I grew up in a Detroit Catholic culture, where your identity was your parish and your Catholic school. A Catholic church, with its grade school, and nearly always its high school, seemed to be on every Detroit street corner. The parish was the glue that held the neighborhood together. The parish complex of church, school, convent, rectory and community center was most often just a short walk from home. You saw your classmates at school, at Mass on Sundays, at football and basketball games on the weekend, and during social events at night. You didn't need fancy uniforms with your names on the back. Heck, you didn't even need your school name on the front. Everyone knew you were from St. Anthony, Visitation, St. Leo, St. Cecilia and on and on. But, deep down, our Catholic faith connected us all.
My parents' generation was born in during the Roaring 20s (when they couldn't build churches and schools fast enough), grew up during the Depression, fought in World War II and gave birth to and raised the Baby Boomers. They sent those Boomers in their thousands to Catholic schools in the city and in the suburbs of Detroit.
Then in the late 60s, things started to unravel. There were many causes. We spread out too much, vocations virtually disappeared, our communities became polarized, we began to think too much about ourselves. No doubt, the fabric of Detroit's Catholic culture has weakened and the patterns have faded. We constantly work to reclaim, rebuild and strengthen that culture, but it is a difficult task. Definitely worth the effort.
While many feel we have lost our connection to a great heritage, we have not. But those connections are fast disappearing. I am not talking about closed parishes, closed schools and vandalized buildings. I am talking about the people who were a part of those parish and school communities.
The past few months have been bad ones. Just before the 4th of July, my aunt June McGuire Butler (Immaculata '51) lent me her Senior yearbook to take some scans for The Detroit Catholic School Heritage Project. We collect Detroit Catholic school artifacts, including a lot of yearbooks. Aunt June made it clear she wanted her yearbook back. She treasured her Immaculata memories. She visited one of her basketball teammates, now immobile, at a nursing home every Monday. I took the scans and published them on our Facebook group. I still have her yearbook. Aunt June was in excellent health, apparently, in June of 2015. Right after July 4th, she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away on August 9.
Aunt June was married to my dad's brother Joe. My dad's family went through St. Theresa of Avila high school in Detroit. Two of my dad's classmates from the 1941 class of at St. Theresa, Joe and Marge Rogers, raised their family on the next street over from us in Redford. They belonged to Our Lady of Loretto and the Rogers kids and the Butler kids went to OLL school. The Rogers boys and the Butler boys went on to Catholic Central. Marge Rogers died earlier this month.
Marge's next door neighbors in Redford were the Vincents. Therese Vincent Watkins Vincent (Immaculata '45) married Walter Vincent (CC '43). Walter died in 1968, but Therese raised her 9 children sending them all through OLL grade school and on to Catholic high school. Her son, Bill, a CC alum, is also a member of the Detroit Catholic School Heritage Project Board. Therese died in August.
One of Mr. Vincent's 1943 CC classmates was Robert Hathaway. Robert played football at CC and went on to Notre Dame. As was the case for many of the Greatest Generation, his education was interrupted by service in the Navy during World War II. Bob Hathaway died this past spring. He remained a member of the CC Alumni Board of Directors (a group to which I also belong) up to the time of his death.
In September, another OLL parish member, Shirley Britz Buechel passed away. Shirley lived one street east of us in Redford. Her kids and ours went to OLL and the boys went on to CC. Shirley was my mom's classmate in the 1944 graduating class of St. Mary's of Redford. Mrs. Buechel contacted me a couple of years ago to donate some of her SMR material to our project.
Death has even come to our Heritage Project Board. At the end of April, Tom Pozniak, CC '59, died suddenly. At the time of his death he was watching a Tigers game on TV. A few short minutes before he had sent an email to board members about our 2015 event.
Our heritage runs deep. Our connections are many. But our links to the past are fast disappearing. It is important that we preserve the history of our Catholic schools and the students who helped build Detroit and Southeast Michigan. The Detroit Catholic School Heritage Project hold an annual Mass and Award dinner to celebrate our shared experience and values. This year's event is at Shrine in Royal Oak, Thursday, October 29, 2015 starting at 6 pm. Cost is $35. All are welcome. More details may be found by following this link.
Join us. Time is not our ally.