Friday, January 06, 2017

St. André Bessette Parish (St. Francis Xavier Church, Ecorse)

The previous St. Francis Xavier Church on High Street. Photo credit: Rita Hellar, Source

French-Canadians began to settle in "Rivière Aux Écorces", or “The River of the Barks” during the late 18th Century. This was the first European settlement in what we today call Downriver. English-speaking immigrants moved in during the 1830s and it became known as Grand Port, but remained unincorporated within Ecorse Township. Eventually, it was designated a village in 1902 and incorporated as a city in 1941.


St. Francis Xavier Parish was established in 1848, very close to the Detroit River. A school opened in 1924 and closed in 1969.

Facade of the school building. Source

Ground was broken on the current church in July of 1951. Msgr. T.G. Morin and Fr. Alexander Wytrwal officiated the groundbreaking ceremony. Others included Mayor Louis Parker, Contractor Joseph B. McCrea, Committeemen Edward Langland, Charles Goodell and David Spaight; Miss Sarah Morin officers of the Holy Name and St. Anne Rosary Altar Societies and parishioners.

Photos by John Duguay show the bell installation. Source

The cost of construction was $360,000, or $3.3 million today. J.B. McCray was the contractor and Arthur DesRosiers the architect. DesRosiers also designed many other Detroit-area churches, including St. Hugo Stone Chapel and St. AlphonsusAt the time of construction, the parish had 2,000 registered parishioners and the church was built with a capacity of 900.

The current church stands on Jefferson Avenue, one block south of the previous location, abdless than a block from the southern end of Outer Drive.

The interior of this church reminds me of St. Ladislaus Chapel in Hamtramck, also designed by DesRosiers and built one year later, with its similar balconies around the sanctuary.

In 2012, St. Francis Xavier merged with Our Lady of Lourdes (est. 1893, two miles north in 
River Rouge). This created the new parish of St. André Bessette. Our Lady of Lourdes closed and Rev. Cornelius Okeke has been pastor since the merger.

The Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Francis Xavier, the namesake of the church, at the side altars. St. André Bessette, patron of the current parish, along with crucifix.

Symbols of the four evangelists are shown in the narthex windows.

St. Anne and Child Mary depicted along to the stairway to the choir loft; a crèche near the main entrance.

The Apostles are pictured in the stained-glass windows, six on each side of the church.

St. Anthony with Child Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Jesus above a doorway, with organ pipes between them. St. Joseph with Child Jesus and  St. Anne with Child Mary.

Saturday Vigil Mass is at 4:00pm; Sunday Mass is at 9:30am and 11:30am (bilingual). Tuesdays and Fridays bring 9:00am Mass in the chapel.

For more info: parish website + previous blog post
Posts on other blogs:
   Discovering Detroit Catholic Churches + Ecorse Along the Detroit River

Photos from AOD Film Services: Our Lady of Lourdes + St. Francis Xavier
Three articles from The News Herald: 9/201212/2014 and 11/2015
History of Ecorse: Ecorse Public Library

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