Our Lady Queen of Heaven window allows parishioners’ imaginations to take flight

A stained-glass window inside Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Detroit depicts Mary watching over a modern airplane — signifying the parish’s longstanding love for a little-known Marian devotion: Our Lady of the Skies.

Detroit — Close your eyes and picture a stained-glass window in a Catholic church. What do you see?

People wearing robes, maybe Jesus tending sheep, Mary and Joseph finding Jesus teaching in the Temple, or saints proclaiming the word of God to the masses, is usually what comes to mind.

But an airplane? Not likely.

Images of 20th century technology don’t normally fit next to scenes of people using donkeys and camels as means of transportation. But at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church, 8200 Rolyat St., Detroit, it’s a sign of the parish’s longstanding devotion to a little-known Marian title: Our Lady of the Skies.

Fr. Bob Kotlarz, former pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven (2012-15), said the parish’s founding pastor, Fr. Albert Mrowka, had an affinity for airplanes and wanted a window of Mary watching over all who grace the skies.

“The window of Our Lady Queen of the Skyways reflects the fact that the city airport is right there,” Fr. Kotlarz told The Michigan Catholic. “The pastor was inspired by the devotion of Our Lady of the Skyways. I’m not so sure there is another church in Detroit with such a unique portrayal of Mary.”

Our Lady Queen of Heaven is situated on what used to be farmland owned by John G. Hafeli. In 1929, Hafeli sold a five-acre plot of land to the Archdiocese of Detroit to establish Our Lady Queen of Heaven, approximately one mile north of the Detroit City Airport, now Coleman A. Young International Airport.

Fr. Mrowka was the founding pastor of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, and stayed there until retiring in 1968, bringing with him an appreciation for airplanes and the pilots who lived in the upstart neighborhood and parish.

“When you look at the window, it lifts your spirts up to the heavens, the skyways,” Fr. Kotlarz said. “The thing about windows in churches is they are supposed to be show and tell. If you go back to the Middle Ages, people couldn’t read, but they could see. So when talking about the mysteries of the faith, icons are windows to heaven.”

All of the windows at Our Lady Queen of Heaven focus on moments in Mary’s life, from the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven.

Fr. Kotlarz said the different depictions of Mary’s life, including her watching over a modern airplane, teach the faithful that Mary is ever present.

“The whole thing with art is it is supposed to be a picture that tells a thousand words,” Fr. Kotlarz said. “Images are supposed to invoke thought. So with the windows of Mary, including the one with her and a plane, it’s a portrayal of all the ways she is present in our lives, always looking over us.”

A pleasant thought the next time you hit some turbulence.