ST ALBERTUS, CHRISTMAS EVE
As our Mission Statement makes clear, the purpose behind the series, ‘Our Story Of…’ is to explore and promote the stories of Detroit’s most fascinating immigrants and their children.
Part of this amazing journey has been our discovery of enclaves and buildings in Detroit (bocce courts, ethnic clubs that are as filled with history as any museum, and small, corner restaurants where the food is so well-prepared that they could probably rival plenty of Detroit’s white tablecloth eateries.) If it is, in fact, the people that make Detroit a vital and diverse community, it’s the labors of these folks in such business that make our city a treasure trove of wonderful secrets.
It’s rare, however that we discover a truly awesome ‘secret’, one that was, on Christmas Eve, enough to take away our collective breaths. St. Albertus Church, on St. Aubin, near the Eastern Market, is one of the most striking churches in our city, and yet, not one of us on the Visionalist crew had even been aware of its existence. With seating for almost 2500, the interior is an art-lover’s dream. Medieval in style, the altars, baptismal, pulpit and communion rails are made of marble, and more than sixty pieces of painted sculpture grace the interior of the church along with countless stained-glass windows, including a third-bay window commemorating one thousand years of Christianity in Poland.
Known as ‘the mother church of all Polish parishes’, the Archdiocese of Detroit, St Albertus was found in 1872 and became the spiritual home to many Polish immigrants in the late 1800’s.
The church, an icon of Detroit’s Polonia, has been placed on the National
Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior. Even so, the parish officially closed in 1990, and it has been through the laudable efforts of the Polish American Historic Site Association (a non-profit group) to restore the church, rectory and school building.
When you spend any time inside St. Albertus, it’s hard to imagine you are in Detroit, not Poland. Even more extraordinary was this sensation at Midnight Mass on Christmas morning, 2006. The traditional Polish mass, celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance of a high Latin service, was accompanied by an outstanding performance by the Polonaise Choral, whose president, Steven Zmuda, spent a few minutes with us before the mass began, sharing his compelling story of immigration to the United States. Clearly, he is an immigrant we will hope to interview for the documentary. The choral group, which includes soloists James Grabowski and Valerie Brumm, Joanna Kolinska and many others, performed classical Christmas carols in both Polish and English as well as a variety of other beautifully harmonic traditional tunes.
It was a sacred experience, perfect for celebrating the birth of Christ in a style which we had never before had the honor of experiencing. Executive Director Keith Famie was so moved by the filming he intends on featuring a segment in the “ Our Polish Story” documentary on the maintaining and care taking of such a grand icon.
Donations to help restore St. Albertus are eagerly accepted. Please contact:
Polish American Historic Site Association, Inc.
4231 St. Aubin
Detroit MI 48207