Cathedral Church for the Ecumenical Catholic Church of Christ/
St. Anthony's Catholic Church

5247 Sheridan Avenue between Frederick and Gratiot on Detroit's East Side

 

Potato crops failed in much of northern Europe in the late 1840s and 1850s. That propelled the rural population of Germany to look for opportunities elsewhere. The Germany the Revolution of 1848 also encouraged an out-migration. Shortly after the completion of the Erie Canal facilitated travel from the seaports of the East Coast, Germans began coming to Detroit, meaning that they and the Irish were the first two European streams to arrive in sizable numbers. St. Mary’s Church on Monroe was the first Catholic Church in the city to serve the needs of German immigrants, followed, shortly later by Assumption Grotto. Indeed, Assumption Grotto is located at Six Mile and Gratiot because German immigrants fled the city’s riverfront when cholera and other contagious diseases spread there in the late 1830s.

The federal government completed the canals at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855 and many Great Lakes cities—including Detroit—became centers for the iron and steel industries. Germans who migrated to Detroit just before the Civil War found work. As the German population spread outward along Gratiot, the Catholic diocese established a mission church, in 1857, at the intersection of Field and Gratiot.

The German community grew and prospered later in the Nineteenth Century as Detroit's factories increased in number and output. Indeed, many German men who came to Detroit were skilled craftsmen or learned the skills needed to establish their own shops. We do not have modern census data but it seems highly likely that Germans were the most prosperous and educated of the Euroepan ethnic groups in Detroit at the end of the Nineteenth Cenuty. The Catholic German community grew and more parishes were established.

In July, 1901, Bishop Foley laid the cornerstone for the impressive church that you view. This is a classical Romanesque Revival church constructed of terra cotta and rich red brick. Note the arch windows on the façade and the two gabled towers with crosses. Typical of the construction practices of that era, the massive church sits upon a raised stone foundation, suggesting importance and permanence. As Eric Hill and John Gallagher noted in their book, AIA Detroit (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003). Inside the church there is, I believe, a large white stone Romanesque altar. The craftsmen who did brickwork in Detroit about a century ago were extraordinarily talented artists. The façade of this church is one of many marvelous examples of their ken. Donaldson and Meier may be most well known for the large number of impressive public school buildings they designed for Detroit during the early decades of the last century. But they also won commissions to design a substantial number of church. Two of their other designs for the Catholic diocese are nearby, Annunciation on Parkview and St. Elizabeth's on McDougall

This parish is named, I presume, for the St. Anthony who is considered the founder of Christian monasticism. Born in Asia Minor in the middle of the third century to well-to-do parents, Anthony inherited wealth, but at about age 20, decided he wanted to emulate the lives of the Apostles and early Christians. As his faith grew, he decided to become an ascetic, eschewing almost all of the world’s goods. He moved to Egypt and lived as an isolated hermit, apparently depending upon gifts. It seems his reputation for holiness spread, and gradually, disciples became associated with him. Allegedly, he spent about 45 years counseling or leading others who shared his rejection of the world’s goods in the name of Christ. Thus, he may be the founder of Christian monasticism, but there is, apparently, much still to be learned about him and his life, including the claims that he died at age 105.

When working on this website, it is pleasant to report when a once empty building with historic and architectural merit is restored to use. That is the case with the attractive St. Anthony's church. This was a once thriving parish with a grade school that enrolled more than one thousand students in 1927 and a high school that enrolled about 300. The parish remained strong through the Depression and World War II. But the Catholic population of Detroit went down rapidly from about 1950 to the 1970s as federal housing policies and racial change led many to seek new spacious homes in the suburbs. In 2006, St. Anthony's Church was closed and it was merged with three other east side parishes—Annunciation, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Rose—to form a new parish named Good Shepard. In 2012, I believe that new parish was merged with two other east side parishes as the Catholic population of Detroit continues to decline.

But this story has a more favorable ending. This attractive church is now open again with a Mass being said there on Sunday mornings. There are about a dozen Catholic denominations in the United States that are not formally under the control of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church. Most were formed by dissident Catholics who claim that their leaders are in the Apostolic tradition even if they do not fully recognize the pope in Rome as their leader. The Polish National Catholic church has about a half-dozen parishes near Detroit, a group that broke away from Rome at the time of the First Vatican Council in the mid Nineteenth Century. Bishop Karl Rodig of the Ecumenical Catholic Church of Christ began the process of buying St. Anthony's to serve as the Cathedral for the International Holy See of this denomination. I infer that this denomination was founded by Catholics and other Christians who wish to maintain many of the beliefs, rituals and traditions of the Roman church but wish to minimize the difference between the roles of the clergy and the laity. The website listed below provides extensive information about the Ecumenical Catholic Church of Christ and other non-traditional Catholic denominations to be found throughout the world. I believe this is also a church that welcomes same sex married couples. In spring of 2014, the Catholic diocese issued a statement stating that this church is not affiliated with the diocese.

 

Architects: John M. Donaldson and Henry Meier
Date of Construction: 1901
Architectural Style: Romanesque Reviva
Stained glass: GTA Studies of Insbruck and Detroit Stained Glass Works
Tower clock: Louis Meier
Website of the Ecumenical Catholic Church of Christ: http://www.cathedralofstanthonydetroit.org/
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25,220 Listed: June 20, 1985
State of Michigan Historical Marker: Placed on the front of this church on August 26, 1986.
National Register of Historic Sites: Not Listed
Use in 2013: Cathedral church for the Ecumenical Catholic Church of Christ
Photograph: Ren Farley; May 24, 2005

Description updated: June, 2014

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