Historic Detroit

Ste. Anne Parish

HistoricDetroit.org is working on its own history of this landmark. Until then, this history is from the church’s official Web site, www.ste-anne.org.

On July 24, 1701, Cadillac and his people landed at Detroit. Two days later, July 26, 1701, Ste. Anne’s Feast Day, construction of the first structure began, Ste. Anne’s Catholic Church. The site was just west of what is now Jefferson and Griswold streets.

Fire swept through the settlement on October 5, 1703 destroying the church, rectory, and several other buildings. The parish’s earliest records were consumed in that fire. Even so, Ste. Anne’s today, possesses one of the longest continuous church records in the United States.

In 1714, the church was razed by the people of Fort Ponchartrain themselves, to avoid having it be used as cover by the Fox Native Americans, with whom the Fort’s soldiers were fighting. For several years Mass was said in a make-shift church in a fort building.

In 1755, the 6th Ste. Anne de Detroit was built when Father Simple Bocquet began his 27 years of service. During his time, the English invaded, but allowed religious freedom. English, Irish, and Scottish settlers arrived. First Communion classes were instituted.

Father Gabriel Richard served Ste. Anne’s as its pastor from 1802 to 1832. He founded churches, schools, co-founded the University of Michigan, was a politician, and a member of Congress. He was also a printer. He published Michigan’s first newspaper, The Observer. He imported carding and spinning wheels, and looms so women could learn a trade. He loved to talk politics - was well-read and deeply devout. He died in his 65th year, the last victim of a plague, during which he had spent himself tending the sick.

The 8th and present church is now at 1000 Ste. Anne Street (formerly 19th Street) at Howard, near the Ambassador Bridge. It’s cornerstone was laid in 1886. The church contains many relics from the 1818 stone church which stood on Bates Street. Among its treasures are: the 1818 cornerstone, the main altar, the intricately hand carved communion rail, the “Beaubien Bell” and the statue of Ste. Anne and her daughter, Mary. It also contains the oldest stained glass in the city. The church has a 26-rank pipe organ and a reverberation time typical of some of the finest European churches. Of particular interest on the exterior of the building are the flying buttresses, a feature fairly common in gothic churches in Europe, but unusual in the “new world.” Four gargoyles guard the main entrance on the north facade.

In the chapel stands the wood altar from the church built in 1818. Fr. Gabriel Richard celebrated Mass at this very altar.

Founded by M. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701 along with the beginning of Fort Ponchartrain, the parish of St. Anne is the second oldest Catholic parish with a continuous record in the United States.

The Church’s history is interlocked with the history of Detroit, and its records, beginning in 1704, are an invaluable source of information, especially on the French population of Detroit. The Complex consists of five buildings: church, rectory, school, convent and parish hall. In 1887, as it had twice before, the congregation outgrew its accommodations and had to erect a new building. The church, designed in a basic cruciform plan by Albert E. French, is an excellent example of the Gothic Revival style, and contains the twin spires design common in northern French churches. The thirty-five foot altar is a purely gothic design with spires, pinnacles, turrets and flying buttresses. Below the steps of the main altar lies the crypt containing the tomb of Father Gabriel Richard (1767-1832), a figure who looms large in the Church’s history. Born in France, Father Richard became a Suplican priest in 1791, but fled his country during the French Revolution. Seeking asylum in the United States, he became pastor of the parish in 1802 and devoted himself to his religious duties and the development of public education in Detroit. Father Richard started a school for girls and was one of the founders of the University of Michigan. Serving as a delegate to Congress from 1823-1825, Father Richard was the first priest to serve in Congress and was instrumental in securing road building projects for Michigan, including a road from Detroit to Chicago. He died of cholera in 1832, contracting the disease while administering aid to hundreds of cholera sufferers during an epidemic that swept the city. In the chapel stands the wood altar from the church built in 1818. Richard celebrated Mass at this very altar.