St. Louis the King Catholic Church

18891 Saint Louis Street at the intersection of Seven Mile
and Saint Louis in the Krainz Woods neighborhood

This Polish parish was founded in 1923 with the Reverend Bernard Jarsembowski as the first pastor.  I am not certain about where the original church was located.  The impressive building you see pictured here was completed in 1961 and is, apparently, one of the last Catholic churches to be constructed in the city of Detroit.  The Catholic diocese built several dozen equally large and impressive churches in Detroit in the 1950s, well after the Catholic population began to move in large numbers from the city to the suburbs.  I have often wondered what quality of economic and demographic information was provided to the leaders of the diocese in the 1950s when it was becoming quite clear to urban scholars that Catholics were going to typically be suburban rather than central city residents.  I appreciate ecceleastical architecture but I wonder why were large investments made in churches when it was foreseeable that their congregants would move to the suburban ring?

This parish was initiated to serve a Polish clientele and survived until 2012.  At that time, this Polish parish and two others—Sweetest Heart of Mary in Detroit and St. Ladislaus in Hamtramck—were merged to form St. John Paul II parish.  Along St. Louis Street just to the east of the church pictured here, stands the former rectory for this parish and a modest building that may have been the first church of this parish. To the south along St. Louis there once was a large building that served as the parish elementary school. The school closed in 1988 and the building was razed in 1991. The convent was also located on that street but it was consumed by fire   There was once a parochial school on the attractive campus of this large modern church. 

I do not understand why King Louis IX of France was selected as the patron of this Polish parish.  Louis was born in Poissy, France in 1214.  His father—King Louis VIII—died in 1226 and his mother became the regent ruling the kingdom.  When Louis attained age 22, he took over as ruler.  He is recognized for many accomplishments in the administration of France.  From time to time, powerful nobles raised their own private armies and conducted military campaigns against one another for their own personal reasons.  King Louis IX tried to end those small wars so as to establish an era of peace rather than war fare.  King Henry III of England claimed control of some parts of France.  Louis protected the interests of the French and steered away from a large war against England.  Internally, he attempted to institute a more modern system of justice.  For instance, he tried to establish the ideal of presumed innocence and sought to end trails by ordeal.  He sought to outlaw interest bearing loans, blasphemy, gambling and prostitution. I have never seen any assessment of his accomplishments with regard to these issues.

At some point in his adult life, Louis apparently suffered from a major illness and was cured, apparently by a miracle.   Following that gift from God, he vowed to lead a crusade.   In the 660s, Muslim forces wrested control of the Holy Lands from Christians.  In about 1095, Pope Urban II decided that the Christians of Europe should recapture the Holy Lands and called for the first crusade.  There followed almost four centuries of largely futile military efforts by European Christians to oust the Muslims from the Holy Lands. With few exceptions, the Muslim forces defeated the Christians who came on their crusades.  There is some disagreement about the numbering of the crusades.   King Louis IX led the Seventh Crusade that lasted from 1248 through 1254.  Supposedly he amassed a force of 15,000 who sailed across the Mediterrean.  It is difficult to understand how it was possible to assemble and equip such a large force in the days long before the internet and at a time when most people were not literate.  The quartermasters and ship builders certainly faced a great deal of work.    The aim of King Louis’ crusade was to capture Egypt and then use that as a base for an attack that would drive the Muslims for the Holy Land.  The Egyptians defeated and devastated the forces that King Louis IX led but they realized that he was much more valuable to them alive rather than dead.  Apparently he got sick and might have died except for the success of Arabic medicine.  The Egyptians demanded and received a large ransom for him and, by 1254, he was back in France.

Apparently, Louis took his vows very seriously.  About 16 years later, King Louis decided to lead an Eighth Crusade.  By this time, I think European Christians were tiring of carrying out their futile wars against the forces of Islam.  I infer that Louis found it much more difficult to raise a military force and equip it.  This time, the aim was to attack Tunis and, if that were successful, march across North Africa to attack Egypt.  King Louis began to siege Tunis in July 1270 but died of disease the next month.  His brother took over but was much less enthusiastic about leading a crusade.  He arranged a truce with the Islamic force in North Africa in October, 1270, ending the era of the crusades.  They certainly did not accomplish their goals but the Muslim advance into Europe was limited to their invasion of Spain.

King Louis is the only French monarch to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church thus far.

The front of this church includes a large sculpture of King Louis brandishing a sword, presumably as he lead Crusaders.  So far as I know, this is the only statue in the city reminding us of the Crusades and the several centuries of warfare that Europeans carried out to reassert Christian control of the Holy Lands. 

Architects: John Donaldson and John Meier
Architectural Style: Neo-Gothic
Date of Opening: 1961
Use in 2015:  A dormant church awaiting reuse
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph:  Ren Farley; April 3, 2015
Description updated: August, 2015

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