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Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish - Detroit MI

A brief parish history from the 1940 Golden Jubilee Book

The life of a parish through a half-century in any country and age means much in labor and sacrifice. It means very much in advancement and merit. Especially is it true of a group of people, possessing. a strong faith, who escaped the religious and political persecutions of their mother country, and settled in a country where the language, customs were strikingly opposed to their mode of living. That period of organization, therefore represents the intrepid service of pioneer life, the unpromising and long protracted hardships of strange conditions in a new land. It speaks of a life lived in the struggling, the heroic self-denials that formed the conditions of this new, prosperous fair land. It speaks, with pathetic eloquence, of weary years of poverty, of harsh and weighty burdens, of privations that frontier life entails. The records of a parish must tell the story of disappointments, of failure and of resulting heartaches, no less than of superb, if dearly purchased successes.

Nevertheless whatever the trials and, however bitter such records recall, looking backward during this happy moment of fifty years of existence brings us face to face with an epoch of steady progress and brilliancy. It recalls a life always rich in well doing: a life never discontent save when it fell short of attainment in building homes modeled after the home of Nazareth. It speaks of the sacrifices rendered in the erection of schools wherein, as in the temple of old, their would be taught of the wisdom of higher life, as well as of the things that make for material progress.

In outlining these fifty years of uninterrupted work, it will be noticeable that from its very beginning the Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish encountered seemingly insurmountable hardships.

The Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish, situated at Russell and Canfield Sts. had been started by Rev. Dominic Kolasinski. Rev. Kolasinski came to Detroit from Poland about 1882. His first appointment was as Pastor of St. Albertus Church. After a few years he left the parish for Minot, Dakota. A year later he again appears in Detroit, and this time he lays foundation to the Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish. He rents a home on Beaubien Street which serves as a church. After a short time, however this home becomes too small to accommodate the number of people attending the various devotions. 'Forming a Church Committee, and with their aid he purchases a tract of land on Russell and Canfield Streets for a sum of $13,000.

Their first efforts were turned in erecting a building which was to serve as a church, school and rectory. Even this larger building was insufficient to serve. the people. It was the time of a mass emigration of Poles to the United States. Many of these immigrants settled in the central part of Detroit. This sudden and unexpected influx of people staunchly attached to the Church forced Father Kolasinski to plan for a larger building . To realize this ambition a larger church committee was organized. Instigated by the Pastor they voted to erect a Church modeled on the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe. A sum of $84,000 was set aside for this purpose. However, after completion of this structure a total of $124,000 was spent. Shortly after completion of this magnificent edifice, with the people scarcely accustomed to their new church the labor and economic problems caused a depression in the country. The parishioners, belonging mostly to the laboring class, lost their jobs or received a cut in their wages. The Parish, consequently was the first to feel this abnormal situation, as they ceased to give their regular offerings for the support of the church. So much so, that the church committee had to default the payment of the interest due. The bank holding the mortgage demanded immediate payment Failing to receive such they appealed to the court for a settlement.

The Court issued a verdict in favor of the bank, May 4th, 1897 was assigned as the day on which the Parish property was to be auctioned. The parishioners strived- to forestall the auction, by taxing themselves. Unfortunately the amount collected was insufficient to cover the interest. All local banks feeling the sting of depression, and uncertain as to the duration of the depression, were reluctant in advancing loans on, property.

All their efforts having been frustrated, on. the day appointed the church, school and the grounds were sold to Mr. McGravie for a nominal sum of $30,000. Seeing that a grave injustice had been inflicted, since property worth about $200,000 had been sold for such a small sum, despairingly, they hired a young lawyer, Mr. McCollin to fight the case. He petitioned the Court for another auction, stating that the parishioners were willing to pay twice the amount of the first auction. The Judge accepted the petition and set June 3rd, 1897 for another auction.

In the meantime, Mr. McCollin advised Rev. Kolasinski and the Committee to appeal to the Bank of England, which had a firm in Montreal, Canada, for a loan of $65,000. The Bank was willing to advance the loan if sufficient collateral was give. the proposition was so alluring that Father Kolasinski enlarges the Committee to 24 members, whose duty it would be to secure the collateral . They in turn approached all parishioners holding property begging them to mortgage their homes. The enthusiasm was so great that in a short time they collected the required amount. The Bank of England immediately advanced the money, with Mr. Klucznik, and Mr. Wawrzynski as trustees. Father Kolasinski and the Committee not waiting for the day assigned for the auction, immediately approached Mr. McGravie had settled for $45,000. Joy and happiness prevailed; for again the church doors were opened and the people were free to attend Mass and devotions.

The parish was expanding rapidly, and the task of caring for the faithful was becoming so burdensome that Father, Kolasinski petitioned for an assistant. His wish is fulfilled with the appointment of a young priest, Rev. J. Folta as his assistant. Shortly after this, however, on April 11th, 1898 Father Kolasinski dies. Rev. R. Byzewski is appointed as his successor. But ill-health and parochial misunderstanding forced him, to hand in his resignation. Father Folta then is assigned to take over the parochial duties as pastor.

During his pastorate which, lasted nearly 20 years, the parish developed rapidly, the, spiritual obligations increasing constantly. To alleviate the burden Rev. A. Grudzinski was assigned as assistant, followed shortly afterwards by Rev. J. Plagens. Along with the growth of the parish developed the school. The people realized the necessity of a good catholic education. Living amidst people belonging to diverse denomination's they understood fully well the, dangers in store for their children. Only a strong faith, developed from' infancy could serve as an antitoxin in these precarious conditions. This strong faith, could only be fostered in the pure Catholic environment of a Catholic school. The parishioners considered it their sacred obligation to send their children to the  parish school. The enrollment of the children grew so  rapidly that plans for a newer building had to be formulated. A new addition, a three story building, costing $40,000 was annexed to the old school.

This increase in school attendance forced the priests to seek a new place of abode. Temporarily they lived in a: private home across the street, while simultaneously, Father Folta drew plans for a new Rectory. This new building was finally completed in 1901. Along with these endeavors to beautify the parish, property, Father Folta had the interior of the church painted in beautiful gold-leaf. To secure the place from intruders he had erected a strong fence around the entire property.

Father Folta resigned in 1919, and Rev. J. Plagens was assigned as his successor. At that time the parish was flourishing, both numerically and materially. All building necessary to the parish had already been erected. The only one that really needed attention \vas the Sister's Convent. With the increase in enrollment the number of Sisters increased. Consequently their home was inadequate to house all of them. Rev. Plagens amply rewarded their sacrifice by erecting a spacious and comfortable Sister's Convent. Possessing an esthetic taste, he beautified the grounds by planting grass, shrubbery and flowers around all the buildings and the fence. Along with the exterior, he made, changes on the interior of the church, by enlarging the Sanctuary, and retouching the walls and the ceiling of the Church.

His untiring efforts arid zealous work did not remain unnoticed by the Hierarchy. In 1923 Rev. J. Plagens became Domestic Prelate to the Pope with the title of Monsignor, and scarcely a year later, he was elevated to the dignity, of a Bishop, remaining in Detroit as an Auxiliary Bishop. It was his dignity as a Bishop and his amiability and consideration for the people that kept the people attached to the parish although they were dispersed all over the' City of Detroit. Many of them traveled 8 miles, and still travel, despite inclement weather, just as long as they can hear Mass in their "Own Church".

Bishop Plagens, remained in the parish for 10 more years, conscientiously performing the double task of Bishop and Pastor. The parishioners were so attached that when an announcement was made in March 1935 that Bishop Plagens had been named Ordinary of the Marquette Diocese, they all were sad and sorrowful. Their appreciation had been manifested with a Farewell Banquet arranged in January 1936.

The task of naming a successor to Bishop Plagens was not an easy .one for the Ordinary of the Diocese, Bishop Gallagher. However, he emerged successfully from his precarious position, by appointing, in March, 1936 Rt. Rev. Msgr. M. J. Grupa, former Rector of St. Mary's College and Polish Seminary, and lately, Pastor of' St. Stanislaus Parish as the Pastor of Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish.

In taking over the reins of the Parish, he noticed that everything was in excellent condition.His only task was to preserve and develop the work of his predecessors. Possessing an esthetic taste for harmony, order and beauty, he managed to maintain the silvan appearance of the grounds. In preparation for the Golden Jubilee, with the cooperation of the Church Committee, they managed to have all the buildings painted, and the interior of the church washed. Concomitantly, the Monsignor, with the untiring and unselfish efforts of the Women Organizations of the parish, installed a new marble altar, costing about $10,000. This addition made the church the most beautiful church in the Diocese of Detroit.

These, in short, are some of the facts and events that., occurred during fifty years of existence of this parish. This magnificent piece of work could not be accomplished by one man or even a small group of people. Credit must be given to all pastors and assistants who, unselfishly and zealously toiled in the service of God to strengthen the Faith of the people and keep them attached to the parish. A person, likewise, cannot overlook the fact that the success of the parish depended in a great degree on that large number of staunch parishioners, who whole heartedly cooperated with the priests and the church committee· to overcome the divers obstacles that arose during the course of existence of the parish. For their unselfish sacrifices they, can now rejoice at this happy occasion, and be proud of their accomplishment.

The Parish School

The Parish school is the recruiting is the department and the train ground for the Catholic, Parish. Its importance is such that the greatest concern of those who direct religious activity is the maintenance of the school. As the older generations pass on to their, eternal reward the younger generations step into their places in regular order, and the life of the Parish goes on, in unbroken sequence. The efforts and sacrifices which must be made, in the interest of Catholic education are an investment which continues to pay generous returns to the  catholic congregation

The Sweetest Heart of Mary school had its beginnings in the very first years of the organization of the Parish. At first it was a very primitive affair conducted by 'two laymen, one of them an ex-religious brother who was at· the same time the church sacristan.

In 1894 however; four Sisters of  St. Francis from the German Convent of St. Francis, in Milwaukee, arrived to take up their. duties in the parish school. Sister Josephine was the superior with Sisters Boleslaus, Genevieve, Helen and Corona to assist her in the work. The enrollment contained the names of 500 children a large number of pupils for that small number of teachers. The following year the number went up 800 and Sister Peter came· as superior, remaining to 1897, when she was replaced by sister Hyacinth, who had now 900 children in the classes.

The Sisters in the meantime had formed an exclusively Polish religious congregation after separation from the original German foundation, and in 1878 Sister Clara, the first Polish superior took charge of the school and convent. The new Motherhouse was established in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. In the years following 1898 the Superiors in charge were all from St. Joseph's Convent until the establishment of the, new province in ; Garfield Heights, Cleveland, Ohio. Sisters Boleslaus, Felicia, Margaret, Clara, Vaclava, Josaphat, Elizabeth, Chrysantha, Mary - labored as, superiors of our school. The present superior is Mother Mary Jolanta, who comes to our school after six years, in the arduous duties and serious responsibilities of the office of Provincial.

In its best days the school went up to 1575 children en its roll-call, and at present the number hovers, around 700.

After several years of' a Commercial Course in 1938 the regular four year high school was inaugurated, the first class of which will graduate in 1942.

This gives the school a complete standing and a course of studies covering the most important period of mental and, moral training of the children of the parish. The Diocesan program of Studies 'prescribed by our Board of which meets ,all the requirements of the City and State Boards is observed throughout grades and the High School.

Under the trained and sympathetic guidance of our Sisters, our children have all the splendid training and fine moral, religious background of our Good Nuns at their service. It is only placing recognition where it justly belongs to say that our religious Congregations are fulfilling their educational calling in a splendid manner. They realize fully the grave importance of the elementary religious education of the children placed in their charge. Their own training and long, experience with school work has convinced them that the school lays the foundation' upon which the structure of' the whole life of the child is built. The parishes which are happy to have schools of their own owe a real debt of gratitude to our splendid Sisters.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011