Tag Archives: Historic Church

DETROIT: St. Francis D’Assisi

5 Jan

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It’s 11 pm on Christmas Eve, we’re on Wesson Street in Southwest Detroit, soft light glows in the windows of St. Francis of Assisi Church, we join the other early arrivals climbing the stairs to celebrate midnight mass. Completed in 1905 the majestic Italian Renaissance building is a wonder of Malvern brick, Bedford trim, Corinthian columns, trumpeting angels and massive oak doors. In the vestibule volunteers are busy arranging trays of cookies, cupcakes and chrusciki; a large urn brews coffee. Friends and family members greet one another with heartfelt hugs and handshakes.  

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The interior is dimly lit, the organist plays Christmas carols, the choir sings in Polish and English. The church is big, I read it can seat 1,700 people. We walk around a little, seeing what we can before settling in a pew. Altar boys appear out of the darkness, candles are lit, it’s time… Suddenly the lights go out, there’s a stir at the back of the church, Fr Cruz leads a procession down the center aisle, everyone joins in to sing Silent Night. The procession makes its way to the manger left of the altar, as we sing the words “Christ the Savior is born” a bright light appears in the night sky above the manger, next the sky is filled with stars; excitement and anticipation fills the church, Fr Cruz holds up a doll representing the baby Jesus, the baby is placed in the crèche.

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Instantaneously lights start to come on, one after the other; the cross atop the altarpiece is first, next the altarpiece itself, then the chandeliers, the dome, the ceiling, the perimeter, more lights than I have ever seen in a church, more than I can count–it’s spectacular! So begins midnight mass in marvelously dramatic style. From our vantage point we can see everything, we listen as the priest speaks, all the while taking in stained glass windows, the exquisite vaulted ceiling supported by a row of arch columns and the spectacular altarpiece–it’s like a church in a church. Angels are everywhere; four of them are holding up the roof. Directly above us hangs one of dozens of opulent chandeliers; angels surround the perimeter, brass acanthus leaves hold marbled stained glass in place, there are more than 25 bulbs in each, they’re truly works of art.

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We take in our surroundings, the most unique feature has to be the recessed lights in the ceiling, they form a cross in the nave and transept, they surround the ceiling medallions and frame the cupola. Mass has ended, parents carry sleeping children out to their cars. Now we are free to roam; tonight the church is adorned with decorations, white lights wrap Christmas trees and wreaths, red bows are tied to branches, pots of Poinsettia are staggered on the altar steps. Turning around we see the organ loft, pipes of varying heights remind me of a city skyline. Side altars are lavishly carved and painted in ivory and gold. Cross-shaped candle stands are placed throughout, handsome dark wood confessionals hug the wall; there’s one beautiful thing after another.

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St. Francis D’Assisi is one of only 3 churches consecrated in the archdiocese of Detroit. The parish has seen many changes throughout the last 111 years. What began as a Polish church now serves many families of Hispanic heritage as well as the children and grandchildren of Polish Americans. Being here is truly an experience. I couldn’t have asked for a more special Christmas Eve.

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DETROIT: Cruisin’ Gratiot….

25 May

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In a yet to be revitalized area of the city, the Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church has been standing on this very spot since 1847, today it is better known as Assumption Grotto Catholic Church, the building you see today was put up in 1929. The limestone Neo-Gothic structure faces Gratiot Ave, three elongated, arched windows top three ornate wooden doors, wrought iron lanterns hang from winged brackets. Inside the church only a handful of lights are on, there’s still about 30 minutes until Mass.

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Overhead lights illuminate the altar, the marble altarpiece is spectacular. The simple stone interior is adorned with brightly colored stained glass windows, archways line the nave. I look to the back of the church where the organ loft is located, my eyes are drawn to the gorgeous wood-beamed ceiling, funny I didn’t notice that right away. More lights are turned on, candles are being lit, more worshipers arrive. Now painted patterns on ceiling beams are obvious, I can see details in the Italian marble altars, gates and communion rails. The organist has started, Mass is about to begin. 

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Behind the church is a cemetery, scattered through the park-like setting statues stand atop tombstones, crosses vary in size and design, the names Schoenherr, Rivard and Trombley can be found here. Some tombstones are in German, French and English, others resemble rocks with inset designs. A Pelican stands atop the headstone of Father Amandus Vandendriessche, the first pastor of Assumption Grotto (1852). The oldest stones we see are from the 1840’s and 50’s.

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We follow the paved walkway through the cemetery, past the stations of the cross that line each side, to the grotto. It’s a pretty big deal. In 1876 Father V visited the Sanctuary Of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, he was so inspired he decided to build his own holy grotto right here in Detroit; he laid the cornerstone in 1881, it’s been here ever since. In 1882 Pope Leo XII signed a proclamation “granting partial and plenary indulgences” for anyone who visited the grotto and prayed for propagation of the faith, which brought thousands of pilgrims to worship at the shrine. Those sick in mind, body and soul have prayed for the aid of the blessed virgin.

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The grotto is constructed of limestone, boulders around the shrine were carried by farmers from all over Michigan, the fountain in front of the shrine has not been turned on yet. Brick pavers fill the space between the fountain and grotto, a single wooden kneeler faces the open archway. A statue of the Virgin Mary sets high on the rooftop, inside there’s a small altar, inscriptions cover inside walls and ceiling. It is because of the notoriety of the shrine the Church Of The Assumption began to be known as Assumption Grotto. 

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Heading south on Gratiot we turn into the parking lot of  the Better Made factory and outlet store, the original sign still stands since 1934. Unfortunately the public can no longer tour the factory, but, you can buy all of the delicious snack foods Better Made makes! We walk in the front door and find ourselves standing in a small customer waiting area, framed articles about the company hang on the walls, antique potato chip tins rest on shelves, memorabilia items fill a display case. You can buy T-shirts, hats, drinking glasses and key chains all with the Better Made logo. Plexiglas separates the public area from the factory, workers wait on customers one at a time placing cases of potato chips, popcorn, pretzels and other snacks in a passageway, money is slid under a bank-teller-like window. We leave with a stash of potato sticks, cheese balls and dill pickle chips.

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A little further down Gratiot is On The Rise Bakery and Cafe. Sponsored by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Bakers have recently been released from prison or have completed a substance abuse treatment program. After bakery trainees complete their allotted time they move on to seek employment elsewhere and a new participant assumes their position. Each purchase supports housing, training, counseling services, educational opportunities and self-help programs AND their bread and baked goods are wonderful! The counter is piled high with individually wrapped brownies, muffins, caramel pecan rolls and pineapple upside-down cake, cookies the size of frisbees fill a display case. We place our order, before we know it our lunch is brought out on a tray. Mildly spiced chili is made with ground beef and beans, we like ours with oyster crackers. Our turkey sandwich is served on multi-grain bread with lettuce tomato and Dijon mustard. Coming here always makes me feel good, I get to eat delicious food and at the same time I am contributing to a worthwhile cause.




Hamtramck: Saint Florian Strawberry Festival

4 Jun


There are certain things you can count on in life: Spring follows Winter, night follows day, cake on your birthday, fireworks on the 4th of July and the St Florian Strawberry Festival every May. This year we met up with a couple of our friends who had not yet been to the church or the festival. The four of us packed ourselves into our 2-door Wrangler, we arrive at St Florian, surrounding streets have been declared Strawberry Festival Blvd for the weekend. The imposing brick and stone building can’t help but attract your attention with its handsome wood doors, stained glass windows, finely carved stone a spire that rises 200 feet into the sky. People and activity are everywhere; from a large tent we hear music as Polish dance ensembles perform traditional dances, the air carries the distinct aroma of Polish food. There is a buffet of items such as perogi and meatball dinners, Polish beer and chrusciki (angel wings). Next we head to social hall where the festivities continue.

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The party continues downstairs, the space reminds me of the days when big family gatherings were held in basements. Fold-out paper strawberries hang from the drop ceiling, round tables are covered in pastel colored cloths, a large bar hugs one side of the wall, and then there’s the food! Volunteers have spent countless hours preparing city chicken and stuffed cabbage, Polish Village supplies the sauerkraut, Kielbasa comes from Bozek, New Palace Bakery makes the cheesecake, cookies and everybody’s favorite, paczki; it is a true neighborhood affair. At a nearby table parishoners are hard at work pouring homemade batter into a waffle iron, I gaze dreamily as the baked waffle is topped with fresh strawberries in their own syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dollop of fresh whipped cream, I immediately take my place in line. Each of us gets something different; we take a seat at one of the tables and dig in. The warmth of the waffle melts the ice cream ever so slightly, Kris and I take large bites being sure to get a bit of everything on the fork; strawberries are sweet, the waffle tender, simple and delicious! The Dyna Dukes are onstage, they begin to play a polka, suddenly the dance floor is crowded with couples wearing smiles of delight. Upstairs, tours of the church are being offered, we make our way there and wait for it to begin.

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I love to see the look on people’s faces when they enter the church for the first time; a mixture of wonder and amazement. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram in the Gothic style, the church opened in 1928. It is visually stunning; the nave is made up of six bays topped with a rib vault ceiling painted a deep blue, ribs are accentuated with gold paint. The main aisle is flanked by 2 smaller aisles, stained glass windows made by Kase Company in New York line the walls. The altar is magnificent; a series of five windows depict polish saints, the altar piece a work of art from Florence Italy. The organ loft is illuminated by a large, jewel-like, rose stained glass window, the organ itself, a 1928 Austin Electric Opus # 1528, completely renovated in 2008. Walls look like stone, stenciled designs decorate every surface, light fixtures dangle from long chains, large round ones are made of wood, smaller elongated fixtures are glass, all are exceptional. We walk around in awe, Kris, busy as usual, taking photos until the tour begins.

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We take our seats in the first few rows of pews, a local man, knowledgeable in the history of both St Florian and Hamtramck will be our guide. He tells us about the early days, about 1901, when Hamtramck was still a village filled with farms. Soon afterward automobile manufacturers began setting up shop; Dodge, Packard and Ford. Eastern European immigrants began to settle in the area, there were many jobs to fill. In 1910 the population in Hamtramck was 3559, in 1920 it was 48,615 and in 1930 it rose to 56,000 people; imagine it, all those people living in a city of only 2 square miles! St Florian parish began in 1908, before long they had outgrown their church, with a plan for a new building, working class parishoners sacrificed what they could to build the new church at a cost of $500,000.00 The current building opened in 1928, American Architecture Magazine named it the best new church in America in 1929. They say at one time there were 23 factories and 43 grocery stores in Hamtramck, then as now there was no shortage of bars. At one time Dodge Main employed 45,000 people, sadly the factory closed in 1979. The good news is GM built a new factory on the land where they proudly build the Chevrolet Impala and Volt. Today’s Hamtramck is a mix of people from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, there are Mosks, and churches of Catholic, Baptist and Evangelical faiths. St Florian still offers mass in both Polish and English and looks as good as ever.

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Coming from St Florian and being in Poletown we have lunch exactly where you’d expect….a Bosnian restaurant! Located on Caniff across the street from the post office Restaurant Palma is located inside what looks to be a family home. The inside is quaint; a stained wood wainscoting lines the walls, tiny white lights shine from behind it. Tables are round and covered with linen table cloths, a single rose decorates each table, walls are pale green and yellow and hanging plants add an airiness to the space. Our young waitress arrives with menus in hand, we order diet cokes and look them over, yikes….it’s written in Bosnian! When she brings our drinks we ask for assistance in ordering, nice as can be she tells us about different dishes, we place our order and wait for the food to arrive. The dishes come out together, we have a small cabbage salad: finely shredded cabbage with a mild vinegar type dressing. The Cevapi is a Bosnian main-stay; tiny skinless sausages of ground meat served on a huge roll called Lepinja. The bread or Lepinja is fantastic, soft, fluffy and delicate there is nothing I can compare it to, slightly sweet, it has soaked up some of the juice from the Cevapi, delicious! The Cevapi itself is very tasty, it reminds me a bit of a Croation dish I have had. Served with sour cream for dipping, sliced raw onion and seasoned french fries, it is a hearty meal. We picked the stir fry for a bit of variety, tender chicken chunks and a large variety of veggies it is well seasoned and flavorful, yum! It has been wonderful day filled with beautiful architecture, interesting stories from the past and delectable food, giving us an even greater appreciation for all that surrounds us.

CLEVELAND: Fun & Festive

18 Dec

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We awoke to a chilly November morning; rooftops had a light dusting of snow, downstairs Richard was busy making chocolate waffles for breakfast. Breakfast at Stone Gables is always scrumptious. Saturday was no exception, the waffles and homemade chocolate sauce were sinfully delicious. We had much to see, and new-found energy from the morning dose of sugar and caffeine to do it with. First stop: the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) located in the Uptown District. This is one of those new, funky-cool buildings; designed by Farshid Moussavi it is both her first US commission and her first museum. The building is 4 stories, the base is hexagonal and shoots up 60 feet to a square top. The exterior is a mirror-finish black  Rimex stainless steel, you can see yourself as you approach the entrance. The main floor is home to the lobby, cafe and museum store; as you look around the shape of the building is apparent, one of the main features is a gigantic stairway to the upper floors. There are four floors in all and each can be used for either exhibit space or public programs. The museum was bustling with visitors, it’s nice to see people excited about this recently opened venue. We climbed the stairs to check out the exhibits; gallery after gallery we viewed large paintings and sculptures, some life-like, some abstract. Each floor has windows that allow you a glimpse of the city completing the urban feel. The gallery has no permanent collection so the exhibits are never the same, always making you want to come back and see what’s new.

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We were motoring down Martin Luther King Jr drive near University Circle when our attention was drawn to a magnificent church. The door was open and people were going in and out, so we thought we see if we could take a peek. Just inside the door we were greeted by volunteers gathered to put up the Christmas decorations; they invited us in to have a look around, what luck! Eppworth Euclid United Methodist Church was designed by local architect Bertram Goodhue, his design included a towering steeple affectionately known as the “Holy Oil Can”. Built in 1928 is has many of the wonderful features found in churches back in the day; stained glass windows, granite exterior and stunning woodwork. 

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Back in the Jeep we continued down MLK  to the Rockefeller Greenhouse. Built in 1905 it was originally used to grow plants that would later be planted in the city’s parks, still used as a greenhouse it now includes display gardens. I love stopping in at different times of year to see the seasonal displays; I was anticipating rows of pots filled with Poinsettia’s in multiple colors, Christmas decorations and maybe a Cyclamen or two. Instead we found the seasonal beds full of round indentations, the Poinsettia’s waiting patiently in another area to be installed… bummer. Still the greenhouse was quite lovely with its fern grotto, mum display, fountains and a multitude of other greenery. The sun had come out inviting us to stroll the outdoor gardens. A very unique feature to the grounds is the Betty Ott Talking Garden For The Blind. A cement walkway leads through the garden, recorded messages play at certain points describing surrounding flora. A bronze statue of Helen Keller kneeling at a water pump is a main focal point, visitors can even operate the pump. Admission is free, well worth a look.

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Our stomachs reminded us that it was time for lunch, we drove back to Ohio City to eat at Johnny Mango World Cafe and Bar. Anytime we are in Cleveland we stop here for a meal, the food is excellent. As soon as we were seated Kris ordered a lemonade, they make it on the spot with fresh squeezed lemons and just the right amount of sugar. We knew what we were going to have before we even got here: the veggie quesadilla big plate, it comes with happy beans, grain of the day, Yucatan slaw and a grilled banana. The food arrived without delay, we divided it onto two plates and dug in. The quesadilla is loaded with sautéed veggies, the grain today is Jasmine rice and it is cooked perfectly, the Happy Beans are a red variety and quite tasty as was the slaw, the grilled banana is a sweet finish to the meal. Did I mention the fried tofu? Yum! We are just around the corner from the bed and breakfast, so we head back to relax before the evenings activities.

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Rested and ready to go we head downtown, tonight is the tree lighting and Winterfest. As we get closer to the activities the streets become increasingly busier with both automobile and pedestrian traffic. As we look for parking the fireworks show begins, before long we find ourselves standing street side with a wonderful view. The surrounding trees are strung with thousands of lights, high in the night sky fireworks burst into color, the crowd cheers, children laugh and the tiny dog near my feet looks for cover. When the finale has ended we decide to seek warmth in nearby historic buildings, Cleveland’s downtown has fantastic architecture.

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We follow the crowd to Tower City, once Cleveland’s train station, it is now a shopping mall. Fortunately the building has maintained its architectural integrity, it is stunning, ceilings are coffered and highly detailed. The place is packed, so we go over to the historic Renaissance Cleveland Hotel.…wow! Opened in 1918 this place is gorgeous! The lobby is grand and dripping with early 20th century finery, the place was jammed with people so we just got a quick look and moved on.

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Further on, we stopped in at the Arcade on Euclid, if you ever get to Cleveland, this is one place you shouldn’t miss seeing. Once inside we realized a wedding reception was taking place on the first floor, what a fantastic place to have it. Businesses were closed and just a few hotel guests lingered about as we quietly walked around. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree stood at the top of the stairway, lights were dimmed creating an elegant atmosphere. Even in the low light the fine Romanesque details of the building stand out, just stunning.

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We had been walking around downtown for a while now in 21 degree weather, our hands were cold and we were hungry. There’s a great little district on East 4th Street that has lots of restaurants and bars to choose from, so that was our destination.  Like the rest of downtown this district was all dressed up for the holidays, people were milling about coming and going from dinner or a show. We found ourselves in front of Saigon, the thought of Vietnamese food was appealing, so we went in. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the enormous menu we asked our waiter for advice on ordering. He pointed out a few selections, we nodded our heads and that was that. First to arrive was Pho Tai (a sort of soup with rare beef) followed by Ga Xe (lettuce wrapped chicken) and for a main course Bun Xao Chay (vegetarian curry vermicelli). With all the food in front of us, it was clear we had over-ordered, but it sure was fun trying everything! The service was great and each dish tasty and unique.

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Walking back to the car we noticed a shop on the corner of 4th and Euclid called CLE Clothing; it was still open and busy with customers, so we went in to check it out. This is the store for all things Cleveland: t-shirts, hoodies, books, art, you name it. All kinds of goods showing pride in their home town. Appealing to both locals and visitors alike they were doing a brisk business tonight, after all the holiday shopping season had officially begun.

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Like Detroit, Cleveland has seen some tough times, but continues to reinvent and endure, c’mon, take a look.