetuses. 

This week, Assumption Grotto has been in the news again.  That’s because pastor Fr. Eduard Perrone, a classical musician, has composed a full orchestral score for Catholic Mass.  Called “Fountain of Beauty,” the work is intended for a 65-member choir and 38 instruments.  Father Perrone explains that it’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the most beautiful of God’s creatures.

“Fountain of Beauty” was performed with a full orchestra for the first time on December 21; but there are still two opportunities to enjoy the performance this Christmas season:  on January 1 and January 8.  Click here for details regarding upcoming performances.

And for an excellent report (with photos) about the recent musical performance, check this article by Detroit Free Press staff writer Niraj Warikoo.

The neighborhood has certainly changed since I lived just a few blocks away, on the other side of Gratiot Avenue.  The school closed long ago.  Many of the parish’s members have moved to newer homes in the suburbs.  It’s difficult to imagine, though, that Assumption Grotto, with its heritage in the city, its beautiful worship music, its shrine and cemetery, its devoted worshippers, and its rich Tridentine traditions, will be forced to close its doors. 

God bless and keep the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, its parish staff, and its congregants who drive from throughout the metro area.

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  • James R. Greiner

    Nice article, but would have liked to see you go into some detail about the Parish’s history.

    James R. Greiner