Sunday, January 6, 2008

St. Albertus

My sister Becky has a variety of unusual interests. Unusual defined as different than the other people I know. Some of them stem from her involvement in the preservation of historic architecture. In fact she has a master's degree from Columbia University in it and has authored a book. (A little bragging on my sis there)

This weekend she invited her family members to come into Detroit to attend mass at a church where she is the lector. Because she is Becky this isn't just any church. It has been closed as a Parish for the past 17 years and is maintained by a non-profit organization of which she is a member. It was built in the 1880's and was the first Polish Catholic Parish in Detroit. They only have masses occasionally in there using a retired priest and other volunteers, and not very many people attend. So to fill out the crowd we made the long drive down to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany and a day of Polish cultural experience.

Walking into St. Albertus is breathtaking. It as beautiful as any cathedral, where you can just look and look and never stop seeing another detail. And all of it so old: since around the time they invented electricity. There used to be an enormous Polish community in this area, enough to support this church and two others within viewing distance of each other. (Sweetest Heart of Mary and St. Josephat) The church was the center of their community and their pride and joy. It feels a little sad to sit there among all of this glory and know that there are no longer enough people around to support it, and that despite the efforts of the association it is falling into disrepair, and could eventually disappear as many other once great buildings in this city have.

When I sat there listening to the sound of the Priest's voice speaking in Polish, I could almost see the ghosts of many people who have been inside of these walls. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals, the happiest and saddest of celebrations, for generations over a century. And if I wanted to see actual dead people all I had to do was look into the glass coffins on either side of the altar.

Well they aren't really dead people although I told the kids that they were just to spook them for fun. I'm still trying to figure out why if you're going to make a statue of someone who's dead why not make it with them standing up with their eyes open instead of how they looked after their time alive had ended. Anyways that's what's so great about extremely old ethnic stuff is that sometimes it comes off all wacky when we look at it today.

The location of the church is in what is now pretty much an urban wasteland, here is a view of across the street.
The hinges from the front door have been stolen but you can still see the shadows of what they looked like. Becky said a friend of hers found them in a resale shop but the police didn't want to get involved.

After the mass we went to the Polish Art Center Store and had lunch at Polonia in Hamtramck to finish off the cultural experience. If you think this is something you would ever want to do check out the website for the schedule. And you could say hi to Becky!


Rebecca Binno Savage said...

Thank you for blogging about St. Albertus and for promoting the masses! Maybe more people will learn about it and GO from reading your blog! So I appreciate that!

When we were at the Polish Art Center store, Cale asked me where the Polish Language books were. I think he wants to learn!


Heather Leigh said...

Mindy - you do some of the coolest things!! Even though I'm not catholic and not polish (actually, I'm a mutt, so I could be polish and not even know it - AND I am married to a 50% polish man who is a disenchanted catholic so maybe that counts), it'd still be cool to go. Thanks for posting the link.

~Amy said...

Mindy the church is just beautiful. I'd love to go visit. Maybe Heather & I will take a road trip and go check it out.