Sunday, October 29, 2006

Our Lady Help of Christians Church to Become Mosque

Detroit church to be reborn as a mosque

Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

DETROIT --The Islamic Center of North Detroit has a purchase agreement with the Archdiocese of Detroit for Our Lady Help of Christians' five buildings, which tentatively are planned to be used for an Islamic community center, larger worship space and possibly a school.

The conversion of the Detroit buildings, on the Hamtramck border, from church to Muslim center underscores how much the community's makeup has changed. Long-entrenched Catholic churches have had to downsize as their congregations moved to the suburbs and other immigrant groups moved in.

Hamtramck and nearby Detroit neighborhoods flourished in the early 1900s when automotive jobs attracted Eastern European immigrants, primarily from Poland. The Poles brought their culture, foods and Catholic faith to Hamtramck and soon Polish-themed restaurants, markets and churches sprung up in the area.

But in a trend familiar to immigrants in scores of other neighborhoods across the country, the Poles eventually started moving to the suburbs, especially to Sterling Heights and Warren.

Urban Catholic parishes suffered as onetime parishioners built up faith communities closer to their new homes. A priest shortage has prompted Catholic Archdioceses locally and around the nation to have one priest serve several churches, merge congregations or close churches. Scores of churches in the Archdiocese of Detroit already have experienced this change.

The pending sale of the building to a mosque is a first for the Archdiocese of Detroit, though it has already leased one of its properties to Muslims. Officials declined to say where.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood has evolved from a predominantly Polish one to a neighborhood with many immigrants hailing from Bangladesh, a mostly Muslim nation near India, and India.

Census data shows the neighborhood's Asian population exploded from 249 people with Asian ancestry in 1990 to 421 Bangladeshi and 530 Indian residents in 2000. In contrast, the Polish population slid from 878 to 394 in the same period.

The businesses along Joseph Campau, Hamtramck's main commercial drag, are testimony to the wave of new immigrants in the community. Though many Polish markets and restaurants still dot the corridor, businesses that cater to Bangladeshi, Lebanese and Bosnian immigrants are established in the area. [More]