Treasure on the Detroit-Chicago Road: Historic Stations of the Cross

If you travel about 75 miles west from Detroit along old Highway 12, the road which owes its existence to the lobbying efforts of Father Gabriel Richard, you’ll come upon the Irish Hills. Recreational paradise for Michiganders for the past hundred or so years, the Irish Hills offer idyllic lakes full of fish, topped with motorboats pulling waterskiers. Friendly campgrounds, antique shops, a kitschy “Mystery Hill”…. What else could a vacationer want?

Well, for one thing, you’ll want to stop to pray at historic St. Joseph’s Church in Brooklyn, Michigan. St. Joseph’s was founded by Irish settlers in the 1850s, and the first Mass was celebrated in the church in 1863. What you’ll especially want to see, though, are the outdoor Stations of the Cross, planted in the hillside along the south side of Iron Lake.

Designed by Detroit artist Alfred Wrobbel, each of the fourteen stations features a mosaic of Christ’s suffering, crafted in metallic colors on copper. The steps, archways and railings were fashioned from wet cement, crafted to look like stone or gnarled wood.

Because Christ died for the whole world, Wrobbel inset stones from around the world in some of the stations. Some examples are:

  • A meteor found near Lake Hudson
  • Precious stones from the Badlands of South Dakota
  • Abalone shells from the Pacific Coast
  • Blood-red stones from the Ozark Mountains in Missouri
  • Gray stones from the Lake Erie district
  • Amethyst from South Dakota’s Black Hills
  • Petrified wood from California
  • Bits of stone from foreign lands, including the Holy Land
  • Rocks from Fr. Junipero Serra’s old California missions

The church sits atop a hill which is, according to reports, the same size and contour as the Mount of Calvary. You’ll wind your way along the hill toward the Crucifixion scene; and the distance from the Crucifixion to the tomb is only 65 paces, the exact distance between those two sacred points in Israel.