This is the oldest church building to be found in Detroit today and isthe second oldest Catholic parish in the city. The first bishop of Detroit, Peter Paul LeFevere, purchaserd land at the corner of St. Antoine and East Jefferson in 1843 from Antoine Beaubien whose ancestors had been granted the property about a century early by the French crown. Bishkop LeFevere wished to construct a cathedral for his diocese and had the opportunity to use his first names for that cathederal. Francis Letourno designed this brick structure. It might remind you of a very plain and simple New England meeting house, hardly a style associated with the Catholic tradition of church building. But upon closer inspection, especially inthe columns in the façade, you realize that Letourno incorporated influences from the Italian Renaissance, which was influenced by classical Greek architecture. His design called for dividing the walls into bays with round-arch windows set in arches. There is a projecting bay on the Jefferson Avenue front of this church with a pediment supported by Ionic pilasters. Inside the church, there is a ornate carrara marble altar designed by Detroit resident, Gustave Adolph Mueller. This was added in 1908. The architect designed a tower for this church, but it was never built. You see a rather steeple on this red-orange brick church. The gray limestone trim is from Kelly's Island. Letourno was born in Mt. Clemens, Michigan and moved to Detroit in the early 1830s, where he became one of the first architect and builders in this small and slowly growing city. I do not know of any other surviving structures that he designed.
In many American cities, Catholics were a late immigrant group, appearing for the first time in substantial numbers after the famine in Ireland and the revolution in Germany in 1848 provoked Catholics to come to the States. This was not the situation in Detroit since the city's first Catholic parish dates to Antoine Cadillac's arrival in 1701. By the early 1840s, there were sufficient numbers of prosperous Catholics to build this impressive church.
Alterations were made and additions were incorporated in 1857, 1877, 1879, 1892, 1908 and 1917 but the Letourno's basic architectural plan was not changed. The 1857 reconstruction forcused upon the interior since the original acustics were not very good. Originally, there was only one door to the church on East Jefferson. In 1892, two additional doorways were added to permit rapid exiting from the church in case of fine. The 1917 reconstruction produced the more modern white interior.
From 1848 until 1877, this church served as the cathedral of the Catholic diocese. In 1877, Bishop Borgess gave the parish to the Jesuit order of priests who had agreed to establish a college in the city. That was, and is, the University of Detroit. Dowling Hall—designed by Gordon Lloyd and completed in 1891—stands next to this church on East Jefferson was the first University of Detroit building. As the Catholic population of Detroit fell, consideration was given to converting the beautiful chuch into the library of the Law School of the University of Detroit which is now located in Dowling Hall. Protests arose and the building is still a church.
Three other church have served as cathederal for the diocese. The predecessor church of St. Aloysius on Washington Boulevard as was St. Patrick's Church on Woodward, a church that no longer stands. More recently Most Blessed Sacrament in Woodward's Upper Piety row has been the cathederal.
Several extremely attractive and detailed pictures of the interior and exterior of Saints Peter and Paul may be found in the book listed below.
Architect: Francis Letourno
Builder: Peter Kindenkins
Date of completion: 1848
Use in 2002: Exactly the same as when it was completed in 1848- a house of worship.
For more information: Marla O. Collum, Barbara Krueger and Dorothy Kostuch, Detroit's Historic Places of Worship (Detroit: Wayne State Press, 2012)
State Historical Register: P25237, Listed January 22, 1971
State Historical Marker: Place on site May 9, 1974. This marker is on the front of the church, along Jefferson Avenue.
National Register of Historic Buildings: Listed September 3, 1971.
Photo: Ren Farley, August, 2002
Description updated: December, 2012