Iconic Detroit churches engage in historical renovation projects

St. Joseph Oratory, near Eastern Market, left, and Ste. Anne de Detroit Parish in southwest Detroit are both planning to engage soon in historic renewal projects to repair aging infrastructure, a continuing sign of Detroit’s renaissance and the Church’s continuing presence in the city.

Ste. Anne, St. Joseph launch multi-million, multi-year restoration efforts

DETROIT — A challenge to readers: find an area in the city of Detroit outside of downtown where you can’t see the spires of a Catholic Church in your 360-degree view.

While it is possible, one can’t deny the steeples and towers of Detroit’s historic Catholic churches are very much ingrained in the architectural heritage of the city.

This summer, two historic inner-city parishes will engage in historical renewal projects to preserve the awe-inspiring buildings that have donned the cityscape for generations.

St. Joseph Oratory, 1828 Jay St.

On Oct. 16, 2017, St. Joseph Oratory announced the beginning of its historical renewal campaign to restore the church’s 200-foot spire, which was built in the early 1870s, in addition to work on the church’s electrical and heating systems.

The three-year, $2.5 million campaign focuses foremost on restoring the Gothic revival steeple that overlooks Gratiot Avenue.

In 2015, a windstorm stripped the steeple of much of its original copper and slate, which was replaced with a temporary weather shield.

“Like many structures in Detroit, the maintenance of St. Joseph Church was deferred for some period in time, and it all adds up,” Jeremy Chisholm, a parishioner and member of the parish finance council, told The Michigan Catholic. “We have a whole list of needs, but one we need to address is the steeple. The steeple is more than 200 feet tall and was added when the church was completed in 1873.”

Chisholm said the steeple itself will cost $600,000 to repair, and is part of the $1 million first year of the project, which also includes repairs to the stonework of the church, lighting for the parking lot and waterproofing the rectory basement and the caretaker’s house’s roof.

The project’s second and third years are each projected to be $750,000 phases, which include continuing to repair the church’s stonework, replacing the church’s electrical system and culminating with a new roof for the parish rectory.

Canon Michael Stein, ICKSP, said the restoration of the physical stones of the church are meant to reflect the restoration of the spiritual stones of the parish since Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s invitation to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest to take over pastoral responsibility for the church.

“We will be working together, so this timeless beauty continues to shine as a beacon of hope,” Canon Stein, rector of St. Joseph, said at an October press conference. “This parish community is an active part of the Detroit renaissance, bringing people to Eastern Market, the Riverfront Conservatory and so many local businesses. If you love the Catholic faith, music and art, serving the poor or architecture in Detroit, this project is for you.”

More about the project can be found at historicrenewal.com.

Ste. Anne de Detroit, 100 Sainte Anne St.

It’s hard to bring up Detroit history without mentioning Ste. Anne de Detroit.

The French Renaissance-era parish was established in 1701 and currently operates out of the 1886-built church that is a cornerstone of southwest Detroit.

Recently established as the archdiocesan shrine to St. Anne, the patroness of Detroit, the parish is planning an ambitious restoration project, said Ste. Anne’s pastor, Msgr. Charles Kosanke.

“We’re getting ready to launch an $8 million campaign to restore the roof, outer walls, heating and cooling systems and some of the interior plastering of the church,” Msgr. Kosanke told The Michigan Catholic. “We also want to do some repainting and restoration of the pews. We’re going to clean up and preserve everything as is.”

Ste. Anne has far and away the richest history of any parish in the state of Michigan. Founded in 1701 shortly after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac landed on the shores of the Detroit River, the parish records date back to 1704.

The current church was built in 1886, but contains the 1818 cornerstone of the parish’s first “stone church,” constructed when the legendary Fr. Gabriel Richard was pastor.

The original chapel altar, communion rails and Beaubien Bell from the 1818 church, along with some of the oldest stained-glass windows in the city of Detroit, also can be found at Ste. Anne.

“I think this is a great time to get people to think about preserving a piece of Detroit’s history,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “With the renaissance of the city, there is a sense we need to preserve these treasures for the next generation.”

Details of the Ste. Anne project include $1.5 million for the 131-year old roof, which hasn’t had major work done since 1970. Msgr. Kosanke said some of the wood beams of the roof are rotting, allowing water to get into the church.

The project, to begin with a silent campaign in 2018 and public campaign in 2019, also includes $1.5 million for the outer walls of the church, $2 million for the windows and $3 million for the interior. Later on, renovations to the outdoor plaza and parking lot could total another $1 million.

“We have a database of all former and current parishioners plus anyone with a connection to Ste. Anne” who might be interested to help, Msgr. Kosanke said. “We have around 3,500 people in our database, plus some people from historical preservation societies who have expressed an interest in Ste. Anne’s.”

One aspect of the renewal project envisions families sponsoring the restoration of stained-glass windows, much like when the church was first built, when some of Detroit’s most prominent families sponsored their original creation.

Today, the parish averages between 500 and 1,000 visitors a month for historical tours, something Msgr. Kosanke hopes will attract donors to the restoration effort.

“In 2017, we had almost 9,000 visitors who wanted to see the architecture of the church; that’s not your typical parish church,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “This has become a significant place in the archdiocese for a pilgrimage. We have this historical significance, but also a vibrant, active parish in the resurgence of Detroit. All of this coming together makes it a wonderful time to invest in this project.”