St. Al's: Music, Architecture and Service Lead Detroiters to God

I worked in downtown Detroit many years ago, and one of my pleasant discoveries as I wandered the streets during my lunch hour was the unique and vibrant liturgy at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.

St. Aloysius is located on Washington Boulevard, pressed into the space between the historic Book Cadillac Hotel and the Chancery offices.  Modeled after the great Duomo in Milan with its lower-level crypt chapel, St. Al’s was the only church I’d seen with both an upper and lower church.  On one visit, I found that two masses were proceeding concurrently at its upper and lower altars.

St. Al’s—always beloved by the people of Detroit for its message of welcome and its missionary spirit—has been thrust into the news recently with at least three compelling stories:

  • St. Al’s Community Center, located across the street from the church, was located in a decaying building which cost more than $200,000 annually for utilities and maintenance.  The Archdiocese of Detroit sold the building to a private firm which now owns the entire side of the street.  At this point, the Archdiocese has been unable to locate new space for the center; the new owner has boarded up the building, and it remains to be seen whether it will be demolished.
  • Franciscan Brother Al Mascia, one of the brothers who operated the Canticle Café in St. Al’s Community Center, has made the best of the situation.  He continues to serve the poor and homeless with an innovative tricycle vendor cart—pedaling to the outdoor waiting area of the Rosa Parks Transit Center  to deliver free hot drinks, sandwiches and fruit to the poor, the elderly and the disenfranchised in the neighborhood three days each week.
  • And now, music minister Aaron Kaleniecki—who serves at both St. Aloysius and St. Patrick parishes in downtown Detroit—has composed a new score for the new Roman Missal.  Called the Mass for the Motor City,” Kaleniecki’s composition includes the Gloria, Sanctus, Amen, and Lamb of God, as well as the Memorial Acclamation for Years A, B and C.

The parish website offers a historical perspective, including a photo tour of the beautiful upper and lower church.  Here are just a few photos from that collection.

The main portal features a majestic figure representing God the Father, adorned with a six-pointed “Creator’s Star.”  The double triangle, used extensively in Christian art, symbolizes the Creation.  The inscription, drawn from the Book of Genesis, reads “In  Principio Creavit Deus Caelum Et Terram.” – “In the Beginning, God Created Heaven and Earth.”

The great Rose Window with its radiant colors, just above the great main bronze doors, draws the eye upward.  A small circle in the center of the window represents the Lamb of God, resting on the closed Book of the Seven Seals.  Radiating rays of the sun fall from the volume.

St. Aloysius incorporates 26 different types of marble in its construction. Because of its unique “well” construction, worshippers on all three levels of the church can see the Mass being celebrated at the main altar.

The curved walkway with its brass railings permitted the priest to safely distribute communion.  The faithful knelt along the single marble step.

In the Pre-Vatican II days, Masses would often be said concurrently at the upper and lower altars.

Check out the St. Aloysius website for additional photos and history.

Each summer, St. Al’s hosts a Block Party for their downtown Detroit neighborhood.  The parish has become known as “Everybody’s Church”—and you can see why!  Listen to the soulful strains of St. Al’s choir while enjoying scenes from the 2011 Block Party.

  • http://None Rob Brown

    As a child in the 50s, my Mother often took me to your beautiful church. (My grandfather was caretaker at St. Vincents and we lived in that neighborhood.) I was especially pleased, several years ago on a visit to Detroit, to visit the church and be allowed inside once again. I’m a trained organist and have served two R.C. churches in Albany after leaving Michigan State and coming out here in 1970. I’m intrigued by Kaleniecki’s Mass for the Motor City and am wondering if i could purchase a copy somewhere? If it’s not published, perhaps I could make a donation to your music program and get a photocopy?

    Rob Brown
    2 Christina Drive E
    Schenectady NY 12303-4906

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Rob, I’m glad my post brought back good memories for you! I am not, though, a member of St. Aloysius– am just beginning a series on some of Detroit’s historic churches. You can contact Aaron directly through the parish, I’m sure.

      If you ever get back to Michigan, you should contact me at Guest House. We have an Aeollian organ, too, which was owned by William Scripps, founder of the Scripps media empire.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      By the way, my father grew up in St. Vincent’s parish. He would be 85, were he alive today. My parents met because their two parishes– St. Vincent’s and Assumption Grotto– went on a picnic to Boblo Island on the same day.