Polish family celebrates fifth generation of sacraments at historic St. Hyacinth Parish

Jeffrey and Stephanie Quesnelle, fourth-generation parishioners of St. Hyacinth Parish on Detroit's east side, stand with their daughter, Esther Catherine Renee, who was baptized July 21 at the historic Polish church. Five generations of Stephanie's family have received their sacraments at St. Hyacinth, going back to the parish's founding in 1914. (Photos by Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Baptism of baby Esther brings back a century of memories for family — and a great hope for the future of east-side Catholicism

DETROIT — In 1914, Polish immigrants Joseph and Katherine Jackowski were married at St. Hyacinth Parish in Detroit’s Poletown neighborhood.

One hundred and five years later, their great-great-granddaughter was baptized on July 21, in the same parish.

Esther Catherine Renee Quesnelle, the daughter of Jeffrey and Stephanie Quesnelle, became the newest member of the Catholic Church when Fr. Eddie Dwyer baptized her in the same church where Joseph and Katherine exchanged vows all those years ago.  

Between 1914 and 2019, St. Hyacinth has been a staple for the Jaczkowski family — Stephanie’s maiden name, spelled slightly differently — with five generations of the family receiving their sacraments at the parish, explained Stephanie’s father, Joseph Jaczkowski, Joseph and Katherine's grandson.

Even for a 2,000-year-old Church, that's quite a feat. 

“My grandparents’ family on my mother side moved into this neighborhood in 1909 and have been parishioners ever since,” Jaczkowski told Detroit Catholic. “I attended St. Hyacinth grade school for eight years, was baptized here, had my first Communion, confirmation here, and my wife, Donna, and I were married here in 1988.”

Fr. Eddie Dwyer baptizes Esther Catherine Renee Quesnelle as parents Stephanie and Jeffrey look on July 21 at St. Hyacinth Parish in Detroit. 

Joseph Jaczkowski’s mother, Virginia Jackowski, married Walter Jaczkowski, and the couple stayed in the neighborhood until the mid-1980s. Throughout the years, the parish has been in the family’s life through countless parish festivals, weddings, funerals and family functions.

Walking around the parish grounds, one can see the family name on bricks and stained-glass windows, intertwining family and parish history.

“It’s more than a building to me,” Jaczkowski said. “A lot of people say it is a gem out here in the middle of nowhere, and it really is. The current pastor, Fr. Janus (Iwan), keeps it up, and the previous pastor took great pride in keeping the building up so people would visit. We pray that people will want to visit the parish. We’re excited about the Packard Plant (renovations) coming online, some businesses opening up on the Chene Street corridor; things are starting to happen around here.”

A lot has changed with the neighborhood surrounding St. Hyacinth since the Jackowski and Jaczkowski families moved in — Joseph Jaczkowski now lives in Clinton Township and Stephanie and Jeffrey Quesnelle live in Royal Oak — but the family still calls St. Hyacinth home.

“The history of worshiping where my ancestors worshiped really brings home the beauty of Catholicism, the timelessness of our faith,” Stephanie Quesnelle said. “It doesn’t matter what year or age we are; I have this connection in a very special way to the people who came before me and instilled the faith in me to come here.”

Joseph Jaczkowski, a third-generation parishioner at St. Hyacinth, points out the paver bricks at the parish bearing his family's name and legacy. The family also sponsored a stained-glass window inside the church.

Stephanie and Jeffrey were married at St. Hyacinth in 2016; Stephanie says she couldn’t imagine being married anywhere else.

“It had to be here, us getting married, her (Esther) getting baptized, all had to be here as long as the church stays open,” Quesnelle said. “If you walk into the churches in the city, versus churches built in recent years in the suburbs, you immediately see the differences, the awe the (older) buildings inspire.”

St. Hyacinth Parish was founded in 1907, when Detroit’s economy was booming and drawing immigrants from all over the world.

The ever-increasing Polish population was outgrowing nearby St. Albertus Parish, promoting Detroit Bishop John J. Foley to establish a new parish at Farnsworth and McDougall, with Fr. Sylvester Kolkiewicz as the founding pastor.

The growing parish eventually needed a larger edifice than the original, 1908-built structure, which cost $35,000. In 1922, Bishop Michael J. Gallagher approved a plan for parishioners to raise money for the current church building.

St. Hyacinth parishioners raised $300,000 for the church, which Bishop Gallagher blessed on May 25, 1924. Since then, the parish has been a staple for the east-side Polish community.

Members of the Jaczkowski and Quesnelle families smile in front of the altar at St. Hyacinth Church in Detroit after the baptism of Esther Catherine Renee. 

“When you walk into St. Hyacinth, you are just overwhelmed by the stained-glass windows and the architecture. It’s so beautiful and brings you closer to understanding the mystery of our faith,” Quesnelle said. “When you think about it, really poor immigrants built this church, giving five dollars here and five dollars there, which back then would be a lot of money; that was rent for the month. Families were willing to sacrifice to build something like this, and it reminds you how important your faith, your heritage is.”

As the next generation of the family is welcomed to the parish, Joseph Jaczkowski still looks up at the stained-glass window dedicated to his great-grandmother and the bricks on the parish sidewalk, which bear the names of his three children, hopeful for the future of the parish he calls home.

“When I see the little ones in here making noise and everything, parents shushing their children, I smile,” Jaczkowski said. 

“I remember, it was a Father’s Day, and my daughter, Amanda, she was being a little bit of a pest in church, so I took her out to the back during Communion. When Mass was ending, during the final blessing, there was an announcement, and Father said, ‘If you parents are bringing children to the church who are making noise, keeping bring them. It shows we have life.’”

When Esther’s brief cry sounded against the timeless vaulted ceiling of the east-side parish, St. Hyacinth is showing once again it has life.