With more than 500 years of service, local family leaves generational impact

Members of the Charnley family pose for a group photo during their Labor Day family golf outing. With 11 children, 25 grandchildren and great-grandchildren being added all the time, the family has had an outsized impact on local Catholic parishes and schools, with more than 500 years of service between them. To give back to their community, the family recently established The Charnley Foundation, which will give scholarships to eighth-grade boys and girls seeking to attend a Catholic high school in Metro Detroit. (Courtesy photos)

If you've attended Catholic school in Metro Detroit, you likely know a Charnley — and they want to give back to their community

DETROIT — Drop the name “Charnley” around parishes or schools throughout Metro Detroit, and chances are someone will say, “Oh, I know that family!”

Lisa Kullman, 38, is a Charnley who hears that often. Many of her family members played a significant role in the Archdiocese of Detroit, especially in education, the CYO and Catholic High School League.

“Our family is really big … I’m number 20 out of 25 grandchildren,” Kullman told Detroit Catholic. “With such a large family that spanned so many schools and parishes, it always felt like people knew someone in my family at every game.”

Her cousin, Joe Charnley, 51, likewise can't go anywhere without a family connection popping up.

“As far back as I can remember, there was always a reaction after telling a teacher or coach my name, such as ‘Are you related to…?’ ‘Fr. George married me and baptized my children,’ ‘Sr. Joan was an amazing principal at Marian,’ or ‘My son played for your dad,’” Joe Charnley said.

It's not just that there are a lot of Charnleys running around. The family has been deeply embedded in the life of the Archdiocese of Detroit going back generations. Of Joseph and Margaret Charnley's 11 children, all of them attended either St. Gregory or St. Mary of Redford schools in Detroit, and of the 25 grandchildren, at least one Charnley went to Detroit Catholic Central, Livonia Ladywood, Divine Child, Marian, Brother Rice and Madison Heights Bishop Foley.

An early Charnley family photo of parents Margaret Charnley (second from left holding Fr. George Charnley) and her husband, Joseph, along with children Margaret (bottom left), Sr. Joan Charnley, and Tom Charnley.
An early Charnley family photo of parents Margaret Charnley (second from left holding Fr. George Charnley) and her husband, Joseph, along with children Margaret (bottom left), Sr. Joan Charnley, and Tom Charnley.

“Now, many of our kids go to Catholic schools in the area … adding University of Detroit Jesuit and Our Lady of the Lakes to that list,” said Kullman, whose husband, Jared, is the assistant principal at Our Lady of the Lakes.

That's not to mention the nearly uncountable number of schools, parishes and organizations the family has served over the years. Kullman and her cousins attempted to add up the total number of years family members have spent serving in various capacities in the Church, but stopped counting after they reached 500.

Notable family members include:

  • Fr. George Charnley, who served at the parishes of St. Dunstan in Garden City; St. John Neumann in Canton; St. James in Novi; St. Anne in Warren; St. Joan of Arc in St. Clair Shores; and St. Kenneth in Plymouth Township;
  • Sr. Joan Charnley, IHM, who served as principal at Bloomfield Hills Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills and Bishop Borgess High School in Redford Township;
  • Joe Charnley, who coached basketball at Detroit Catholic Central and Dearborn Divine Child, and also served as director of the CYO;
  • Barb Kozlowski, who taught at Our Lady of Sorrows Elementary School in Farmington; and
  • Dave Kozlowski, who was a dean at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills.

Joe Charnley, whose father, also Joe, was director of the archdiocese's Catholic Youth Organization from 1999-2017, said he is extremely proud of his family name and their contribution to Catholic service.

“Growing up, it seemed normal having several aunts and uncles teaching, coaching or officiating in the Catholic League,” recalled Charnley, a 1990 graduate of Detroit Catholic Central High School. “This impacted my choice to send my children to Catholic school.”

The eighth-grade basketball team from St. Gregory Grade School in Detroit with former CYO director Joe Charnley (No. 11) and coached by Fr. George Charnley and his good friend, Tom Watters.
The eighth-grade basketball team from St. Gregory Grade School in Detroit with former CYO director Joe Charnley (No. 11) and coached by Fr. George Charnley and his good friend, Tom Watters.

Kullman’s mother, Sheila (Charnley) Hoetger, worked at Dominican High School in Detroit, and also Marian, where she was a business teacher and athletic director in the 1980s. Hoetger went on to coach at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth and Our Lady of Victory in Northville.

Sports run strong in the family, as it was Hoetger’s grandfather, George Barbour, who began the athletic program at St. Gregory, where many of the Charnley siblings attended.

“It’s been in our family blood,” Hoetger said, adding CYO athletics has been a strong foundation in her children's upbringing. “I do believe the majority of the 25 grandchildren and also the great grandchildren participated in CYO — whether they went to public or Catholic elementary school.”

Hoetger, 70, is adamant in her belief that CYO goes well beyond playing sports.

“CYO teaches community, sportsmanship and competitiveness in a healthy manner,” Hoetger said. “For many young children, this is their first experience with a team, and it is important that they are taught the proper way to win and also the proper way to lose.

“I remember trying to teach my athletes that you win with dignity and you lose with dignity,” she added. “These are such great life lessons for young kids. We taught (children) how to live our faith by the way we were role models to our athletes and how we expected them to treat each other and the opposing teams.”

Hoetger's sister, Mary Ellen Charnley, also knows her way around a basketball court, having coached CYO girls’ basketball at St. Mary of Redford, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Dennis in Madison Heights. “Basically, I just filled in when the schools needed someone,” she said.

As a 1975 graduate of St. Mary’s of Redford, “Game nights were an event, no matter the sport. The stands were packed with student fans. It was exciting to root for your teams.”

A family photo with (bottom row): Joe Charnley, Margaret Charnley, Fr. George Charnley; (second row) Sr. Joan Charnley, IHM, Margaret Lipsit, Katie Malnar, Mary Jo Gowen and Tom Charnley; and (top row) Peter Charnley, Barb Kozlowski, Mary Ellen Charnley and Sheila Charnley Hoetger.
A family photo with (bottom row): Joe Charnley, Margaret Charnley, Fr. George Charnley; (second row) Sr. Joan Charnley, IHM, Margaret Lipsit, Katie Malnar, Mary Jo Gowen and Tom Charnley; and (top row) Peter Charnley, Barb Kozlowski, Mary Ellen Charnley and Sheila Charnley Hoetger.
The Charnley grandchildren gather at Christmas with their grandmother, Margaret Charnley.
The Charnley grandchildren gather at Christmas with their grandmother, Margaret Charnley.

Mary Ellen Charnley recalled her days at St. Mary of Redford with legendary coach Walt Bazylewicz, former CHSL director, when he wouldn’t allow anyone to walk on the new gym floor without changing their shoes.

Since then, “I know the finishes have improved,” recalled Mary Ellen Charnley, 65, “yet I still struggle with walking on a court with my street shoes on.”

Hoetger and Mary Ellen Charnley's sister, Barb Kozlowski, agreed, and reminisced about her grandfather, Barbour, and his legacy at St. Gregory.

“He felt it was a necessity for young people to be given the opportunity to play different sports,” said Kozlowski, whose four children attended either Marian or Brother Rice. “I feel he had a tremendous impact on the lives of not only our family but the lives of many families in the St. Gregory community.”

While sports were important to the Charnleys, equally important growing up was the family's strong faith life, which Mary Ellen Charnley and other family members have sought to pass on to future generations through their work with young people.

“You know the saying, ‘It takes a village’? Our faith is the foundation of the community or ‘village,’" Mary Ellen Charnley said. "Our youth need to develop into strong, confident, and faith-filled contributing members of society. The schools and sports leagues are the tools to develop those skills. Our faith is a given."

There's a certain undeniable bond that comes with a Catholic education, she added.

“Many, many years after graduating out of the Catholic school system, you run into people and start to have a conversation,” Mary Ellen Charnley said. “More often than not, you are drawn to that person because of their faith or attendance at a Catholic high school. Immediately, there is a connection or understanding that cannot be explained.”

Hoetger agreed, yet worries that the high cost of Catholic education might preclude some families who want to send their children to Catholic schools today.

“I do worry that Catholic education is so expensive and many families struggle with paying for it,” she said. “I also understand why it is that expensive. The cost of running and maintaining a school is very high.”

Lisa Kullman, Joe Charnley and Jeff Kator gather after the family's first golf outing for The Charnley Foundation. More than 100 people came out to support the event.
Lisa Kullman, Joe Charnley and Jeff Kator gather after the family's first golf outing for The Charnley Foundation. More than 100 people came out to support the event.

Because of this, the family has begun a charitable foundation to help families afford the sort of education so many Charnleys were blessed to receive. The mission of The Charnley Foundation is important not only in helping today's youth receive a faithful Catholic education, but in keeping the family's legacy of service alive, said Joe Charnley.

"The Charnley Foundation means everything to me," Joe Charnley said. “Solidifying my aunts', uncles' and father’s legacy, supporting Catholic education and helping kids means the world to me.”

When Sr. Charnley, Fr. Charnley and Joe Charnley’s father, Joe, passed away, “it was really difficult,” Kullman said. After Fr. Charnley died in 2021, she and several cousins decided to start the foundation, which offers scholarships for low-income families to attain a Catholic education.

“Those three were such amazing people and did so much for others. I didn't want their legacy to be forgotten,” Kullman said.

The foundation's first golf outing fundraiser held in June was a big success, with plans for another one next year. Applications for scholarships are currently open.

“People that my family worked with, coached, went to school with all came out to support us and raise money for the Charnley scholarship,” which is given to one boy and one girl in eighth grade who will be attending a Catholic high school, Kullman said.

“It’s a perfect way to honor my aunts, uncles and cousins who have played, coached and taught at the Catholic schools in the area,” Kullman said. “We are so excited that we can keep helping others just like Aunt Joan, Uncle Joe and Uncle George did.”

Like her siblings and family members, Kozlowski wants to keep that legacy of service alive for future generations.

“A Catholic education is important so children can learn about their faith and be in community with people who have the same values," Kozlowski said. “Hopefully, they will pass on their faith and values to their children and grandchildren. I hope this foundation continues to grow so many more children can benefit.”



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