Last Saturday night found us in the most beautiful church I have ever seen in the United States. The Sweetest Heart of Mary church in Detroit, built in 1885, drew an involuntary gasp from me as we entered the doors for a wedding. It didn't matter that the weather was miserable or that we were late or that the church was very chilly. It didn't matter that the neighborhood is dangerous or that the echo from the speakers was so bad we couldn't understand what the pastor was saying. It didn't matter that we sat in the back and couldn't see the bride and groom until the recessional. What did matter was the immediate sense of God's presence in that glorious building.
Had I even thought to bring a camera, there is no doubt my photography could never capture that beauty of the church. Here are some of the images from the web:
The history of the parish is equally as fascinating. Organized by a renegade priest from Poland, the parish was home to 4000 families in the late 19th century. Saturday mornings were reserved for weddings with 10 couples being married at the same time. The parish even had two militias, complete with uniforms.
There was constant trouble between the Archdiocese of Detroit and the church's pastor which led to his eventual removal and lawsuits and civil charges. At one point, the parish was so deeply in debt from the construction of the church that it had to be sold. The parishioners mortgaged their houses and were able to buy back the building.
I try to think about what it would have been like to be a Polish immigrant, living in a small house in what was already a dirty city. Many worked in factories and were terribly homesick. But they had their church, their magnificent church, where everyone spoke Polish and every aspect of Polish life and custom was honored.
But history is ever growing, and urban flight and miserable politics and governance decimated Detroit. And there were many other Polish parishes in the city and the suburbs. "The Heart" is now down to 100 families, and the neighborhood is typical inner city Detroit with crime and blight; however, the church is being restored and remains a positive force.
Were I a Roman Catholic or of Polish ancestry, I would be very tempted to join this parish. As it was, one visit there just wasn't enough for me.