CANTIUS CATHOLIC CHURCH
105 YEARS OF FAITHFUL SERVICE
September 29, the West Side Detroit Polish
American Historical Society hosted a tour of
historic St. John Cantius Catholic Church
located at 844 S. Harbaugh Street in Detroit’s
Delray district. The historic church, founded
in 1902 and built in 1923, will hold its final
liturgy on Sunday, October 28, 2007, at 2:00
p.m. The Most Rev. Bishop John Quinn will
celebrate the Mass.
Before the tour
and presentation, Ms. Irene Pilch, church
historian and volunteer secretary for over 40
years, was busy in the rectory preparing photo
collages and 500 framed photographs of the
church’s exterior and altar, which will be given
as favors to all those attending the dinner
dance following the final Mass commemorating the
church’s 105 years of faithful service.
As we entered the
church, although outside it seemed more like a
sunny spring afternoon than a day in late
September, the atmosphere inside the beautiful
church was tinged with sadness. Years of
history surrounded us and presented reminders of
the passage of time, yet timeless beauty, in an
array of colorful stained glass, lush brocade
fabric banners lining the aisles, worn flags,
images of Polish eagles, statuary, glowing
candles, walls and ceilings rich with artwork.
Ms. Pilch told
those gathered that there remain only five
priests who originally came from this parish.
She pointed out the Polish words encircling the
base of the orb of the nave. She stated that
they tell us, “Coming blessed from the Father,
this place was built for you from the beginning
of time.” The 60-foot-high altar was imported
in pieces from Italy. The windows were made by
the Detroit Stained Glass Window Company.
this is a Polish parish surrounded us. Over the
main entrance is a round stained glass window,
in the center of which is a Polish eagle bearing
a coat of arms.
The gospels and
lives of the saints are depicted throughout the
stained glass windows that line the walls of the
church, one of which bears the image of St. John
Cantius himself. It happens to be the window
directly behind the large statue of this saint.
The patron saint
of teachers, students, priests, and pilgrims,
St. John Cantius was born on June 24, 1390, in
Kenty, Poland. He is also known as St. John
Kenty. He died on December 24, 1473. He was
generous to the poor and was believed to be of
great intellect. In 1676, Pope Clement XIII
declared him a saint. (Source: www.cantius.org)
In the dome over
the altar are painted the images of the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father holds
a book with the symbols of the Alpha and the
Omega. On the vault ceiling are painted the
four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Ms. Pilch, who is
81, stated that she remembered when there were
many Masses in Polish, when most of the hymns
were sung in Polish. She told us that her
children went to school at St. John Cantius and
were baptized there. They made their first Holy
Communions there. Now there are 28 days left
before the doors permanently close.
In some ways, it
is a blessing and a miracle that the church has
remained open for as long as it has. Nothing
can camouflage the view (or the odor) of the
waste water treatment center, which was placed
on the surrounding property in 1974, encircling
the church and replacing for miles rows of neat
houses and what was once a neat, thriving little
neighborhood. The pastor at that time fought
for the church and managed to hang onto it.
What resulted was a tiny religious community
that seems to be afloat on its own island in the
middle of nowhere, surrounded by devastation.
Two concrete angels are poised symbolically
high above either side of the doors on the
church’s façade, one with arms crossed over her
chest, the other holding an open book. Despite
the fact that they seem to have been stoically
staving off the negative forces and defending
the faith for over three decades, the inevitable
day has come.
As we departed
the church, one of the last images we noticed
was yet another reflection of Polish pride.
Over the doorway hangs a Polish eagle fashioned
from metal, made by a student at the Orchard
In the rectory
after the tour and before Mass, we enjoyed
cookies, coffee, iced tea, and juice, as well as
a variety of Mexican breads, courtesy of board
member Frank Solano, from the LaGloria Bakery in
Detroit. During this time, we had a chance to
walk through the church and take photographs.
Reporters from the Metro Times and the
Detroit News were there taking notes.
The church was
packed for the 4:00 Mass, which was celebrated
by Bishop Flores. Following the Mass, Rev.
Edward Zaorski graciously kept the church and
rectory open so that guests could mingle and
continue to take photographs.
The West Side
Detroit Polish American Historical Society has
arranged for a Mass to be said at the tomb of
St. John Cantius at St. Ann’s Church in Krakow,
Poland, for all the living and deceased members
of Delray’s St. John Cantius Parish.
The closing of
the historic church, a treasure of Polish
heritage and pride, marks a sad point in
Detroit’s and the west side Polonia’s history,
one that, inevitable as it may be, will
nonetheless have a lasting impact on many. The
parishioners of St. John Cantius will select
other home parishes. Some will migrate to St.
John Cantius’ sister church, Ss. Andrew and
Benedict in Detroit.
The archives of
St. John Cantius are under the purview of the
Archdiocese of Detroit and will be allocated
first to other parishes and then as the
Archdiocese sees fit to distribute them.
Daily Masses and
Novena to St. John Cantius are as follows:
18, 6:00 p.m.
Friday, October 19, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 20, 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 21, 6:00 p.m.
Monday, October 22, 6:00 p.m. (Rev. Edward Prus)
Tuesday, October 23, 6:00 p.m. (Rev. Eugene
Wednesday, October 24, 6:00 p.m. (Rev. Richard
Thursday, October 25, 6:00 p.m. (Rev. Richard
Friday, October 26, 6:00 p.m. (Rev. Ronald
be served after Mass in the rectory.
St. John Cantius,
844 Harbaugh, Detroit (Delray).