Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Up Next at Creative Gene

The summer flew by, then September flew by, and here we are with October being only a couple days away. You know what's special about October, don't you? It's Polish Heritage Month! Every year in October I try to do something here on Creative Gene to honor my Polish heritage. This October I've decided to feature one of the Polish Roman Catholic churches of metro-Detroit each day of the month. I'll start with the Detroit churches in the order the parishes were founded followed by the Polish Catholic churches in Hamtramck, Wyandotte, and Dearborn. The focus will be on the historic churches in these cities, not the newer parishes in the farther out suburbs.

At one time, there were 24 active Polish Roman Catholic parishes in the city of Detroit, 3 in Hamtramck, 3 in Wyandotte, and one in Dearborn. These are parishes that observed Polish customs, said Mass in the Polish language, and had schools to teach their children the Polish language and Polish history along with the English language and American history. These Polish parishes were the cornerstones of life for the newly arrived Polish immigrants. They were the hubs of the wheels that made up Detroit's Polish neighborhoods.

Over the years the Polish immigrants of the late 1800s and early 1900s lived in those neighborhoods and built those churches. They married in those churches, had children who were baptized in those churches, and when they died they were buried from those churches. Not only do the churches represent their spiritual lives but their social and economic lives as well. And because of that, their records provide a rich source of documentation for the genealogy researcher.

In the 1940s, the city of Detroit began construction of a number of expressways that divided up the city and often times parishes. Several Polish neighborhoods had entire blocks and even streets raised to make way for the concrete paving. Sometimes the Polish homeowners in the effected neighborhoods bought other homes nearby but out of the the way of the expressways, but as time went by more and more moved out of the city of Detroit altogether and into the expanding suburbs. Racial tension in the city in 1943 accelerated that exodus (known as "white flight"). The 1940s proved to be the beginning of the decline for Detroit's inner city parishes.

Fast forward to 2010. At this point, 11 of those 24 Polish churches in the city of Detroit have been closed. One of the three in Wyandotte has also. Another 3 (at least) have let go of their Polish heritage in response to a change in the ethnic makeup of their neighborhood. Some of the old church buildings were torn down and some were sold. The parish communities were merged with other nearby Catholic church parishes by the Archdiocese of Detroit. Sadly, there is very little information about the history of these churches and parishes available on the internet. Some of the churches that are still open have web sites, but not all. And there is little or no information available about most of the closed churches.

I don't have the time or resources to do a thorough history on all of the Polish churches but I have put together a summary of information on each of them. I've also included the websites and Face Book pages I've been able to find for the parishes. If you know of more online information about any one of these Polish Catholic churches please leave a comment for the benefit of other readers.

This series will start October 1st.