Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church

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Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church
Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church (Detroit, MI) - exterior.jpg
Location 4440 Russell Street
Detroit, Michigan
Coordinates 42°21′30″N 83°2′52″W / 42.35833°N 83.04778°W / 42.35833; -83.04778Coordinates: 42°21′30″N 83°2′52″W / 42.35833°N 83.04778°W / 42.35833; -83.04778
Built 1893
Architect Spier & Rohns
Architectural style Gothic Revival, Polish Cathedral
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 78001523[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP January 31, 1978
Designated MSHS July 26, 1974[2]

The Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church is located at 4440 Russell Street (at East Canfield Street) in Detroit, Michigan, in the Forest Park neighborhood on the city's central East side. The Gothic Revival cathedral styled church is the largest of the Roman Catholic churches in the City of Detroit.[3] It was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1974[2] and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.[1] St. Albertus Roman Catholic Church is 4/10 mile east at the corner of East Canfield Street and Saint Aubin Street. St. Josaphat's Roman Catholic Church is 3/10 mile west at the corner of East Canfield Street and SB Chrysler Service Drive.


The rise of Detroit brought in many Polish immigrants into the city in the 19th century; by the mid-1850s, the number of Polish families who had settled in the city was significant. These Émigrés from Poland first attended St. Joseph's, which was at the time a German-speaking church. However, the Polish congregants were dissatisfied, and agitated for a Polish church.[3] In 1871, three hundred or so Polish families organized St. Albertus Parish and built a frame church at St. Aubin and Canfield Avenue.[4] In 1882, the charismatic Father Dominic Hippolytus Kolasiński became pastor of St. Albertus.[4] Father Kolasiński organized the parish to construct the present St. Albertus Church, which was dedicated in 1885. In November 1885, the parish became factionalized; Father Kolasiński was reassigned.[4] When a new bishop of Detroit was appointed in 1888, Father Kolasiński returned to the Detroit and began the Parish of the Sweetest Heart of Mary outside the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church.[4] Shortly afterward, the church school on Canfield was built; it still stands today behind the main church.[4]

Kolasiński negotiated to bring his flock, numbering nearly 4,000 families, into the fold of the Catholic Church.[4] The depression of the 1890s hit the parish hard. Parish members secured a loan in order to keep the building.[4] Eventually, Rome directed the bishop of Detroit to make peace with Kolasiński, and on February 18, 1894, the congregation of the Sweetest Heart of Mary was officially received into the Diocese of Detroit.[4]

Father Kolasiński died in 1898. He was temporarily succeeded by the Kashubian priest Rev. Jan Romuald Byzewski OFM, previously pastor of Detroit's Saint Francis of Assisi Parish. When Father Byzewski rejoined the Franciscan Order in 1899, he was succeeded by the assistant, Rev. Joseph Folta, who served as pastor until 1919.[5] Father Folta built a second school, constructed a permanent rectory, and built an ornamental fence about the church.[5] Folta was succeeded by Rev. Joseph Casimir Plagens, who served at Sweetest Heart from 1919 until 1935, and later became Bishop of Marquette and then Bishop of Grand Rapids. Plagens added embellishments the church interior and built a permanent convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph, who staffed the church school.

During Father Plagens's tenure, the parish flourished. The church schools were filled with almost 1,500 pupils, and the church was the social as well as spiritual center of the community. Over time, with shifting demographics, membership waned.[5] This trend accelerated through the tenures of the next three pastors: Monsignor Michael Grupa (1935 to 1949), Rev. Adam Koprowski (1949 to 1959), and Rev. Boguslaus Poznański (1959 to 1976).[5] During the 1960s, the congregation numbers fell. Membership waned in the early 1970s.[6]

In 1976, Rev. Bohdan Kosicki joined Sweetest Heart and began a building restoration and implemented a plan which revived church membership. He reached out and established ties to earlier parishioners, raising funds for the restoration.[5] Sweetest Heart of Mary was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It received state historic designation in 1974, and city of Detroit designation in 1981. A state of Michigan historical marker was also erected in 1981.[7] The stained glass windows and organ were restored, and much of the main altar was renovated.[8] In addition, the convent and fencing was restored, the second school building was demolished, and the historic old school building was stabilized.[8] Kosicki's work was carried on through the tenure of Rev. Alphons Gorecki, who served from 1981 through 2002. The interior was completely refurbished, including plasterwork and statues.[8] The electrical wiring was replaced.[8]

From 2002 until early 2010, Fr. Mark A. Borkowski was pastor and continued the restoration and revival of Sweetest Heart of Mary. During this period the Annual Pierogi Festival greatly expanded to become the largest religious festival in the City of Detroit.

Effective July 1, 2011, Fr. Darrell Roman was appointed the new Administrator. He will also be the Administrator for the other two churches in the cluster, St. Joseph, and St. Josaphat.

Effective July 1, 2013, Fr. Greg Tokarski was appointed the new Pastor for the newly merged churches of Sweetest Heart of Mary, St. Josaphat, and St. Joseph. The three separate churches are now known under the new merged name, the parish of, "Mother of Divine Mercy".


The church sanctuary
A stained glass window depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary giving the Rosary to Saint Dominic

In 1890, construction began one "what would become the largest Catholic Church in Michigan."[3] Spier and Rohns designed the present structure.[4] Father Dominic Hippolytus Kolasiński had formed the parish and raised the building funds for the rapidly growing parish. The cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on June 5, 1892, and on December 24, 1893, after construction costs of over $125,000, the church was officially dedicated.[4] More than 10,000 people attended the dedication ceremony.[4]

Sweetest Heart of Mary is one of the largest and perhaps most impressive Gothic Revival churches in the Midwest.[3] The church is constructed of red brick in a cruciform shape with a cross gabled roof[3] The facade on Russell boasts a rusticated stone lower level with a triple portal, a pointed arch structure, and a stone balustrade atop everything.[3] Two towers flank the entrance, topped with identical Spires, which are capped with buttresses and detailed with crosses.[3]

The church includes several impressive stained glass windows built by Detroit Stained Glass Works,[3][9] the successor to the well known firm of Friederichs and Staffin.[10] The major transept window illustrates the Holy Family in Saint Joseph's workshop. Eight windows lining the nave portray Christ, Mary and several saints; this set of windows won a major prize at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.[3]

There are three related building—large rectory, a convent that could house several dozen nuns and a large school building—which make up a local historic district.[3]

The 1893 Austin Pipe organ Opus No. 2 (2 manuals and 20 ranks) is the oldest Austin Organ still in service,[11] and the oldest surviving electro-pneumatic in the state of Michigan.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ a b "Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church". Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Retrieved September 2, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church from Detroit1701.org
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Eduard Adam Skendzel, Sweetest Heart of Mary history page
  5. ^ a b c d e Sweetest Heart of Mary pastors
  6. ^ Nira J Warikoo, "Historic churches lure the faithful," Detroit Free Press, May 17, 2008[dead link]
  7. ^ Sweetest Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church from the city of Detroit
  8. ^ a b c d Eduard Adam Skendzel, Restoration of Sweetest Heart of Mary: The History
  9. ^ Tutag, Nola Huse with Lucy Hamilton (1988). Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit. Wayne State University Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-8143-1875-4. 
  10. ^ "Michigan Stained Glass Census Windows of the Month for February 2007, The Detroit Stained Glass Works Detroit, MI". Michigan State University Museum. February 2007. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  11. ^ Austin Organs, Opus list.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]