Storm Deals A Serious Blow to Historic St. Josaphat Church

Detroit’s historic St. Josaphat Church, which dates back to 1901, suffered serious damage in the storm which blasted through the area on November 17.  A breaking story by Mike Stechschulte in The Michigan Catholic shows the badly damaged main steeple tilting in the wind.

Located on East Canfield along the I-75 service drive just north of downtown, St. Josaphat is one of Detroit’s most visible Catholic landmarks.  The Archdiocese of Detroit’s 300-year anniversary commemorative book, Make Straight the Path, features its three steeples photographed with Detroit’s Renaissance Center towers in the background.

Soon, though, there may be only two steeples.  The damage inflicted to the 200-foot main steeple by 60-mph wind gusts leaves many wondering whether the lilting spire can be repaired.

St. Josaphat’s history is interwoven with the history of Detroit.  The parish was founded in June 1889, and the first combination church and school building was dedicated in 1890.  Within ten years, though, the growing parish planned a new church, rectory and convent.

In 1982, the church was included on the National Register of Historic Places.  In recent years, however, St. Josaphat has faced declining attendance, as the Catholic population moved northward toward the suburbs.  In 2003, it was clustered with two other beautiful Detroit churches—Sweetest Heart of Mary, and St. Joseph.  In 2004, St. Josaphat gained new prominence when it became the first church in the Archdiocese of Detroit to regularly celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass.

This year, on June 13, 2013, Archbishop Vigneron issued a decree creating a new parish, Mother of Divine Mercy Parish, which encompasses the three historic churches in one worshipping community.

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St. Josaphat was one of the parishes I profiled in my review of Detroit’s Historic Places of Worship, a new book published by Wayne State University Press.

More information is available on Mother of Divine Mercy Parish’s website, which includes historical descriptions of St. Josaphat and the other clustered parishes.  From the parish’s website, a look at the art of the Victorian Romanesque style church:

All of the sacred images of the church are illuminated by a myriad of tiny light bulbs. The church was originally built with both gas and electric which can be seen by observing the fixtures throughout the church At the turn of the century there was a great fascination with the electric light bulb which is clearly witnessed in St. Josaphat Church.

The interior of the church features five beautiful altars. The main altar is centered around a painting of the patron of the parish, St. Josaphat dressed in the vestments of an eastern rite bishop. This painting can also be raised to reveal a beautiful image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the “Black Madonna”. On either side of the central image are figures of Ss. Stanislaus Kostka and Aloysius Gonzaga.

The side altars in the sanctuary are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. They also feature figures of Ss. Joachim and Anne and Ss. Peter and Paul. In the transept of the church are altars dedicated to Ss. Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi. Figures of St. Clare and St. Theresa of Avila are also found there.

The stained glass windows feature Mary and Joseph and the twelve apostles. The woodwork throughout the church is white oak.

Throughout the church a beautiful collection of murals can be seen on the ceiling and walls. Above the high altar the Most Holy Trinity is pictured. On the left and right of this are the Nativity and the Last Supper. The Resurrection is also portrayed. On the side walls of the sanctuary are murals of a Pilgrimage to Czestochowa and a Battle during World War I between Polish and Russian forces. The Poles were victorious due to the miraculous intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The central transept of the church features images of the four evangelists. Over the nave of the church is a unique image of Mary the Queen of Poland surrounded by the saints of Poland. Other images to be found are Holy Family, St. Cecilia, and Christ and the children.

Above the four confessionals are murals depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of paradise, St. Peter’s denial of Christ, the return of the prodigal son and Mary Magdalene drying Christ’s feet with her hair.


The Thorny Grace of It: Essays for Imperfect Catholics

I’ve gotten completely lost in this book.  Picked it up, read three pages.  Put it down, turned out the light.  Turned on the light, read just two more pages….  Laughed out loud.  Really, I can’t stop reading, laughing, crying, can’t stop myself from sharing stories with my husband or whoever will listen.

I’m talking about Brian Doyle’s newest book, The Thorny Grace of It: And Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics.  Not a weighty tome, it’s a carefree book of essays which meander through the halls of real-life Catholicism, shining the flashlight on things you knew, but which you’d never stated in just that way.

Here’s what I mean.  This is Doyle, musing at the end of Mass about a crotchety blind priest in a university chapel.

I think about the motley chaotic confusing house that is Catholicism.  I think about how the mad wondrous prayer of the Mass.  I think about how there are such stunning and wonderful and confusing people in the clan of Catholic.  I think about how we are all kinds of people at once and hardly know ourselves let alone anybody else.  I think about how possible the Church is, and how possible we are.  I think about how really the Church is just lots and lots of us mulish miracles gathered for little holy meals and story-swaps.  I think about how religions are like people, capable of both extraordinary evil and unimaginable grace.  I think about how the Church is sort of like the windows above me which catch these timbers of sun and focus them on the human comedy.  I think about how I’d be a lot less of a man if I didn’t have ways to wake up to what I can be if I harness mercy and humor and wisdom and attention and prayer and humility and courage and grace.

But then there’s Doyle the historian/teacher.  Woven into his stories one finds history and theology and pathos and love.  Here he recounts a story about the strength of the Church in Ireland, during the time when Catholicism was suppressed.

One morning in Donegal, during the time when the penal laws are in effect and Catholics are forbidden to assemble for Mass, a farmer herds his four black cows into a corral, along with one white one.  This is a sign to his fellow Catholics as to where Mass will be held at noon; this sign of four and one means in a particular hedge under a hill.  The people casually drift away from their work before noon and assemble silently around a rock where the Mass will be celebrated.  The priest is a fellow age forty.  He gets halfway through the Mass, but just as he elevates the host at the apex of the Mass, just as he lifts it to accept and accomplish the miracle, he is drilled between the eyes with a bullet from a British soldier on the hill….

You have to read the rest of that story—really!

Oh there’s more, so much more.    Archbishop John George Vlazny, crafting his letter of resignation upon reaching the retirement age, pondering Portland’s bankruptcy in the wake of abuse cases, gazing on a child’s sketch.  Doyle’s mother, making sandwiches.  His friend Tommy, who died in the terrorist attack on September 11.

Here are just a few lines from Doyle’s essay “first draft of first letter to the Corinthians”:

Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love is not jealous.  Love does not steam open letters that have return addresses you think look like they were written by women when you know they are from my cousin, and yes, she and I kissed that one time, but we were thirteen years old, for heaven’s sake, and I think Abraham Lincoln was president, that’s how long ago that was.

And from his essay on “fatherness”:

…As best I could, I gave our children peace and good food, light and clean air, education and clean water, a set of expectations to exceed and a foundation of values and ideas from which to leap…

You really want to read The Thorny Grace of It.  Really.


The Thorny Grace of It is a selection of the Patheos Book Club, where you can read an excerpt, read an article by the author himself, and see what others have to say about this book.