The roof of St. Peter Claver Church, the annex chapel at the former St. Francis de Sales Church site, is seen collapsed Jan. 5. The future of the site remains uncertain. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic
— Cold winds, snowfall and weathering support beams are the likely culprits for collapsing the roof at St. Peter Claver Parish in Detroit on Jan. 2.
The website of next-door Loyola High School reported the roof collapsed around 3:30 p.m.; nobody was in the building when the roof caved.
The church at 10600 Fenkell St., originally constructed as an annex to the former St. Francis de Sales Parish (which merged with Precious Blood Parish to create St. Peter Claver Parish in 2005), has been empty since early November, when parish staff noticed problems with plaster on the ceiling of the chapel.
As a precaution, the parish started gathering for Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Chapel on the campus of Marygrove College, 8425 W. McNichols Road. The parish continues to operate out of the former Precious Blood rectory, 13305 Grove St., now owned and leased by Cornerstone Education Group’s Lincoln-King Academy.
“We now have no roof to worry about; it’s gone,” said St. Peter Claver administrative manager Edward Shea. “The roof over most of the building collapsed on Tuesday (Jan. 2). With the extreme weather over Christmas, we knew of structural damage that was being addressed, and we think it came down from the weight of the snow and ice.”
The parish and the Archdiocese of Detroit fenced off the building as engineering firms, insurance companies and the archdiocese determine the future of the building.
“We don’t know what caused the damage, but the building was probably 80-plus years old,” Shea said.
St. Peter Claver Parish hosts Sunday liturgy at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Chapel on Marygrove’s campus, in addition to Wednesday liturgy at 12 p.m. and First Fridays at 6:30 p.m. at the parish house on Grove Street.
Despite the roof collapse, St. Peter Claver pastor Fr. John Phelps, C.Ss.R., said the parish is fully operational and will continue to have services at Marygrove for the foreseeable future.
Fr. Phelps said the parish is moving ahead on its plan to provide a Catholic presence in Detroit’s Littlefield and Belmont neighborhoods.
“We imagine we have 40,000 (members) in our parish, considering everyone who lives in the square miles surrounding the parish and the former Precious Blood and St. Francis de Sales boundaries,” Fr. Phelps said. “We’re looking at four faces: the people who don’t go to church, those who go to other churches in the area, those who’ve been disconnected Catholics, and those who are hungry for the Eucharist. We’re in our second year of implementing our plan.”
Fr. Phelps said the parish’s plan includes listening to the neighborhood’s needs, particularly promoting peace and creating an environment where strong male figures can have a positive influence on children in single-parent homes.
Fr. Phelps said the parish also has a vibrant St. Vincent de Paul conference, which assists people in the neighborhood with energy bills.
“We’re looking forward to keep evangelizing and serving an impoverished area in Detroit,” Fr. Phelps said. “We want to serve all the 40,000 in our neighborhood. So as we plan out our future with the archdiocese, we’re looking at having some kind of parish center to operate out of, something that will keep with our mission of reaching out to all who need us.”
Fr. Phelps said neighboring Loyola High School will use the school’s gymnasium — the former St. Francis de Sales Church — as a chapel for its prayer services. In the meantime, he’s grateful for Marygrove’s continuing hospitality to the community.
“We’re like Mary and Joseph, looking for a place in the inn, and Marygrove opened its arms to us,” Fr. Phelps said. “Now looking at Ordinary Time and going forward to plan for Lent, we’re going to keep using Marygrove on Sundays as we look for something more permanent.”