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La Liga de Las Americas

Historic church located in SW Detroit slated for closure

By John R. Kulik


Since 1981, ten of the 31 parishes founded by primarily Polish-American parishioners in metropolitan Detroit have closed. This year, the Archdiocese of Detroit will close another, St. John Cantius.


St John Cantius is the second oldest Polish church remaining on the west side of the city of Detroit. It is located in the section of city known as Delray. Delray is the extreme southwest area of Detroit adjacent to industrialized Zug Island.


Although Delray is sometimes associated with its Hungarian immigrants, large numbers of Poles also settled there in the late 19th Century. This area now hosts predominately Latino immigrants, who have helped this section become revitalized.


The parish was founded in 1902, when Fr. John Walczak was directed by his bishop to assume charge of Delray’s Polish colony. When he arrived, he found 62 families and no funds. Strenuous efforts resulted in the erection of a simple frame structure, to be used as a church and school.


By 1910, there were over 400 families and a new church was under construction and completed the following year.


The city, at the request of the pastor, changed the name of the street on which the parish was located from Mc Gregory to Pulaski, thus creating the first street in Detroit with a Polish surname. The present church building, completed in 1923, is an impressive twin-towered Gothic structure.

The parish survived through years of post WWII urban decline and the disruption and isolation caused by the nearby massive I-75 Rouge River overpass construction of 1965.


In 1974 city purchased and demolished 300 homes near the church, along with some other buildings in the area, to make way for a new waste-water treatment plant.

From the front of the church, one now looks out upon pools of contained liquid which help compose an immense waste-water treatment facility. This, along with neighboring Zug Island, and nearby aging structures, has caused Professor Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan to write: “This is the most forlorn church in the entire city of Detroit.”

Corpus Christi Procession at St. John Cantius in SW Detroit. Photo by Laurie A. Gomulka Palazzolo.


Although not as large and magnificent as some of the earlier Polish churches, St John Cantius has its own grand character and a profound sense of holiness. Its ornate altar is adorned with numerous statues and its superb, stained-glass windows emit a dazzling brilliance in daylight. Sitting inside one cannot help but feel its rich religious, historical, and cultural value. It is a tribute to the faith of those who struggled to etch out a living in earlier years.


If you are adventurous and decide to visit, the address is 844 Harbaugh Avenue, Detroit. Take Harbaugh Street until it ends and changes into Edwin Street and you are there. The only weekend service is on Saturday at 4:00 PM.


On June 9, 2007, there will be a Corpus Christi Procession

Last Saturday June 9th 2007, the parish hosted a traditional Corpus Christi Procession around the outside of the church that commenced at 4:00PM, with a subsequent Mass.  


Corpus Christi is a Christian feast in honor of the Holy Eucharist. It was originally assigned to the Thursday following Trinity Sunday. The most important ritual of Corpus Christi is this procession, where the entire parish marches in finest dress around the church to the sound of bells and songs. 


The closing date is only a few months away. It is unlikely, given the shortage of priests and resources that this will change. Besides the church, little else remains of the Polish colony in Delray.

It is this writer’s hope, that someone in the Polish community, with the resources and energy needed, can preserve this historic site.

Editor’s Note: According to the author, Mr. Kulik, in 1984, Michael A. Krowlewski completed a history of another Polish parish, St. Hyacinth, entitled The Prayer of St. Hyacinth Parish. He wrote, “In the beginning of the twentieth century, individuals surveying their community in Detroit came to an agreement that 1907 would be the year marking 50 years of Polish presence in the city. St. Hyacinth is located on Detroit’s eastside.


Although some records indicated that settlers of Polish descent were in the area before 1857, this was generally accepted as the birth of the community since it signaled a period when Poland was giving the Detroit area its first steady flow of immigrants.  Therefore, the year 2007 is not only the 105th anniversary of St. John Cantius Parish, but also, could be considered the 150th year anniversary of Polish settlement in Detroit.


Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.






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