Nativity of Our Lord was established in 1911 in what was, at the time, the unincorporated village of Leesville. Prior to this, most Catholics in the area attended either St. Anthony to the south or Assumption Grotto to the north.
Founding pastor Fr. Frederick Heidenreich celebrated Mass in a school building at Gratiot and Harper until the fledgling parish built ts own school/church on McClellan Avenue a few years later. The first rectory was a converted barn. The school opened in 1914 with 400 students, a teaching staff six of Dominican Sisters and one lay teacher.
In 1916, a convent adjacent to the school was completed with the capacity to house twenty sisters. Beforehand, the sisters lived on the third floor of the school.
Edward A. Schilling of the firm Van Leyen, Shilling, Keogh and Reynolds was the architect of the permanent church while it was constructed by F. H. Goddard Co. Before construction started in 1924, Leesville was annexed by the City of Detroit and Nativity’s membership had grown enough to justify construction of the large edifice that still serves the parish today.
Even though construction was not yet complete, the first Mass held in the church was on Christmas Day, 1926. Fr. Heidenreich died in 1928 before the church was finished and his successor, Msgr. John S. Mies, oversaw the completion. Bishop Michael Gallagher dedicated the church in 1929. Fr. Bernard Geller succeeded to the pastorate in 1934 and served the parish for nearly 30 years.
Stained-glass windows were fabricated by the Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee and installed in 1936.
Fr. Jerome Singer was appointed pastor in 1971 and maintained that role until his recent death on November 20, 2014, at the age of 77. Capuchins from St. Bonaventure are currently ministering to the parish but no long-term successor has assigned yet. Sr. Jolene Van Handel, a Dominican sister, has been at Nativity for nearly 50 years.
Nativity gained some parishioners following the closure of two nearby parishes: St. Anthony (1857-2006) as well as St. John Berchmans/St. Juliana (1932-2004). Nativity of Our Lord celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 9, 2011. As this time, the parish had 260 registered families.
The Detroit Mass Mob recently visited Nativity on December 7th.
Appropriate for a church by this name, an inscription on the high altar translates "come, let us adore Him," an excerpt from the Christmas hymn Adeste Fideles.
St. Anne with Child Mary, St. Joseph with Child Jesus, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus stand in the sanctuary.
Side altars to the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph are each covered by an ornate apse.
A large crucifix stands in the south transept near a window depicting St. Thomas Aquinas.
A replica of the Pieta stands in the rear of the nave, opposite a baptismal font .
Large, Corinthian columns line the aisles; murals adorn the walls of the transepts.
Floor tiles were made by Detroit's Pewabic Pottery.
Nativity of Our Lord stands near the intersection of Gratiot and I-94 on the eastside of Detroit. Saturday Vigil Mass is at 4:00pm while Sundays bring Mass at 8:30am and 11:00am. Daily Mass is celebrated every weekday, except for Wednesdays, in the rectory at 8:30am.
100th Anniversary Mass: The Michigan Catholic
For more photos: Flickr, AOD Film Services, Detroit Mass Mob
For more info: parish website