Friday, October 01, 2010

The Polish Catholic Churches of Detroit, St Albertus

 St Albertus Catholic Church, Detroit

St. Albertus Church, Detroit
Address: 4231 St. Aubin St. Detroit, MI 48207
Phone: (313) 831-9727
Facebook: St Albertus Page
Email: albertus1884@gmail.com
Website: St. Albertus Detroit
Current Parish Status: Closed
School in Operation: No
First Year Parish Founded: 1871
Year Church was Built: 1884-1885
First Pastor: Rev. Fr. Simon Wieczorek
Pastor in 1985: Rev. Fr. Joseph J. Matlenga
Mass Schedule in 1985: Saturday 5:00pm (English); Sunday 9:00am (Polish); 11:30am (English)
Mass Schedule Currently (2010): Monthly on Sundays, generally at 11am
No. of Families in Parish in 1985: 380
Percentage of Polish Descent in 1985: 75%
Considered as a Polish Ethnic Parish: Yes
Polish Religious Traditions Preserved: Yes
Annual Festival: Usually the first Sunday of August (in 1985)
Festival Name: St. Albertus Festival (in 1985)
View Exterior Photos of St Albertus Catholic Church
View Interior Photos of St Albertus Catholic Church
Location: East side

St. Albertus Church is a historic landmark registered with the State of Michigan. It is the "Mother Church", the first Polish parish in metropolitan Detroit.

Both the Motherhouse of the Felician Sisters and Orchard Lake Seminary (S.S. Cyril and Methodius Seminary) have their roots in the neighborhood of St. Albertus Parish

St. Albertus Parochial School, the oldest in Detroit, closed it's doors in 1966.

The parish was officially closed by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1990.

St. Albertus Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Detroit with the National Park Service and was also issued a State of Michigan Historic Marker.

The Polish American Historic Site Association (PAHSA) is a non-profit organization that currently operates the Church as a historical site. Masses are said monthly and the church is available for weddings. For current information visit the St. Albertus on Facebook.

Names of parishioners of this parish from the Centennial Jubilee Book (1973) are searchable on the PGSA web site.

The following microfilms of St. Albertus church records are available at the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library: Film No.1024
Reel 1: Baptisms July 1872-December 1887
Reel 2: Baptisms December 1887- May 1896
Reel 3: Baptisms May 1896-December 1905
Reel 4: 4 Baptisms January 1906-March 1914
Reel 5: Baptisms March 1914-January 1919
Reel 6: Baptisms January 1919-October 1938
Reel 7: Marriages July 1872-May 1913
Reel 8: Marriages May 1913-November 1936
Reel 9: Deaths January 1889-January 1931

A Brief History of St Albertus Parish
The nucleus of Detroit's first Polish settlement was formed by a number of Poles who arrived in the city during the middle of the 1850s. As former residents of the Pomerania and Poznan sections of the partitioned Poland, then under Prussian rule, the newly arrived Poles settled in and around the city's German-speaking community. Even though few of these Poles attended St. Mary's German Roman Catholic Church on the corner of St. Antoine and Croghan (Monroe) Streets, the majority utilized the facilities of St. Joseph's German Roman Catholic Church first located on Gratiot between Riopelle and Orleans Streets and later on the southeast corner of Orleans and Jay Street. But the Poles were not satisfied with this arrangement. Desiring to praise God in their native tongue, they began to take steps to organize their own parish in 1870.

Guided by Fr. Simon Wieczorek CR, who had come down occasionally from Parisville, Huron County, Michigan, to attend to the spiritual needs of his countrymen in Detroit, the Poles organized the St. Stanislaus Kostka Society and began to collect funds for the building of a church. Even though he had some misgivings about the Poles' ability to successfully finance the project, Bishop Caspar Henry Borgess granted his approval.

The plot purchased by the parish committee composed of John Lemke, John Kolodziejczky, Anthony Treppa, and Anthony Ostrowski comprised lot thirty-six of the old French St. Aubin Farm. Measuring 100 feet wide and 270 feet deep, situated on the western side of St. Aubin Avenue below the southern corner of Fremont (East Canfield) Street, the land cost $600 which was paid in full to the owner Phillip Beaubien. The transaction was completed November 9, 1871.

On this first parcel of St. Albertus Parish's real estate property arose the congregation's first "church and priesthouse." The building contract, dated October 11, 1871, was signed by architect John Wiesenhoffèr and thirty charter members of the parish.

Construction of the frame church was begun on June 13, 1872. Bishop Borgess blessed and dedicated the church to St. Wojciech on July 14. Due to difficulties in finding a correct English equivalent for their Polish-Bohemian patron, St. Wojciech, the early pastors and parishioners borrowed the erroneous Latin equivalent Adalbertus, translating into English as St. Albertus or St. Albert.

The opening of St. Albertus led to the movement of the Poles into the neighborhood of St. Aubin and Fremont in order to be close to their own church. This migration resulted in the establishment of Detroit's first Polish neighborhood, known among Detroiters as "Poletown" to the Poles, however, it was "Wojciechowo," the "District of St. Albertus."

From the beginning of the parish, Fr. Wieczorek, the first pastor of St. Albertus, had envisioned a parochial school as part of the church complex; however, lack of funds had prevented the construction of a school along with the church and rectory. The education of Polish youth was a primary reason for the establishment of the parish, and Fr. Wieczorek began teaching Polish youth of the parish in a private home as early as 1871.

The first St. Albertus School building was completed in 1873 and opened early in 1874 under the direction of the parish's second pastor Fr. Theodore Gieryk with 97 students. The two story frame building was located on the corner of St. Aubin and Canfield where the present Church stands. The original Church was on the lot directly to the south of the school and the first rectory stood behind the church. During his pastorate, Fr. Theodore Gieryk formally opened the school, laid the foundation of the later Polish Roman Catholic Union, and brought the first Polish Catholic newspaper to Detroit Gazeta Polska Katolicka.

On April 4, 1875, Fr. Alphonse Dombrowski, a Franciscan, was named pastor of St. Albertus. In November, 1877, he acquired an assistant, Fr. Wieczorek's former confrere at Parisville, Fr. John S. Wollowski, a one-armed veteran of the Polish Wars. Fr. Wollowski was appointed pastor of St. Albertus on September 20, 1879. It was at his invitation that five Felician Sisters from Polonia, Wisconsin arrived in Detroit on December 17, 1879, as replacements of the school's lay teachers.

On March 30, 1882, Fr. Wollowski's pastorate was terminated by Bishop Borgess. Fr. Wollowski's successor was Fr. Dominic Kolasinski, newly arrived in Detroit from the Diocese of Krakow. Sociable, relatively young, and energetic, the new pastor soon won the devotion and loyalty of his parishioners. Appealing to their national pride, he urged the erection of a church more in keeping with the Polish tradition. After 13 years of service to a constantly growing Polish community in Detroit, the original Church was replaced by a new and larger structure designed by architect Henry Engelbert and built on the site of the first school by the Spitzely Brothers of Detroit between the years of 1883-1885. The cost was $61,000. It was the largest Catholic Church in the State of Michigan at the time of its construction with a seating capacity of 2500, and was the first in the city of Detroit to be equipped with steam heat and electrical lighting.

The brick western-Polish Gothic edifice was dedicated by Bishop Borgess on July 4, 1885. An imposing structure, 200 feet long and 70 feet wide with a spire of 280 feet high, it was at that time, the second largest Polish Roman Catholic Church in the United States. In 1889, one of the parish's own sons, John A. Lemke, said his first Mass after he was ordained at St. Albertus. It was a proud day for the parishioners!

The Church is similar in appearance to churches found in Prussian Poland. The present Church was built to serve a Polish Community in Detroit estimated at 22,000. The original spire of the Church housed four large bells. It was shortened after a windstorm on Good Friday of 1913 caused extensive damage. The original wooden church building was raffled off in 1888 and removed from the property allowing room for the present rectory to be built in 1891, the previous rectory being donated to the newly formed St. Josaphat Parish.

A second and bigger school building, two story and of brick was built on the lot directly across Canfield Avenue from the Church in 1892 where the present parking lot is located and served the parish until 1917 when the third and final three story school was built on Canfield Avenue immediately behind the church.

The interior of St. Albertus is consistently treated in the medieval style. In this it reflects late nineteenth century practice rather than the historic Polish churches, for the latter are usually encrusted with Baroque work.

Along with the marble altars and communion rail, fittings added before 1913 include a marble pulpit and baptismal font and patterned terra-cotta wainscot. There are sixty-three pieces of painted plaster sculpture within the church, including the fourteen stations of the cross, St. Albertus above the main altar, a large Pieta, and the like.

The windows consist generally of medieval styled stained glass. The north wall of the third bay has the most recent addition, commemorating one thousand years of Christianity in Poland.

St. Albertus, then, is a splendid example of a church whose architectural function was to provide a familiar setting to those Polish immigrants who emigrated to Detroit during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The building's historic and architectural significance has been recognized. The church was declared a State of Michigan Historic Site and placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. In 1975 its State Historic Marker was dedicated.

Although the Parish was closed in 1990 it still stands in the old Polish quarter of the city of Detroit as a silent sentinel with its daughter churches of St. Josaphat, St. Stanislaus and Sweetest Heart of Mary as reminders of the Polish roots of the city. May it continue to thrust its golden cross heavenward awaiting its rightful place in our observance of the great history of the Polish community of Detroit.

If you'd like to learn more about the history of this church, I can recommend some excellent books and articles that may be available at your local library:

Detroit's Oldest Polish Parish, St. Albertus 1872-1973 Centennial by Rev. Joseph Swastek (no ISBN # available)

Polish Detroit and the Kolasinski Affair by Lawrence D. Orton, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1981. ISBN 0-8143-1671-9

Brief History of St. Albertus Parish, excerpted from Detroit's Oldest Polish Parish: St. Albertus 1872-1973 Centennial. This article appeared in the May 1995 issue of the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan's journal The Eaglet.


Kolasinski Report (ca 1884) On The Early Polish Community in Detroit, written by Fr. Dominic Kolasinski and translated by Eduard Adam Skendzal. This article also appeared in the May 1995 issue of the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan's journal The Eaglet.

Rev. John A. Lemke: America's First Native-Born American Roman Catholic Priest by Allan R.Treppa.

The Polish Roman Catholic Churches of Metropolitan Detroit, by PERC. c. 1985. Used with permission from Michael Krolewski, editor.

3 comments:

  1. Jasia, what a wonderful tribute you have written to start off your months of posts. Even though my Polish ancestors settled in Bay City, I found your post very moving. I am especially fascinated by the photo you used to lead into your post. If you look at my blog, the photo you selected of St. Albertus and my Pomeranian Evangelical church in Gross Tuchen, Butow, Pommern is very similar. I will say that the interior of my Evangelical church in Poland, though, is far removed from the beauty of St. Albertus. What a gorgeous slideshow.

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  2. Thank you Cheryl! St Albertus, the oldest of the Polish Roman Catholic Churches in Detroit, was the parish my great grandparents (Szymon and Ludwika Lipa) belonged to when they first immigrated to Detroit. It is a lovely church and will always hold a special place in my heart.

    I've heard that many churches in the U.S. have "twins" in Europe, churches they were essentially copied from. I have no idea if that is the case with St Albertus or not. Could be. The Polish who first started this parish were primarily from the Prussian section of Poland.

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  3. You should do an article on Saint Hyacinth and Queen of Apostles - one is in Poletown, Detroit and the other in Hamtramck. Both are active parishes who are struggling in the neighborhoods of Detroit to stay open. They have recently been clustered by the Archdiocese and we would all love to see them get a shout out for trying and maybe get a few extra visitors!

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