Ste. Anne de Detroit

Time Capsule
Below is a letter from Ste. Anne's Church which is sealed in the Detroit time capsule.  The time capsule is scheduled to be opened on Detroit and Ste. Anne's 400th Birthday. 

Greetings from Ste. Anne de Detroit! May the grace and peace of the Lord be with you.

As you read this letter, Ste. Anne de Detroit is, I trust, proudly celebrating, with the city of Detroit, its 400th anniversary. Our heritage as the city’s premier institution dates back to a man of vision, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

Wishing to ensure France’s control of the Great Lakes, Cadillac with his son Antoine, 50 soldiers, 50 voyageurs, and 100 friendly Indians settled on the river’s edge on a hot summer’s day, July 24, 1701. One could imagine the thunderous cheers filling the air as they reached their destination and erupted from their long boats. Both the Jesuit priest, Fr. François Vaillant de Gueslis, and Fr. Bernard Constantin Delhalle of the Recollects led the party in prayer, thanking God for guiding them safely through hostile Iroquois territory and for placing this land of bounty in their trust. 

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Two days later, they dedicated the first structure, which was Ste. Anne’s Church, to God. Mass was celebrated on that July 26, 1701 day, the Feast of Ste. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus and mother of Mary.

Inside the stockade were the little oak buildings of the settlement…Ste. Anne’s church, the warehouse where the furs were stored, and the log houses of the soldiers and settlers. All the buildings were one story high…made of logs set upright in the ground…Ste. Anne’s Church and warehouse…built with logs lying on their side. The roofs were made from bark and thatched with straw or grass. The streets of the village ran east and west or north and south, and except for Ste. Anne were about ten feet wide. Ste. Anne Street, which was the main street, was about twenty feet wide. It ran about where Jefferson Avenue now is. (Lewis, Ferris E., Detroit, A Wilderness Outpost of Old France, 1951.) Fr. Delhalle’s challenges were many as the first pastor of Ste. Anne’s. How to keep these rough men in line. How to curtail their drinking, swearing and gambling. How to entice God-fearing French women to come to this region, marry and begin new families were day-to-day challenges for this simple man of faith. An answer to his prayers came the following autumn when Marie-Thérèse Cadillac and Marie-Anne de Tonti—the first ladies—arrived at the settlement, leading the way for more women to come within a year. Surely Fr. Delhalle sighed with relief and smiled at the thought of future weddings and baptisms at Ste. Anne’s.

As births, deaths and marriages occurred, Pastor Delhalle entered names into the parish registry. However, as the list began to grow, a suspicious fire broke out on October 5, 1703 in one of the barns, destroying the bastion, as well as Ste. Anne’s. Unhappily the parish records, which would have been the oldest in the country, were consumed.

By February of 1704, Fr. Delhalle had established a new parish register. In it was the record of the birth of Cadillac’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse, and her immediate baptism. Until a new church could be built Cadillac lent his barn to Fr. Delhalle for church use. A rough altar was set up for worship services, and there was plenty of room for other community gatherings.

Despite fires and uprisings, the parish endured. Four years elapsed before a new Ste. Anne’s arose from its former ashes with Fr. Cherubim Deniau at its head. That church, which was located outside of the palisade, was torched in 1711 for defensive purposes during an uprising of the Fox Indians from Wisconsin. In 1723, Fr. Lienhard restored Ste. Anne’s. A fifth Ste. Anne’s was consecrated in 1755 and spared eight years later by a brilliant Ottawa chief, Pontiac, who had great respect for the white man’s God. All the while Ste. Anne’s was the only church inthe region. All the while, births, deaths, and marriages carefully were entered into the parish registry.

Succeeding Fr. Levadoux was Gabriel Richard, Ste. Anne’s most famous pastor from 1802 to 1832. After shepherding his flock for scarcely three years, fire broke out consuming most of Detroit, including Ste. Anne’s. This time, however, the parish records were in safe hands. Fr. Richard made sure the parish continued, celebrated Mass in Macomb’s Orchard in the summer and used the Meldrum Warehouse later in the year as a temporary church until a new one could be built. He also worked closely with city leaders to rebuild Detroit, saying "Speramus meliora; resurgit cineribus. We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes." For his unceasing efforts on behalf of the city, Fr. Richard was named the Second Founder of Detroit. He established the sixth Ste. Anne’s at Spring Hill Farm and moved the church to the Loranger Farm in 1811 following the sale of the Spring Hill property.

The War of 1812 dealt harshly with Detroit, leaving famine and devastation in its wake. During a time when people were leaving the area in search of food and building materials, Fr. Richard again stood firm in his belief in Detroit and administered the first federal relief program to feed the hungry.

Detroit gradually rebounded, and the cornerstone for the seventh Ste. Anne’s was laid on Larned Street. The Detroit Gazette printed the following advertisement on August 18, 1818:

Great Bargain! Offered by Gabriel Richard, rector of Ste. Anne, 200 hard dollars will be given for twenty toises of long stone, of Stony Island, delivered at Detroit, on the wharf of Mr. Jacob Smith, or two hundred and forty dollars, if delivered on the church ground. 100 barrels of lime are wanted immediately. Five shillings will be given per barrel at the river side, and six shillings delivered on the church ground. With Richard as his own contractor, the work progressed. J.B. St. Amour and Louis Desolcour provided the limestone. Richard bought pine from Messrs. Young and St. Barnard, and gradually the church took shape. With money at a premium, Richard issued his own script (shinplasters) with which to pay his workmen. An unscrupulous printer flooded the countryside with this script, costing Richard several hundred dollars, a huge sum which he could ill afford to repay.

But repay he did, and the twin spires of Ste. Anne’s finally rose into the air dominating the landscape, becoming the focal point for the city of Detroit. Ten years from start to finish, Ste. Anne’s , known as "The Stone Church, "stood as the region’s "Mother Church" for more than 40 years. The funeral mass for Fr. Richard, the last victim of the cholera epidemic of 1832, was held at Ste. Anne’s with Fr. Baraga, the Snowshoe Priest, visiting from the Upper Peninsula, officiating. The church was not large enough to accommodate 2,500 people—more than the population of Detroit—who wished to attend the Mass.

As the city grew and businesses emerged, Ste. Anne’s property became extremely valuable. Pastor Theophilus Anciaux, Bishop Borgess and Ste. Anne trustees agreed to sell the property and begin the construction of a new church at an alternate site. A major rift occurred among the parishioners, some strongly in favor of building the church east of downtown Detroit, others urging construction of Ste. Anne’s farther west of the center city. A break in Ste. Anne’s parish rolls came when a portion of the congregation built their own church—St. Joachim’s—on the near east side of the city. The remaining parishioners chose the present site in southwest Detroit for Ste. Anne’s eighth church home. The artifacts from The Stone Church were divided between the two new ones. 

The current Ste. Anne’s dates from 1886, the year the Basilian Fathers of Toronto assumed the care of the church and its parishioners. Architect Albert French designed the church, and Ste. Anne parishioner Léon Coquard is believed to have designed the other historic buildings in the complex, as well as the church altar. Leander Picard, another parishioner, did most of the wood carving, and probably the stone carving as well. The neo-Gothic church was completed in a year and a half at a cost of $100,000. Gabriel Richard’s body was given a place of honor under the main altar. In 1976, Ste. Anne’s celebrated the U.S. Bicentennial by moving Fr. Richard’s body into the newly renovated chapel behind the church sanctuary for all to see. 

For more than 100 years Ste. Anne’s was the religious presence in Detroit. The Irish came to Detroit in the 1820’s, some 20 or more years before the Irish Famine. Fr. Richard mentions in his writings "150 Irish Catholics scattered here and there [in Detroit]," all of whom he welcomed at the predominantly French-speaking Ste. Anne’s. A good number of Irish remained in the St. Anne community until the 1960’s.

The first wave of Hispanic peoples arrived in Detroit during the 1940s. Since they wished to continue their worship traditions, a delegation of Hispanics requested the use of the chapel for their services. Agreeing to clean and maintain it, the Hispanics found not only a home at Ste. Anne’s, but history would recount how hard they worked to keep the church open to this present day in 2001. Seventy-five percent of Ste. Anne parishioners are Hispanic.

Riots, flight to the suburbs, urban blight, recessions, unemployment are a few of the major factors that greatly impacted Ste. Anne’s and the greater Detroit Metro community during the past four decades. Renewal has been painstakingly slow. Nonetheless, positive signs are visible throughout the city.

Ste. Anne’s has been a major catalyst for change. During my years as pastor, I have envisioned the spiritual, social and physical renewal of this parish community. Spiritual renewal can be seen in the growing number of parishioners (850 families knowing and following Jesus, the Lord), larger Sunday school enrollment, larger religious education classes, bible study groups, vibrant youth ministry, participation in healing masses, food distribution programs and an increasing number of parish ministries.

Social renewal continues in programs such as Freedom House and the Jeremiah Project. Freedom House welcomes political refugees, housing and helping them until they can gain entry into the U.S. or Canada. About 26 people currently live at this facility on the Ste. Anne campus.

As members of the Jeremiah Project, Ste. Anne parishioners join with other churches to improve their neighborhoods through collaboration with law enforcement agencies, businesses and other community groups to eliminate toxic dumping, keep prostitution and drug traffic at a minimum, clean up parks and provide enhanced recreational, cultural, health and education programs for youths, senior citizens, single parents and families.

Art classes. Dances and dance classes. Tae Kwon Do. Theatrical productions. Town Hall meetings. Language and tutorial programs. Rites of passage. Gangland truces. All are part of the burgeoning social renewal of the Ste. Anne community.

Physical renewal is seen in the renovation of more than 45 houses and the construction of 111 new ones. Seventy-five more affordable homes are planned to attract people to the community and keep them here…all done by the Bagley Housing Association, led by Vincent Murray, a parishioner and many other parishioners as board members, including myself.

Across from Ste. Anne’s stands a new 65-unit senior citizen complex, Rio Vista, that provides safe, clean, low income housing for older members of the community. These people bring deeper wisdom and prayer to our community

Ste. Anne’s school building is restored and renovated to house the SerCasa Academy for the Environmental Sciences. The school is producing the first high school graduates for many families in the community. It also is increasing its enrollment to meet the growing needs of the area.

At its tricentennial celebration on July 26, 2001, the parish announced plans for a capital campaign through its fundraising arm, the Gabriel Richard Historical Society. To renovate the community center and bring more recreational and educational programs to southwest Detroit is the primary goal of this $5 million effort.

In its fourth century, Ste. Anne’s sees itself as a member of the global family, administering to those in need by providing a helping hand, rather than a handout; by taking advantage of technological advances to keep the people it serves on the communication highway to success; by building bridges of understanding between individuals and communities; by cultivating a vibrant commercial and residential area where people will live, work and worship with a sense of pride and hope for the future. 

A greater spiritual presence, new businesses, more schools, more jobs, affordable housing, better recreational facilities, greater economic security…an area that will continue to attract people…where generations will set down roots to raise families of solid, productive citizens. This was Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac’s vision on that hot summer’s day 400 years ago; Gabriel Richard’s vision following the Great Fire of 1805; and certainly my own compelling vision on July 26, 2001…a true city of God.

One hundred years from now? We may well have journeyed to other planets, galaxies, universes. As we reach outer space we also are reaching the inner space of quantum physics, quantum theology, quantum spirituality. I pray we rediscover the worth of the self in the midst of family, and that all families, in all cities, in all nations, in all races, religions and cultures celebrate deeper unity, all children of God.

I pray that each child will grow with a strong knowledge of self worth before God and others…that each child knows "I am a gift" and have a valuable contribution to make in this world. I pray that these children will grow to lead our governments in such a way that there is no need to eliminate or conquer one another. 

Shalom…salaam…peace to all.

Robert J. Duggan, CSB, Pastor

Ste. Anne de Detroit

December 31, 2001