Detroit, MI

Exploring Polish History in Detroit Churches

Heather Raulerson

There are two beautiful Polish Churches in Detroit that are almost forgotten in the burned-out areas of Detroit. These historical landmarks are too amazing not to go and visit. Especially since, according to the 200 US Census, Michigan is home to the third-largest Polish population.

Photo by Heather Raulerson

St. Albertus Church

Photo by Heather Raulerson

The Reverend Simon Wieczorek founded St. Albertus Roman Catholic Church in 1872. Polish neighborhoods grew up around the parish’s first church. The Poles wanted to be close to their own church, thus creating “Poletown,” the first Polish community in Detroit. The church was designed with an octagonal tower which was common to churches in Poland. It was completed in 1885 and accommodated 2,500 parishioners. This made St. Albertus the second largest Polish Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

The interior of St. Albertus is so beautiful, and that there are so many things to look at you won’t know where to start. This is no longer an active church, but they have some special masses held at certain times of the year. The Polish American Historic Site Association is dependent on donations for the continued maintenance and restoration of St. Albertus, which is sorely needed as you can see the chipped plaster & paint throughout the inside. You can also rent out the church for $500 if you would like to get married in a real Polish Church.

Photo by Heather Raulerson

St. Hedwig

One of the altars in the church's sanctuary on the left is for St. Hedwig, a Polish Saint. There is a life-sized mannequin posed in death, of St. Hedwig, in an illuminated glass coffin. This St. Hedwig has quite the story. When the church officially closed, St. Hedwig was sent to a church in Toledo. When the church was designated a historic site and restoration began to get it back to its former glory, St. Hedwig was to be returned to St. Albertus. Two ladies in a truck went to Toledo to pick her up. On the way back, they went through a McDonald’s drive-thru. The worker asked, “Are you sure you only want two meals?” St. Hedwig was sitting between the two ladies, and with the mannequin so life-like she was mistaken as a real person. When the ladies returned, the church was closed so, they took it to the house across the street and put her in the living room sitting by the window. The next morning someone brought her in and carried her around the church showing her all the things that had changed since she had been here originally, until making it around to her final resting spot where she is today.

Photo by Heather Raulerson

It is truly inspiring to see the number of people who volunteer their time to keep this Polish Church functioning. If you are of Polish descent, this is a must-see church with a lot of Polish history and culture on display.

St. Hyacinth Church

Photo by Heather Raulerson

Due to the overwhelming number of Poles living in the vicinity, Father Kolkiewicz founded St. Hyacinth in 1907. Detroit architects Donaldson & Meier designed the Romanesque & Byzantine-style church. A combined church and school were built. Felician nuns taught school in English and Polish to the area’s children. St. Hyacinth is still an active church today.

From the altars, statues to the cupolas on the ceiling, everything has so much detail. The Sanctuary has been decorated with mosaics from artisans in Venice. The three Cupolas in the ceiling are broken up to represent the New Testament, Polish Saints (including St. Hedwig), and the Old Testament. There is so much rich Polish history here to see.

Photos by Heather Raulerson

These amazing and beautiful Polish Churches are what is left of a once vibrant Polish Community within Detroit.

When I was visiting St. Hyacinth, I noticed across the street a burned-out home. I asked the guard, and he mentioned that it happened the night before. This is more of a representative of what certain areas of Detroit look like today. Today both of these Polish churches are within locked gates and with security guards. The area around them is derelict and run-down, and it is hard to imagine this being a thriving community. This is a shame because of how much we have to learn about our Polish heritage that I would not want anything to happen to St. Albertus or St. Hyacinth. If you do get the chance, I would take a trip to visit these Polish Churches, either by celebrating mass, volunteering to help restore them, or checking out your Polish heritage.

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Freelance travel writer and photographer who loves sharing her adventures from around the world. It is never too late to pursue your dream!

Rochester Hills, MI

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