Missionary priests from Detroit ministered throughout Washtenaw County in the early 1800s. In 1836, there were a thousand residents of Ypsilanti, including 50 Catholics. Fr. Thomas Cullen arrived in Ann Arbor in 1839 and served as the first resident priest in the county. Four years later, he was assigned pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Ann Arbor and, in 1844, he was additionally assigned to the new mission of St. John the Baptist in Ypsilanti. There were six founding families, all Irish immigrants: Boyle, Casey, Cosgrove, Keegan, Kelley, and Kirk. In the beginning the congregation worshipped in private homes.
On April 26, 1844, Bishop Peter LeFevere bought a parcel of land from Charles W. Lane for forty dollars. A 24'x36' wood-frame church was built the next year. For the first 13 years, Mass was celebrated here only once a month.
In 1855, Bishop LeFevere approved the construction of a larger church, provided that the parish not take on any debt. At that time, there were 130 families at the parish. Parishioners pledged $500 towards the construction and bought a lot adjacent the existing church. Bishop LeFevere laid the cornerstone for the brick church on May 25, 1956. Construction began immediately but was soon delayed because of financial restraints.
The first Mass, the wedding of John and Margaret Kennedy, was on June 23, 1858, the Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. At that time, there were no doors, no pews, and no front steps. Construction was completed in time for Christmas of that year. Fr. Charles Lamejie was appointed as the first resident pastor in 1858.
|Photo of the second parish church for St. John the Baptist - Source|
The parish established an elementary school in 1884 but it closed eleven years later. The school building was used as a social hall for the next three decades before the school reopened in 1925. The school eventually closed in 1971 and was demolished in 1979.
Ypsilanti was booming in the 1920s and Fr. Needham wanted to build a new church. In 1923, the Detroit firm of Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough & Reynolds created initial plans for a Spanish Rococo church with a capacity for 700. The same firm designed a new parish school at the same time. Construction on the new school began in 1924 and was finished the next year. However, there were many setbacks within the next five years. The school took on a heavy debt, the rectory was in disrepair, and the basement of the church had structural problems. Rather than continue with faulty construction, Fr. F. Warren Peek commissioned a new set of plans in 1932.
The cornerstone of the current church was laid and blessed by Bishop Gallagher on September 11, 1932. A time capsule inside the cornerstone contains photos of the previous church, photos of previous pastors, newspapers, as well as names of 320 parishioners and benefactors.
Construction was completed the next spring and Bishop Gallagher dedicated the church on Sunday, June 4, 1933, also Fr. Peek's 14th anniversary to the priesthood. St. John the Baptist is designed in a Romanesque style. The peek of the roof stands 61 feet about the street.
The current church and rectory were built at a combined cost of $100,000 at the time. Less than a year later, the value of the property was estimated at over $250,000.
In 1942, the parish bought a lot directly across from the church and built a Marian shrine.
Structural beams are exposed in throughout most of the ceiling—in the narthex, the nave, and the sanctuary. Fr. John Larkin commissioned decorative painting of these beams in 1949.
A decorative motif adorns the ceiling of the former baptistry.
Stained-glass windows in the former baptistry depict the Joyful Mysteries.
The original layout of the church had seating for 1,100 people.Three windows above the tabernacle were dedicated to three previous pastors: Frs. LeBever, Needham, and Lindskey.
The main altar and matching side altars were made in Italy from Botticino marble. The church once had an altar rail composed of bronze and red Numidian marble.
Statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph with Child Jesus stand along the side aisles. These were likely salvaged from the original side altars.
A trestle ceiling hangs over the nave and sanctuary, also featuring decorative motifs.
A large rose window overlooks the choir loft; the Lamb of God is depicted in the center of the window.
Painted Stations of the Cross line the walls of the nave.
Images of the Apostles line the clerestory along with geometric windows.
Scenes from the Gospel are depicted in stained-glass windows.
For more info: parish website