Putting a Happy Face on Detroit

News: Video Reports
by Kristine Christlieb  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  December 14, 2022   

Dramatic decline can't be denied

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A new documentary film is tracing Detroit's history from the steeples of its churches.

In tonight's In-Depth Report, Church Militant's Kristine Christlieb brings us a sneak peek of the film and its glowing tribute to Detroit's spiritual heritage.

Documentary filmmaker and long-time Detroit resident Keith Famie admits he hasn't spent much time in Detroit's churches, but he told the Detroit Catholic they "reminded him of the sacredness and impact places of faith can have in people's lives."

There are lots of those reminders in Detroit, where there are more churches per square mile than in any other city in America. And the first one was Catholic.

Detroit: The City of Churches begins with Ste. Anne's parish.

Msgr. Charles Kosanke: "Over a hundred years, Ste. Anne's congregation was the only congregation in the city of Detroit."

Overall, the film's rosy depiction of the city's church history ignores the area's infamous and very obvious decline.

Period newsreel: "The bishop was the Most Rev. John Dearden. And the city was Detroit."

When John Dearden was named the city's new archbishop in 1958, the city was at the height of its influence.

It was the fifth-largest city in America and one of the wealthiest metropolitan areas in the world.

Dearden left for Rome and returned from Vatican II in 1965 on a mission to change the Church.

Jay McNally, Catholic journalist: "When Dearden came back from Vatican II, he basically cleaned house. He just fired virtually everybody and put the radical revolutionaries in, like Tom Gumbleton."

Priest by priest, parish by parish, school by school, Dearden dismantled Detroit's Catholic heritage.


There was a big effort to somehow address the issue of racism, and Dearden said, "Oh my God! Our schools are bastions of racism. Some of our schools ... Hamtramck, for example — all over the city of Detroit — some of these schools are 100%, 99% White. That can only be because they're racist."

As Dearden razed Catholic Detroitsocial and political decline followed — making Detroit an unrecognizable shadow of its former glory.

And the deliberate downsizing continues. 

Archbishop Allen Vigneron plans to consolidate the 216 remaining parishes into 51.

Detroit Catholics of a certain age are heartbroken and angry. The glory days are still within their memories, and films that ignore what has happened to Detroit's churches only make the pain worse.

Detroit isn't the only city where parish consolidation is being promoted. The strategy is being adopted in dioceses across the country.

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