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Sweetest Heart of Mary - Detroit, MI

 A brief parish history from the 1965 Diamond Jubilee Book

Amid the impressive structures and edifices of the city of Detroit, the two majestic steeples of Sweetest Heart of Mary Church rises high into the heavens an eloquent declaration and pro test to the forces of progress that this temple of God will not permit itself to be erased from the face of the earth. This most distinguished and respected house of the Lord is the proud treasure of the members of Sweetest Heart of Mary Parish. It is the fruit of their creative and noble labors which has been indelibly inscribed in the history of the Detroit Polonia and on the records of eternity. Indeed, the beginnings of this Polish parish are synonymous with the history of the Poles who came to the United States in search of opportunities to work and in search of a better and brighter tomorrow. They came and settled in this location and here began their respected and productive labors in the religious and social areas.

The history of Sweetest Heart of Mary parish reaches back to 1887. The descendants of the first settlers in the neighborhood and of the founders of this parish remember well the difficult days associated with the first years of the new parish. The founder of this parish was Father Dominic Kolasinski, the organizer and builder of two of the most impressive and beautiful churches in Detroit - St. Albertus and Sweetest Heart of Mary.

Father Dominic Kolasinski was born on August 13, 1838, at Mielec, Poland. He received his education in Krakow where he was ordained on July 25, 1864. Immediately upon his arrival in Detroit in the spring of 1882, he was appointed the fifth pastor of St. Albertus parish. He remained there until April 5, 1886 when, because of an unfortunate misunderstanding with church authorities, he left for Mantow, North Dakota. A little more than a year later, after the death of Bishop Borgess, Father Kolasinski returned to Detroit with the hope that the new Ordinary, Bishop Foley, would look favorably upon him. The new Ordinary, however, after reviewing the case, upheld the unfavorable verdict of his predecessor, to the detriment of Father Kolasinski.

At the request of his followers, Father Kolasinski proceeded to found a new parish, con-. ducting religious services in the home at 907 Riopelle. At the same time he began to collect funds for a new Polish church in Detroit. After purchasing land at Russell and Canfield for $13,600, he began the construction of a church in 1888. The new building, which still stands today, cost $13,700 and consisted of the church, which occupied the ground floor, and the school and rectory, which occupied the second floor.

With the great influx of immigrants from Europe, both church and school proved too small. Plans called for the construction of a new church and for the conversion of the old completely to school purposes. An enlarged parish committee began collecting funds for the new church whose construction cost $124,000.

Soon after the new church was completed, an economic depression caused very hard times. Unemployment was widespread and wages of those fortunate enough to find work were very low. The new parish was unable to keep up the interest payments, to say nothing of the principle.

In spite of all the efforts of both committee and parishioners the church was sold at auction to an attorney, Mac Gravie, for $30,000. Sorrow and despair touched the hearts of all the parishioners and Father Kolasinski because of this patent injustice. An appeal in court based on the claim that the auction was unjust - church properties valued at $200,000 were sold for $30,000 - resulted in a new auction at which the parishioners, with the help of a loan secured in Canada, repurchased the church for $45,000.

All of these troubles and difficulties took their toll on the health of Father Kolasinski. Desirous of reconciling himself with church authorities, Father Kolasinski secured the assurance of the Apostolic Delegate, with the approval of the local Ordinary, that his would be affected. The Delegate came to the parish, established Father Kolasinski in the good graces of the church, blessed the church and altars, and thus returned peace and order to the parish - all of this with the assistance of Bishop Foley. This took place in 1897 after the completion of a mission which preceded all of this reconciliatory action.

As times improved and work was more available, the parish debt was quickly paid off. A new school was built for $25,000 and part of the former building was set aside as a Sisters' Convent. The parish assistant was Father Joseph Folta.

Father Kolasinski died soon after the reconciliation. He became sick in the spring of 1898 and died on April 11th of that year. His successor was Father Romuald Byzewski, who occupied the pastorate but briefly, leaving the parish soon after to enter the Franciscan Order at Pulaski, Wisconsin.

The new pastor was the former assistant, Father Joseph Folta. During the twenty years of his pastorate, Father Folta worked energetically at improving the physical plant of the parish. He built a new rectory, redecorated the church, and improved the entire parish plant.

In 1919 he was succeeded by another former assistant, Father Joseph Plagens, who, soon after assuming the parish reins, built a new Sisters' Convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, who were invited to take over the educational program of the parish toward the end of the past century.

The new pastor was singularly honored in 1924 when he was named a Monsignor and a year later was elevated to the dignity of a Bishop and named Auxiliary of the Diocese of Detroit. It was also at this time that the first signs of decay and carelessness' in regard to the neighborhood began to show themselves as many took up residence in the newer sections of the city. There remained, however, a strong bond of parish attachment demonstrated through unusual fidelity to the parish and support of it even by those who no longer resided within its limits.

During the pastorate of Bishop Plagens the parish was honored in many ways. It hosted such dignitaries as General Joseph Haller, Bishop Rhode, Archbishop John Cieplak, and many other notable personages. Scores of celebrations and processions had their beginnings with a Pontifical Mass offered by the pastor, Bishop Plagens, at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church.

In 1935, Bishop Plagens was appointed Ordinary of the Diocese of Marquette in northern Michigan. The farewell banquet sponsored by the parish was a most fitting expression of its gratitude to him for the faithful years of his shepherding.

The new pastor of the parish was Monsignor Michael Grupa, former Rector of the Orchard Lake Seminary and pastor of St. Stanislaus parish in Detroit. Monsignor Grupa, well known for his oratorical and preaching ability, labored zealously and effectively to improv3 the parish, to resolve the difficulties associated with the parish cemetery, and to provide for the spiritual needs of his flock. After many years he was appointed pastor of St. Louis the King parish in Detroit.

Another former assistant, Father Adam Koprowski, was then appointed the new pastor.

Well known to all the parish, dedicated with love and industry to the needs of the people, he fulfilled the post of pastor for ten years. These were difficult years which underscored the changing neighborhood, the decrease in the number of parishioners and children attending school. In spite of the demanding circumstances, Father Koprowski applied himself most assiduously to his priestly obligations until he was killed in an automobile accident on August 9, 1959.

On September 9, 1959, Father Boguslaus Poznanski, a former chaplain in the Navy, was appointed as the seventh pastor of Sweetest Heart of Mary parish. Under his leadership the title of ownership of the parish passed into the hands of the Archdiocese and the responsibility of administering the parish was assumed by the pastor with the aid of the parish committee. Under his direction, the parish continues to serve the needs of its faithful. With admiration, one must gaze upon the love and attachment of so many who continue faithfully to support their church - Sweetest Heart of Mary.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2011