St. Mary Roman Catholic Church

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St. Mary Roman Catholic Church

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, formally the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the third oldest parish in Detroit, Michigan. It is located at 646 Monroe Street in heart of Greektown Historic District within Detroit's downtown area. It is often called Old St. Mary's Church to avoid confusion with other St. Mary's parishes in the Redford neighborhood of Detroit or nearby Royal Oak, Monroe, or Wayne.

The complex originally consisted of the church, rectory, constructed in 1876, school, constructed in 1868, and convent, completed in 1922. The convent was demolished in the early 2000s and replaced with a community center designed to resemble the 1841 church building.

St. Mary Parish has been staffed by the Spiritans or Holy Ghost Fathers since 1893. It was previously administered by the Franciscan Fathers (1872-1893) and the Redemptorist Fathers (1847-1872).

The church is constructed of red brick in the Romanesque style with Venetian accents. The west facade is dominated by twin towers which frame a large rose window. The Romanesque-Venetian style carries over to the rectory and now-demolished convent. The church is 176 ft (54 m) long. The nave is 80 ft (24 m) wide and reaches a height of 90 ft (27 m). One striking feature of the church interior is the ten polished granite columns which divide the main and side aisles. The columns are each cut from a single piece of granite and were originally intended for the Michigan State Capitol building then under construction in Lansing. For unknown reasons, the columns were not used in the Capitol and the church was able to purchase all ten for only $4,625 bringing the total construction cost to $81,210.

St. Mary's school opened in 1844 with lay teachers. The Christian Brothers began teaching male upperclassmen in 1852 with the School Sisters of Notre Dame assuming responsibility for teaching the girls and younger boys. The building was replaced in 1855 and the current building, designed by Pius Daubner, was erected in 1868. The school operated until 1966.

The church, school and rectory were listed as Michigan Historic Sites in 1979 and markers were erected at all three.


The parish was founded in 1834 by Father Martin Kundig to serve the German-speaking immigrants who settled in this part of the city. The first church was constructed in 1841 at this site on land sold to Bishop Peter Paul LeFevere for one-dollar by Antoine and Monica Beaubien, two of the area's early settlers. The materials for the church cost an additional $239. The Beaubiens also donated four bells for the new church.

The cornerstone for the current structure was laid in 1884 and it was completed in 1885. Its German born and trained architect Peter Dederichs was a parishioner of the Church and also designed nearby Sacred Heart Church.

In the early twentieth century, Father Joseph Wuest, then-Pastor of Old St. Mary's, constructed three grottos at the rear of the church. One is the Baptistry on the Epistle side of the building. It depicts the scene described in the Canonical Gospels of the Baptism of Jesus. Next to the Baptistry is a replica of the Shrine of Lourdes. Within this grotto is an altar where weekly mass is celebrated. Older members of the church say that Father Wuest collected the rocks he used in the construction during a trip to Lourdes, France. On the opposite side of the church is the third grotto which depicts the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion.

Rev. John A. Lemke, born in Detroit on February 10, 1866 of Prussian-Polish parents, was baptized at St. Mary's on February 18, 1866. He went on to become the first native-born Roman Catholic Priest of Polish descent to be ordained in the United States.

References and further reading
  • Godzak, Roman (2000). Archdiocese of Detroit (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0738507972. 
  • Godzak, Roman (2004). Catholic Churches of Detroit (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0738532355. 
  • Godzak, Roman (2000). Make Straight the Path: A 300 Year Pilgrimage Archdiocese of Detroit. Editions du Signe. ISBN 2746801450. 
  • Hill, Eric J. and John Gallagher (2002). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. 
  • Tentler, Leslie Woodcock with forward by Edmund Cardinal Szoka (1992). Seasons of Grace: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814321062. 
  • Tutag, Nola Huse with Lucy Hamilton (1988). Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-1875-4. 

Building Activity

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    OpenBuildings updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator
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