Text adapted from:
"Remembrance of 100th Anniversary St. Francis
D'Assisi Parish Detroit, Michigan October 15,
History of St. Francis D'Assisi
There are many stories about the founding of our
parish, none of which can truly be confirmed
because there were no real records kept.
If one talks to the families of the "Founding
Fathers" you will be told of numerous meetings
held to decide whether a new church was needed
and where it should be built. Based on these
stories, the actual founding of the parish would
have taken place in 1888. These stories could be
corroborated by a newspaper article in one of
the polish papers entitled: The History of
Detroit Polonia Upon the 250th Anniversary of
What we do have are the minutes of a meeting
held on February 24,1889 at St. Casmir’s parish
and a second meeting held on February 28,1889 at
the home of a Mr. Joseph Malicld. It was at this
second meeting that six lots on Wesson and
Buchanan and six lots on Campbell and Buchanan
were purchased for the amount of $2,900 with a
down payment of $275.00.In 1889 the City of
Detroit Directory showed that Buchanan ran from
Grand River Avenue to Junction. Wesson was not
listed in the directory. Michigan Avenue was a
street of wooden planks and only 30 feet wide.
There was a creek running down what is now
The area where the church was built had been a
wheat field and in recent years had changed to
vegetable gardens for homes nearby. This western
border of the city was overflowing with new
people and new homes. Most of the people were
Polish and attended mass at St. Casmir, St.
Boniface and also St. Albertus. As time passed,
the distance proved tiring for the adults and
difficult for the children. The people realized
that the churches were becoming over-crowded as
well. So looking to the future, they decided it
was time for a new church and school.
When the first committee was formed, they chose
the area of Wesson and Buchanan over a
previously suggested area of Gilbert and
Clayton, known as the clay banks. A few men went
to Bishop Foley and told him of their plans and
asked for a Polish priest to aid them. The
Bishop assigned Fr. Romuald J. Byzewski to
assist the men in starting the new parish. Fr.
Paul Gutowski, pastor of St. Casmir’s also aided
the group in their quest.
It did not take long for Fr. Byzewski and the
newly formed committee to choose a Polish
builder by the name of Martin Landczakowski to
build their church. The architect was Henry
In June 1890, the cornerstone was blessed and
with that, construction was begun on the first
building. It was built on the comer of Buchanan
and Campbell. The first floor was the school;
the second floor served as the church and the
basement was the hall. The church seated 700
people. The cost was about $35,000 for the new
brick building. It was the fifth Polish Parish
in Detroit, the second on the west side.
On April 19, 1891, the polish catholic societies
formed a procession at the comer of Michigan
Avenue and Twenty-Third Street to await the
arrival of the Bishop and the clergy
accompanying him. The procession consisted of
the Polish Commanderies of the Knights of St.
John, Polish Civic Societies and two bands of
music. They led the Bishop and his entourage to
the new Polish Catholic Church of St. Francis to
bless and dedicate it.
After the Bishop had sanctified the walls of the
edifice, there was a great rush and soon all
available space was occupied. The services were
from morning till 2 p.m.
In 1891, the first Confirmation took place in
the new church.
In 1892, a four-classroom school was started
with 282 children attending under the direction
of four teaching nuns.
In 1898, nine years after he had been appointed
as the first pastor of the new St. Francis
Parish, Fr. R. Byzewski was transferred to
Sweetest Heart of Mary parish.
Fr. Kieruj then built a new and large school, a
larger rectory, a convent for the nuns, parish
hall and other buildings. The school has 22
classrooms. The hall would be the center of
April 23, 1919, Fr. Felix Kieruj passed away.
The tremendous amount of work in the building
and maintaining the various functions of the
parish took its toll on him. He had gone to
Colorado Springs, Colorado to recuperate. It was
there that he died. During the period that Fr.
Kieruj was away, Fr. Baweja had administered to
the needs of the parish.
The body of Fr. Kieruj was brought back to
Detroit and lay in state in St. Francis Church.
Three days later the Right Rev. Michael J.
Gallagher, Bishop of the Diocese of Detroit with
the Rev. Fr. F. Gzella as honorary deacon, and
the Rev. Fr. A. Grudzinski as the honorary
subdeacon, sang the requiem Mass.
After the Mass the body of Fr. Kieruj was
escorted by the people of St. Francis Parish,
who walked in a solemn procession, along with
the church societies and a police escort to the
Michigan Central Railroad Station, where it was
shipped to La Salle, Illinois, for burial.
May 24, 1919, Fr. Alexander Grudzinski became
the pastor of St. Francis and a change was to
transpire. The church was $160,000 in debt. The
hall would no longer be the center of parish
activities. The people were expected to conduct
themselves with dignity and piety. He begged and
ordered the people to give generously to the
collection basket. His plan worked. With a great
deal of determination, Fr. Grudzinski paid off
the debt in nine years. Many considered it a
miracle because he did not hold any bazaars,
festivals or any other fund raising activities
for this purpose.
On June 3, 1928, in preparation for the
consecration of the church, a preparatory
service was held. The Rt. Rev. Gallagher, Bishop
of the Diocese, placed in a reliquary the relics
of St. Timothy and St. Teophilus, three grains
of incense and an attestation written on
parchment. The reliquary then was placed in an
um and a number of candles were lit to burn
through the night while Matins and Lauds would
June 4, 1928 at 7 a.m. began the long and solemn
ceremony of the consecration of St. Francis of
Assisi Church. About 2,000 Catholics of the
Diocese of Detroit, clergy and laity
participated in a ceremony which had been
performed here only about a half dozen times in
the century the diocese had been in existence -
the consecration of a church building.
This ceremony took place exactly twenty-three
years after the present church was dedicated.
St. Francis D’Assisi Church is only one of three
churches consecrated in the Archdiocese of
Detroit, and at the time was only the fifth
church in the nation to be consecrated.
July 3, 1939, Fr. Maximillian Gannas took over
the duties of pastor of St. Francis. There were
no debts on the church but there were many
necessary repairs needed to the church
buildings. The church was painted inside. The
lower part of the hall was rebuilt and renovated
and the upper portion was redecorated. Fr.
Gannas renovated the three altars in the church
and the communion rail. He wanted everything
looking its best for the Golden jubilee that was
October 13, 1940, the Golden jubilee of St
Francis was celebrated. The most Rev. Edward
Mooney, Archbishop of Detroit, presided at the
Mass, sung by the Pastor, Rev. Fr. Gannas. More
than 1,000 parishioners and clergymen
participated. In 1941 there was expectation and
celebration. In October of that year the Rosary
Society of St. Francis celebrated its Golden
The United States was at war and many of the
young men of the parish were enlisting in the
service. As the men enlisted, those left behind
began to do their part to help. For Valentine’s
Day the school children sent 500 greeting cards
and 200 games and puzzles to soldiers in army
camps throughout the country. For Easter they
prepared 2,200 presents for the soldiers of St.
They also purchased $1,045 in defense stamps,
contributed $31 for Masses, for the soldiers,
and gave $78.50 to the missions. The latter
project was done in a five-week period. There
were many other projects to follow.
Rallies were being held to get parishioners
involved in the war effort. On the hall, movies
were shown of the fighting and bombing to
encourage people to sign up as Air Wardens.
It was also during this time that Fr. Gannas
encouraged the men that were left behind to
become ushers and to form an Ushers Club.
The Polish Roman Catholic Union marked its 70th
Anniversary in St. Francis Hall in October 1942.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from St. Francis and
St. Andrew performed for the group. Among the
guest speakers were Fr. Gannas, Gov. Murray D.
Van Waggoner, Senator Brown, Judges O’Brien and
Moynihan and Msgr. Krzyzosiak, Rector of Orchard
Lake Seminary. It was considered quite an honor
for Fr. Gannas and the parish to host this
1943 thru 1944 the parish remained active doing
their share for the war effort. Fr. Gannas and
the parishioners, like other parishes were
involved in the war bond effort. In March of
1944 St. Francis received a War Bond because St.
Francis led the churches on the west side with
sales of $51,800 in bonds in the fourth war loan
In 1945 the war ended and as the men of the
parish returned home, things began to return to
1949 proved to be a bad year for the parish. A
life size statue of St. Francis was ordered for
the parish grounds. The artist that was hired to
create the statue changed studios. This lead the
parish and the Archdiocese into litigations
against the studios and the artist. Eventually
the statue was finished and now graces the
1955 saw major repairs and alterations done to
the parish buildings. The convent was remolded
to give each one of the sisters a separate
sleeping room. A change from the large dormitory
that made the upper floor of the convent. New
steps and doors were placed on the church during
In the mid 1960's permission was granted to
paint the church. Archbishop Deardon in a letter
to the pastor reminded him of the special nature
of the church building. He reminded the parish
that this was one of three consecrated churches
in the Archdiocese and the cost of painting was
to be well over $60,000. (At that time
consecrated churches were not allowed to be in
any form of debt, for the fear that a
consecrated church no longer be a place of
During this time the city of Detroit underwent
major population changes. People began to move
in large numbers from the inner city to the
suburbs. The reasons for the population shift is
beyond the scope of this history. It will
however play a role in the late 1980's when all
inner city parishes are studied for their
In 1970 a marble altar was places in the
sanctuary to bring the church in line with all
the liturgical changes made by the Second
The relics that were placed in the High Altar
during the consecration ceremonies in 1936 were
moved to the new altar. It was also during this
time the communion rail was modified to give a
better view of the altar and sanctuary. The age
worn marble floors of the sanctuary were also
covered in red carpet. The crucifix which hung
from the right pillar of the communion rail was
moved to the rear entrance of the church. With
decreasing attendance at weekday masses, the
rise in cost of heating such a large church, the
old caretakers house was turned into a chapel
where weekday masses were to be celebrated
during the winter months.
In March of 1985 all inner city parishes we were
asked to take part in the City Task Force. The
task force was to make recommendations to the
Archbishop Szoka for dealing with the problems
of inner city churches. In 1986 a Self-Study was
done by the parish to determine the viability of
the Parish. This study was to be used by the
Task Force to make recommendations to the
Archbishop whether to keep the church open or
close it. With declining vocations to the
religious life the School Sisters of St. Joseph
had to say good bye to the parish. This was not
good timing. It only fueled the speculation that
St. Francis was among the growing list of city
churches slated for closure. An announcement was
made on September 28, 1988 only one year away
from the Centennial Celebration, it was
determined that St. Francis was a viable parish
and that it should remain open.
The People of St. Francis had much to celebrate.
The parish received the gift of a young and
vibrant pastor just in time for the
The people of Saint Francis D'Assisi are a
proud and strong people. If you take a look at
the history of the parish, the City of Detroit,
the United States, and the world. This parish is
a testimony to the human spirit inspired by the
HOLY SPIRIT. This community has survived; two
world wars, the great depression, and two race
riots. If our church building could only talk
what lessons could it tech us about ourselves,
who we are as a community, and what we want for
(One hundred Years!)