Tuesday, July 26, 2016

St. Mary Church (Rockwood)

During the early 1800s, French-Canadian farmers began to settle along the mouth of the Huron River. In 1818, Fr. Gabriel Richard wrote to the bishop (then the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky), informed him of eight Catholic families living in the area, and began the process of starting a mission. It wasn't until 1834 that Fr. Vincent Badin supervised the building of a small, wooden church near the river, presently where Lee Road meets Jefferson Avenue in Brownstown Township.

Many years passed before there was a resident priest. By 1847, the congregation had grown so large that Redemptorist priests replaced the chapel with a larger frame church and dedicated it under the title of St. Mary Parish. The Bondy family donated land to be used as a cemetery six years later.

The parish continued to grow and decided to move in 1873 and, three years later, the church was moved to Rockwood to be near an interstate railroad as well as the river. In 1880, Stephen Mannausa donated land for a new church. The frame church was torn down and a brick church, with a capacity for 400, was dedicated on July 11 of that year. The church was built at a cost of $5,000 (~$110,000 after inflation), a rectory for $3,000 (~$67,000), as well as a carriage shed.

Fr. John Helton became the first resident pastor in 1899 and was succeeded by Fr. Toussaint Rose four years later. A large fire soon caused extensive damage to the church. The parish decided to tear down the damaged church and replace it with a larger one in 1911. However, many of the stained-glass windows were recovered and some of the bricks were reused in the new belltower.

IHM Sisters from Monroe began teaching weekly catechism classes. Construction of a parish school began in 1929 and the school opened in September of 1930 under the direction of Sisters of St. Francis from Rochester, Minnesota.

Fr. Archibald Soest was appointed pastor in 1934 and guided the parish through the financial problems of the Great Depression. Fr. Gerald LeVasseur became pastor and Adrian Dominicans replaced the Sisters of St. Francis at the school. Enrollment grew rapidly in the 1960s and an extension was built, allowing twice as many classrooms. 

Fr. Francis Zarrett served 1966-1969 until he was replaced by Fr. Thomas Sauter. Fr. Sauter soon realized that the parish had a $800,000 debt and there was a possibility that the school would be closed. A partnership with the public schools allowed St. Mary School to stay viable for 15 years until state Supreme Court ruled it to be unconstitutional. A “Save Our School” campaign raised enough money to make the parish and school solvent.

Fr. Sauter retired in 2002, after 33 years as pastor, and was replaced by Fr. Marc Gawronski. Fr. Sauter eventually passed away on March 20, 2004. The following year, Fr. James Rafferty began his first assignment as pastor and remains there today.


In the last 15 years, St. Mary's has seen many renovations such as new altar rails, a wheelchair ramp, new stained-glass windows, repainting walls and refurbishing floors and stairs.  Some of the windows (below) have been reused to make Christmas ornaments and jewelry.

St. Mary later clustered with St. Victor Parish (est. 1963) in Gibraltar. In 2013, the two parishes merged to form St. Mary, Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish and St. Victor Church closed.

The parish's Changing Lives Together campaign raised enough money to continue future enhancements such as a narthex, restrooms, kitchen, and meeting space.

New murals in the transepts and above the side altars.

St. Michael the Archangel in one of the nave windows; two separate transept windows show the Annunciation.

An inscription from John 1:14 frames the sanctuary and translates “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” A monstrance is shown at the apex of this arch.

The church does not have a freestanding altar and all Masses are offered ad orientem. Not surprisingly then, Holy Communion is often administered at the altar rail with a paten.

Detail of the altar rail; a shrine to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Our Lady of Fatima in the south transept; the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin in the north transept.

Arched, stained-glass windows in the nave; each window includes a Marian symbol with an 'M' and a crown. From left:  St. Jude, St. Therese, St. Faustina and Blessed Margaret of Castello.

Moses is depicted beneath the stairs to the choir loft; a Divine Mercy window overlooks the choir loft

For more photos: AOD Film Services
For more info: parish website + bulletin archive

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mariannhill Mission Society (Dearborn Heights)

Servant of God, Fr. Francis Pfanner
In 1879, there was a request for Trappist monks to go to Africa and Cistercian Abbot Francis Pfanner responded, “If no one goes, I will go.” On December 26, 1882, Fr.  Pfanner established Mary-Anne-Hill (Mariannhill) Monastery in the English colony of Natal in South Africa. Nine days later, on January 4,  Abbott Francis Pfanner sent a monk to the United States to raise funds and foster new vocations. 
The South African monastery
Monastery chapel
The brother traveled across the U.S. for three years before returning to South Africa. Soon, three more brothers were sent to replace him in 1899 and they rented an apartment in Detroit. These brothers traveled the country, spoke at parishes, raised funds to support African missions, and distributed their own magazine which was printed in Europe.
The active life of missionaries was not compatible with the strict Trappist rule, so the Apostolic See separated the congregation from the Trappist Order in a decree on February 2, 1909. The community then became known as the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mariannhill (CMM). Fr. Pfanner died less than a later on May 24, 1909, and was later declared a Servant of God.
Br. Dorotheus Kaiser
Br. Benignus Loga

World War I prevented the distribution of their magazine so the missionaries purchased their first residence in Detroit and soon printed their magazine locally. They printed four editions of Mariannhill Missionary with each in a different language: English, German, Polish and French. Within two years, the French and German editions were discontinued because of insufficient circulation. 1922 saw the arrival of the first Mariannhill priest in the U.S. as he joined the brothers in their mission.

Mariannhill Missionary was soon renamed The Apostle and shifted its focus to a Catholic family periodical. Mariannhill bought a farm near Brighton with the intent of building a seminary there. However, in 1936, the Diocese of Sioux Falls solicited the missionaries to establish a seminary in South Dakota. The congregation quickly doubled, going from 13 brothers to 30 in two years.

St. Bernard Seminary opened in 1937, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The following year, there were enough brothers to start a new province in the United States. Also in 1938, Mariannhill began a second publication, Leaves,  a bi-monthly devotional. The South Dakota seminary closed after only six years and the building was sold to the federal government. The congregation moved to a temporary home in Brighton, Michigan. St. Bernard Seminary soon reopened in Dearborn Heights and remained open until a decrease in vocations forced the seminary to close in 1969.
The original facade of the Dearborn Heights chapel. The signage has changed but the statue remains
Our Lady of Grace Monastery, the Dearborn Heights location, currently is used as a retreat house, residence for Mariannhll brothers and priests, office of the vocation director, as well as a vocation formation center. I could not confirm, but it would be reasonable to assume, that the Mariannhills have ministered at nearby Our Lady of Grace Parish, located 4 blocks to the north.
An undated, aerial view of the monastery and seminary
Thomas Merton wrote about the Mariannhills , saying:
Here was the astonishing spectacle of a Trappist mission in which the contemplative monks had achieved in few short years, a success more spectacular than many active order had dared dream of. The most astounding thing about this new mission was that it was operating on purely Benedictine lines. It was an apostolate of prayer and labour (ORA ET LABORA), of liturgy and the plough. What was taking place in the outposts established by Dom Francis Pfanner was exactly the same process that had marked the Christianization of Germany and all northern Europe by the Benedictine monks hundreds of year before
- In The Waters of Siloe, Harcourt, Brace and company, New York, 1949, (1st edition), page 1157.
Leaves remains in publication today with about 37,000 subscriptions. Mariannhill Missionaries currently minister in more than a dozen nations around the world.

The belltower as seen from the main entrance from Ann Arbor Trail.

St. Bernard near the main entrance; Infant of Prague inside a shrine

Celtic crosses and details above exterior doorways: St. Thérèse of Lisieux (left) and the symbol for Mariannhill Missionaries (right).

Shrines to St. Anne with child Mary; St. Joseph with child Jesus

Stations of the Cross with Latin inscriptions

All of the chapel windows are clear and geometric

The high altar of the main chapel at the front and center of the monastery.

The Mariannhill Missionaries are currently in the midst of their annual Novena to St. Anne (July 17-25), patroness of both their community and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

For more about the global community: CMM Mariannhill
For more history: YouTube