by Diana Paiz Engle
you haven't visited Ste. Anne de Detroit Catholic Church, you should. It
is an architectural masterpiece of a vintage rarely seen in Michigan. The
Neo-Gothic 1886 building is listed on the National Register of Historic
But the heart of a parish
is not found in its brick-and-mortar structure. Rather, the heart of a
parish is its people. Ste. Anne is no exception.
The heart of Ste. Anne has
continued beating for 299 years in a devout, committed-and changing-community.
Since the early decades of the twentieth century, when Mexicans and Mexican
Americans first came to Detroit, the parish has been home to an increasingly
Hispanic faith community.
The geographic community
surrounding Ste. Anne has faced many challenges-urban renewal, crime and
poverty. But through it all, parishioners have found spiritual strength
at Ste. Anne and have made the church a center for community development
If the church wasn't here
... this area would dry up," parishioner Cristina Huizar told The Detroit
News earlier this year.
Father Robert Duggan, pastor
of Ste. Anne since 1990, agrees. "if Ste. Anne had not been here through
the years, this would be an industrial area," he says of his church's neighborhood
in the southwest Detroit community known as Mexicantown. "Ste. Anne has
stayed and it's kept people here."
Ste. Anne is involved in
the community and the community is involved in Ste. Anne. Father Duggan
sits on the board of several neighborhood associations, which, like the
Bagley Housing Association, has Ste. Anne parishioners on its board, Cooperation
among these groups has resulted in a twenty-million-dollar infusion for
community development during the past five years. Among its projects is
Rio Vista, a new senior citizen apartment building slated to open next
summer. And for the first time in recent memory, newly constructed single-family
housing is available in the area. "For many, this is the first time they've
had an opportunity to own a home," says Father Duggan.
A number of programs at the
church focus on restoring dignity to young people. GRACE (Gang Retirement
and Education/ Employment) has been instrumental in helping local youth
remove themselves from the trap of drugs and violence. Next year, Ste.
Anne will host Ser Casa Academy, a Wayne County charter high school that
serves the community's most at-risk children. Some of the students are
parishioners who will be the first in their families to graduate from high
The church also serves as
a cultural and recreational center for the local community. Individuals
and families participate in activities as diverse as Mexican folk dancing
and tae kwon do. How does Ste. Anne-a parish of 850 families-offer so many
programs? "We're not alone," says Father Duggan. "A lot of people get involved."
The parish needs the involvement of even more people as it tackles the
restoration of its six-building historic complex. The Gabriel Richard Historical
Society hopes to raise the ten million dollars needed to restore Ste. Anne's
church, chapel, rectory, social hall, school and former convent.
So strong is the spirit of
Ste. Anne's faith community that people living in neighboring counties
drive into southwest Detroit to attend Mass and other parish functions.
Macomb County resident Connie Meade says she maintains her lifelong membership
at the nation's second-oldest continually operating parish because of “the
sense of community and the warmth that I feel at Ste. Anne." The recent
recipient of an Archdiocese of Detroit Juan Diego Award credits the "remarkable
efforts" of parishioners and pastors for "really trying to keep life in
that area. Ste. Anne has been through some hard times," Meade says, "but
the community still thrives."
Father Duggan extends a warm
welcome to people who are discovering Ste. Anne as a result of an interest
in Detroit's tricentennial. And he offers a guarantee. "In a place where
people have been praying for one hundred years and more, something remains.
People don't go away empty.”
Ste. Anne received
permission to use the article, "The Heart of a Community," © 2000
Michigan Department of State. It was written by Michigan History Magazine
Staff Writer Diana Paiz Engle.
Photo © 2000 by Dirk
Bakker, Director of Visual Resources and Photography at the Detroit Institute
of Arts, who gave Ste. Anne permission to use them.
All Rights Reserved