This east side location is the Detroit site of the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, one of about twenty rites of the Eastern Catholic Church that recognize the primacy of the Roman pope. Most people in the United States are familiar with the Roman Catholic Church and may not realize that there are several Eastern rite Catholic churches that share the same theological tenants but are somewhat independent from the Roman Church. They also use their own liturgies and languages and have their own hierarchy. These are quite different from the Eastern Orthodox Church which does not recognize the Roman pope since they believe their church is the only one that may be traced back to Christ and St. Peter.
As the Christian religion evolved, a variety of local variants emerged in different areas using local languages and their own liturgies. The Coptic Church in Egypt is among the most well-known of these churches. A Syriac-Aramean monk by the name of Maroun developed a substantial following in the Fourth Century since he effectively preached the Gospel and, apparently, worked many miracles that testified to his spirituality. After his death in 410 AD, his followers founded a community of believers known as the Maronite Christian Church. It spread rapidly throughout present day Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan. Groups of believers often develop bureaucracies and, in 687, the Maronites elected their first Patriarch, John Maroun, who is also venerated as a saint.
The Maronites have and unusual history. In the Seventh and Eighth century, the Arabs conquered most of the lands where the Maronites lived and sought to impose Islam as the religion. The great strength of the Arabs and the weaknesses of the Europeans in this era meant that the Maronites were pretty much cut off from their Christian colleagues in Greece, Rome or elsewhere, isolated within a largely Islamic population.
In the Twelfth Century, European Christians initiated Crusades in an effort to oust the Arabs who controlled much of the Mideast, North Africa and Spain. Their efforts were not very successful but the Christian crusaders who came to Lebanon found the Maronites and, for the first time, in several centuries contacts between these different groups of Catholics were reestablished. When the great split between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church occurred in the Thirteenth Century, the Maronites continued their affiliation with Rome.
Syriac, a dialect of Middle Aramaic, is the official language of this church. People from the Mideast began coming to the United States in modest numbers in the late Nineteenth Century. Gradually, there were sufficient numbers in some of the larger cities of the United States and Canada to form Maronite parishes. Detroit’s Maronites apparently held their services at Sts. Peter and Paul Church on East Jefferson in downtown Detroit. In 1915, their began construction of their own church at the corner of East Congress and Orleans. That served as the home for this parish for almost fifty years. However, in 1962, the urban renewal efforts in Detroit took over their property. They began to build the structure you see pictured above. This church opened in 1965. From 1966 to 1978, this served as the cathedral for the Maronite Church in the United States. After 1978, a church in Brooklyn was the cathedral.
The Maronite community in this country is quite extensive. There are 86 parishes across the country and a seminary in Washington, DC. Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi is the Patriarch of the Maronite Church and also serves in the College of Cardinals of the Roman Church.
Date of construction: 1965
Architect: Unknown to me
Use in 2012: Maronite Catholic Church
Website for the Maronite Church in the United States: https://www.usmaronites.com/
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; October 23, 2013
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