Called "the most forlorn church in the city of Detroit", the church of St. John Cantius parish and its school have a long and proud history. In 1902, the parish intended to serve the needs of the Polish Catholics of Delray, was founded. This was the first Polish parish established in this area. The city of Detroit annexed the city of Delray in 1908. Salt had been mined there since 1870. The Delray area was heavily industrialized due to its favorable location along the Detroit River. During the first half of the 20th Century the area served by St. John Cantius was densely populated with the families of Polish workers. The elementary school, built in 1910, had an enrollment as high as 1000 students.
The construction of Detroit's waste water treatment plant in 1939, followed by expansions in 1957 and 1974, bulldozed hundreds of homes near the church and scattered many Delray residents from the area, as did the expansion of I-75 in the 1960s. The school, its enrollment declining, closed in that dismal year for Detroit Catholic schools, 1969.
When many of Detroit's parishes were closed in Detroit in the 1980s, St. John Cantius was spared but it was clustered with both All Saints Parish and Saints Andrew and Benedict Parish. Masses were said, at least on a rotating basis, at all of these churches but St. John Cantius was not fully staffed. The parish was officially closed when the last Masses were said on Sunday October 28, 2007.
My friend Tom Wozniak has put together a marvelous website for St. John Cantius, with extensive coverage of the last Mass. The site can be found here.
While the building still stands alone amid a, now, mostly vacant landscape, some of the beauty of the church has been preserved and can now be found in other Catholic institutions in the area. St. Catherine of Siena High School in Wixom has incorporated 2 of the church's stained glass windows in its chapel (still under construction, I'm afraid, so no pictures). However, I was allowed into the new Franciscan Welcome Center on the campus of Madonna University in Livonia to see the window featuring St. John Cantius himself, in the Gathering Space of the building. The Felician Sisters, who sponsor Madonna, taught in many of Detroit's Catholic schools, including St. John Cantius. I have included two pictures of the window in this post.
I thank the staff at Madonna for its kind help and cooperation. The quest to find these windows took me some time.
After taking the pictures, I attempted to leave the building. Forgetting how I had got in, I wandered around looking for the way out. I'm glad I did, for as I headed to an elevator at the end of a small corridor on the second floor, there was St. John Cantius, standing, big as life, before me. The statue of the parish's patron saint had been preserved and transferred from the church to Madonna University. The statue is shown at the beginning of this post.
It is good to see that the memory of those many families who built their church and their lives at St. John Cantius are not wholly forgotten.