Historic Detroit

St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church

In 1905, among the growing numbers of Polish people within the boundaries of St. Albertus parish, a group of about 30 men signed an appeal to Bishop John S. Foley requesting the establishment of a new Polish parish. The group consisted mostly of young men who left Poland as children or teenagers, spent their early years at St. Albertus, married, and began moving from the original Polish neighborhood to the area northeast in increasing numbers. In 1907, Bishop Foley appointed the Rev. Father Sylvester Kolkiewicz to organize and build a new parish that would be easily accessible to the people of this area. It was on May 8, 1907 that Father Kolkiewicz accepted this tremendous challenge and the parish - our own St. Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church - was officially founded.

In early December, 1907, despite cold weather and snow, Polish builders and carpenters started building the first church. The little frame church was built in only sixteen days on the south side of Frederick Street about midway between McDougall and Elmwood avenues. In the months prior, Masses had been celebrated at the home of Martin Tesmar, which was located at the corner of McDougall and Theodore streets.

Just one year later, a new St. Hyacinth Church and School building had been completed and was officially dedicated on December 20, 1908. The building, which still stands today on the corner of Frederick and McDougall avenues, was completed at a cost of 35,000 dollars and towered above all the other new structures in the area.

Before the school building actually existed, Father Kolkiewicz approached the Felician Motherhouse with a request for teaching sisters. The request was positively considered and as soon as construction was completed, the teachers were provided. They were led by the first principal, Sister Mary Celine.

The beginning of World War I turned Detroit’s Polonia, including the parishioners of St. Hyacinth, into a strong nationalistic assembly, pledged in its support to end the bondage of their brothers and sisters in Poland. Father Kolkiewicz, well attuned to the sentiments of his congregation, made certain that his parish became actively involved in the war effort.

In January, 1920, the Rev. Father Francis Baweja was appointed as the second pastor of St. Hyacinth when Father Kolkiewicz accepted other duties in the archdiocese.

Father Kolkiewicz was later assigned to the Polish community in St. Louis, Missouri, where the innovation and creativity that he bestowed upon St. Hyacinth then continued to serve as an inspiration to the Poles in St. Louis. While here at St. Hyacinth, he taught the Jackowianie to strive for the best from the very beginning - an important lesson that has resulted in all we have today.

On January 10, 1922, Father Francis Baweja met with the parish committee to discuss the proposed construction of a new St. Hyacinth Church building. Father Baweja presented Bishop Michael J. Gallagher with the results of the parish meeting, placing special emphasis on the willingness of the people to finance the plan. After several days of consideration, Bishop Gallagher gave his permission to engage architects Donaldson and Meier, Architects of Detroit, to submit plans for the proposed St. Hyacinth’s Church and Rectory. Father Baweja immediately commissioned the architects to draw up definite plans and projected costs of the new church. Father Baweja then announced to the parishioners that July 4, 1922 would be “groundbreaking” day for the new St. Hyacinth Church and Rectory. On May 25, 1924, Bishop Michael J. Gallagher blessed the newly constructed church. Built at a total cost of some 300,000 dollars in two years, the Byzantine-Romanesque style church stood impressively in the purely Polish neighborhood. It was the pride of everyone who walked on McDougall Avenue.

Also assisting the pastor was Rev. Father Stefan Woznicki. From 1920 until he himself became the pastor of St. Hyacinth, Father Woznicki unofficially worked in the parish. His position as secretary to Bishop Gallagher left him little time, yet he managed to remember his Polish background and offered spiritual advice to both religious and lay members of the parish. At age 31, he became the youngest Monsignor in the world.

Father Baweja, Msgr. Woznicki and the Parish Council took extreme care in deciding upon the various interior paint color schemes and artistic decorations of the new church building. Prior to arriving at a decision, Father Baweja and Msgr. Woznicki visited various churches in Canada and a Cathedral in St. Louis, Missouri for ideas. By late 1928, the decoration of the interior of the church had been completed.

In 1932, St. Hyacinth celebrated its 25th Anniversary. An anniversary book was published, in Polish, with a photo of the founding pastor, Father Kolkiewicz on the cover. An evening banquet was held at the Dom Polski Hall on Forest at Chene Street.

In June, 1933, the first graduating class of the St. Hyacinth Commerce High School (9th and 10th grades) received their diplomas. The High School ceased operation at the end of the 1943 school year.

Father Francis Baweja died on December 26, 1936. During the funeral eulogy, Bishop Gallagher appointed the new Pastor of St. Hyacinth Parish - Monsignor Woznicki. Bishop Gallagher died three weeks later.

On January 25, 1938, Monsignor Woznicki was consecrated as Bishop of Detroit by Archbishop Mooney and continued his residency and pastorship at St. Hyacinth. Bishop Woznicki was Pastor of St. Hyacinth in its Golden Age.

At the outbreak of World War II, parishioners scrambled to contact relatives upon the news of Germany’s attack on Poland. An Honor Roll of servicemen perishing in the war was installed in the church vestibule. Parishioner Arthur Nowicki was the first St. Hyacinth serviceman to be killed in the war.

The 1940’s were a time of change at St. Hyacinth. Bishop Woznicki appealed to Poles to retain their family name, rather than changing it; a practice which was becoming more prevalent. He also cautioned the parishioners not to flee to the suburbs, but to stay in the parish neighborhood.

On the 35th anniversary of the school building, it had been estimated that 28,000 students and 3,000 graduates had passed through its doors. In May, 1949, homes were purchased on Farnsworth in order to provide a playground for the school children.

On June 15, 1950, Rev. Father Peter S. Rypel succeeded Bishop Woznicki as Pastor of St. Hyacinth.

In 1957, the Ranieri Studio of Detroit, MI painted, redecorated, and beautified the church at a cost of 45,000 dollars.

On May 8, 1957, St. Hyacinth Parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee. A Golden Jubilee book, souvenir of the occasion was published.

A first time ever “Open House” for potential students was held in 1965.

The parish introduced the use of Sunday Missals in 1967.

Father Rypel retired as pastor on June 30, 1971 but continued to reside at the parish rectory until the time of his death, six months later, on October 6th. On July 25, 1971, Rev. Father Francis S. Skalski was installed as pastor of St. Hyacinth.

In the 1970’s, St. Hyacinth began to face challenging times. Grade school enrollments were down. Parish organizations stepped up to the challenge, holding various fundraisers with proceeds donated to the school fund. Parishioners rallied in strong opposition to any attempt by the Eastside Vicariate to close the school. Cardinal Dearden notified Father Skalski that no one will close the school as long as it maintained a strong financial base. The school remained open.

In 1972, Mr. and Mrs. Dominic and Anita Mroz of Hamtramck completely redecorated the church at a cost of 51,300 dollars.

St. Hyacinth Parish hosted the United Poletown Parishes annual Mass. Participating parishes included St. Albertus, St. Josaphat, St. Stanislaus and Immaculate Conception.

Father Francis Skalski celebrated his 20th Anniversary of priesthood on June 6, 1976 with a special Mass and Open House in the school hall.

In 1978, the small ceramic tile aisles of the church were replaced with marble as was the cement floor underneath the pews. The ambitious project, with the help of parishioners, was completed by Christmas.

The 1980 Banana Festival, under the direction of Arlene Pulice, netted a whopping $50,505 for the parish. This year, the Banana Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary.

A new weekend Mass schedule is implemented. The new Mass schedule includes a 4 p.m. Saturday Mass and two Sunday Masses at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Father Joseph Karasiewicz celebrated his first Mass at St. Hyacinth after the closing of Immaculate Conception due to the Poletown plant project. Months later, Father Joseph Karasiewicz, former pastor of Immaculate Conception parish suffered a fatal heart attack in his room at St. Hyacinth rectory. Nearly 1,000 mourners including Cardinal Dearden and Cardinal Szoka attended the Funeral Mass at St. Hyacinth.

The Parish’s 80th anniversary celebration took place on October 25, 1987 with Edmund Cardinal Szoka celebrating Mass and blessing the Immaculate Conception Memorial Chapel. The Chapel installation and resurfacing of some of the interior walls with marble from Italy was made possible through a 100,000 dollar grant from the Cardinal and Archdiocese.

On September 21, 1988, St. Hyacinth is listed in the State of Michigan’s Historical Site Registry.

On May 23, 1990, it was officially decided to close the grade school due to the lack of students. The 81 year tradition marked its last day on June 6th.

Only days after celebrating their one hundred year anniversary of serving the needs of Detroiters, the Felician Sisters left St. Hyacinth Parish on July 11th, 1990, ending yet another tradition that lasted 81 years.

In 1996, four hundred friends joined Father Skalski in celebrating his 40th anniversary in the priesthood and 25th anniversary as Pastor of St. Hyacinth at a special Mass and Banquet.

On April 6, 1998, St. Hyacinth’s was included in a tour of Detroit’s historical churches.

In January, 2000, two large banners heralding the Church’s Jubilee Year (2000) were hung in the sanctuary.

In January, 2001, the City of Detroit and its 300th Anniversary Committee recognized St. Hyacinth Parish with a Heritage Award at a Cobo Hall breakfast gathering of over 3,000 people. The Parish name was also inscribed on a Tiffany glass trophy, which is part of Detroit’s 300th Celebration collection. As part of its participation in the Detroit300 Tricentennial Celebration and to leave a lasting legacy within the City of Detroit, St. Hyacinth Parish is included in the Riverfront Promenade with an inscribed twelve by twelve inch granite paver. Combining an inscription in both in English and Polish, St. Hyacinth is the only parish to be represented in such a manner.

In 2001, artist Dennis Orlowski was commissioned by the Parish to paint a Polish-American Heritage Mural over the main entrance doorways of the church. The mural is a gift from St. Hyacinth Parish to the Polish community of metropolitan Detroit and in celebration of the 300th birthday of the City of Detroit.

On June 24, 2001, nearly 1000 people crowded into St. Hyacinth Church for a celebration of Detroit’s tricentennial and to celebrate Polish-American heritage. Bishop Allen Vigneron, principal celebrant of the Mass, praised the contributions of Polish immigrants and successive generations of Polish-Americans in building the Catholic Church in Detroit. During the Mass, Bishop Vigneron and Father Skalski presented Detroit300 Polish-American Heritage awards to individuals and representatives of businesses and institutions.

In September, 2001, parishioners joined the rest of the world in mourning the victims of the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the foiled attack in which a jetliner crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

In November, 2001, the first parish-wide Remembrance Mass was celebrated remembering parishioners and friends who passed away during the past year. A candle lighting ceremony is part of the Remembrance program. Bishop Blair attended and lighted a candle in memory of the victims of the September 11th tragedy.

In 2002, Mr John Nalepa and Company was hired to paint the interior of the Church. The white background of the cupolas was replaced with real gold leaf. In addition to the painting, many other repairs to the canvas, walls and stained glass windows were accomplished. All the stained glass windows, statues and marble walls were also given a complete cleaning. The work began on May 6th lasted for some nine months. The cost of the painting was $120,000.

On September 15, 2002, St. Hyacinth Parish proudly celebrated its 95th anniversary with a special Mass, celebrated by Bishop Leonard Blair. The Mass was attended by nearly 500 people. The entrance procession followed a route outdoors along Farnsworth Avenue entering the Church through the front doors on McDougall. Banners from the various societies and organizations were carried by the ushers in the procession. For many of the younger attendees, this was likely the first time they had seen these included in a procession, and the expressions on their faces showed it. The Offertory procession included parishioners representing the decades in which they were born. Each brought up a gift representative of Saint Hyacinth Parish. As the Offertory gifts were brought up, a candle corresponding to the decade was lit on a specially made candle stand. This completed the lighting of 95 candles representing the 95th anniversary of the parish. After the Mass, a banquet was held at the Barton House in St. Clair Shores, MI. Approximately 250 people attended and received a special anniversary book commemorating the celebration.

On September 14, 2003 Saint Hyacinth hosted an all school reunion. The response and attendance was phenomenal as a total of 1100 former students, friends and their families packed the Church. The Offertory of the Mass was comprised of former students, teachers and the Felician Sisters. Immediately following the Mass, all the attendees were invited into the school for an open house. Two of the classrooms were set-up much like classrooms of the 1950s and 1960s would have looked. The main hall on the first floor was lined with table after table of memorabilia and pictures. The phrases “It’s so good to see you!” and “I can’t believe it’s you!” were par for the day as the guests took the opportunity to tour the school, visit with old schoolmates and reminisce.

On January 10, 2004 Saint Hyacinth held its first parish wigilia in many years. Some 170 parishioners and friends of all ages attended. The school hall and choinka (Christmas tree) were adorned with handmade decorations. The evening began with the children conducting the traditional search for the pierwszy gwiazda (first star) of the evening. The Saint Hyacinth Mens’ choir treated the guests to a medley of ko?edy. The medley included a narration on the history and meaning of ko?edy. ?wi?ty Miko?aj also made an appearance. ?wi?ty Miko?aj joined Father Skalski to start the breaking of the op?atek. The guests then enjoyed a traditional nine-course meal. A wonderful evening was had by all.

Over the years Saint Hyacinth has honored members of Detroit area Polonia during special Masses to recognize the efforts individual and group efforts. One of these Masses is the Annual Blessing of the Polish American Dance Ensembles. This Mass is celebrated in the spring and pays tribute to the efforts of the Detroit area Polish American Dance organizations, with a special emphasis on the youth. The Blessing Mass averages 150 to 200 dancers a year. The Mass reached a milestone of its own this past March as it celebrated its fifth anniversary. The other special Mass is the Polish American Heritage Awards which is which is celebrated during month of October, Polish American Heritage Month. The Polish American Heritage Awards are given to local individuals and organizations that contributed to Detroit area Polonia.

Saint Hyacinth went through a transition in leadership in June of 2006. The Reverend Father Skalski who served as pastor for 35 years turned over the title of pastor to our current Pastor, Father Janusz Iwan. Father Skalski?s tenure as pastor will long be remembered for the pastoral care and leadership he provided. Father Skalski will also be remembered for the devotion he gave to the parish, and his successful efforts to keep Saint Hyacinth open and viable. Father would not take credit for his accomplishments, rather he would always say “I only have two hands, it is the many helpers that made this possible. During difficult times and the closing of Detroit area parishes, Saint Hyacinth remained a stronghold for Polonia and a gem on the eastside of Detroit to practice our Catholic faith.

Father Janusz came to Saint Hyacinth From Saint Stanislaus Kostka where he also served as pastor. Father Janusz was born in Poland. He brings with him a strong belief and devotion to our Catholic faith. Being Polish, he also brings an appreciation of our Polish heritage that we long to preserve. How blessed we are to have another Pastor with so much in common. Father Janusz started his pastoral duties at a very exciting time. Saint Hyacinth was in the midst of our year long celebration of our 100th Anniversary. Starting with May 2006, a special Mass or parish gathering has been held each month. The centennial year began in May of 2006 with a Mass celebrated by Bishop John Quinn to officially mark the beginning of our yearlong celebration. Upon arriving at Saint Hyacinth, Father Janusz was pleased at the beauty and upkeep of the church and property. Father Janusz has continued this upkeep with continual improvements to the rectory and parish grounds. During many of the special Masses and Holy Days, Father has noted how much more beautiful the church is with many people in the pews, and invited our guests to continue to visit Saint Hyacinth more often. Saint Hyacinth Parish continues to extend this invitation as we move into our next century as a parish. Please join us as we build the memories and treasures of the next 100 years.