Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

St. Hedwig Catholic Church

Early West Detroit

In 1859, a village named Grand Junction existed along Junction Street south of Chicago Road (now Michigan Avenue) and was about one mile west of the city limits. The village had a post office and a railroad station serving the Michigan Central railroad and about five other lines. In 1874 the village was renamed Detroit Junction, and then in 1885, annexed to the city. Two years later in 1887, the area was known as West Detroit.

By the year 1882, Polish immigrants started to settle west of Woodward and gradually continued to move west in the coming years. The increasing number of Poles led to the founding of St. Casimir Church, the first west side polish catholic church, on 23rd Street north of Michigan Avenue in 1882. In 1889, another church was needed further west, and St. Francis d’ Assisi Church on Wesson Street and Buchanan was founded. By 1902, the area on the south side of Michigan Avenue from 29th Street to Livernois began to look like a Polish district. These Poles had immigrated from Malopolska or “Lesser Poland”. Small frame homes were erected around the area. Paved streets did not exist, and public sewers were not installed until as recent as 1897. The surrounding area had remnants of brickyards with large pits in which water had filled them creating artificial lakes. The area was dominated by Polish and German day laborers.

A New Parish

The nearest parish for the new settlers was St. Francis, and as more and more immigrants poured into the area, St. Francis Church appeared too small to accommodate all of the Poles from north and south of Michigan Avenue. The Poles who lived south of Michigan Avenue began to talk about organizing a new parish in this area. A group began to meet at the establishments owned by Michael Wojcik at 894 Jun ction and by Frank Kwilos at 122 Hammond Street to organize a parish committee. This committee consisted of Jacob Kronk, John Kos, Joseph Kudron, Michael Wojcik, Lawrence Nizinski and Joseph Lula. About three hundred families petitioned Bishop John S. Foley for a new parish.

Bishop Foley was informed that a new parish could not be organized because a large enough population did not live in the area and those that did were too poor to support a parish. Bishop Foley appointed Fr. Paul Gutowski, pastor of St. Casimir Parish, to further investigate this matter. After an assessment by Fr. Gutowski, Bishop Foley was convinced that a parish south of Michigan Avenue could be organized and supported by the Polish population there. Subsequently in April of 1903, Bishop Foley promised the people, that in a short time, he would send a Polish priest to start a new parish.

In June of 1903, twelve lots were purchased on Junction Street between Norton and Rollins streets (later renamed St. Hedwig and Konkel streets) and here it was resolved to build a church and school. On July 3, 1903, Bishop John S. Foley appointed Father Jan Mueller, a professor and vice rector of the Polish Seminary in Detroit, as pastor and custodian of the new St. Hedwig Parish. Fr. Mueller was born in Lodz, Prussian Poland on December 19, 1865 came to the United States in 1870 with his parents. He was an energetic 38-year-old priest who had studied in Rome.

Joseph G. Kastler, a Detroit Architect of the firm Kastler & Hunter, prepared plans for a two story building on the site. Work progressed slowly, and in December 1903, the cornerstone was blessed. The ceremony was performed by Bishop John S. Foley surrounded by numerous priests and a large crowd of the faithful from various parishes numbering some 8,000 people and including some 225 of the Kosciuszko Guard under the command of Major Max S. Jurkewicz.

On Sunday, December 18, 1904, the first services were held in the new building. The structure was made of brick and stone with galvanized cornice and a slate roof. The dimensions of the building were 84 by 130 feet. The interior was finished in hard plaster and hardwoods. The upper floor of this structure was designed to be used a church which could accommodate 1,200 people. The church only had one Altar at the beginning, but two side altars were added later. The lower floor contained four classrooms and living quarters for the teaching sisters. In the basement was a wide spacious hall that served the Parish societies for meetings, celebrations, performances, etc. The approximate cost for the structure was $70,000 of which $30,000 was already paid off by this point, leaving the Parish with a debt of $40,000.

At the founding of the parish, three societies were formed: the St. Hedwig Society, Rosary Society, and the Young Ladies Sodality. As the parish grew other societies were founded such as Sweetest Heart of Mary, St. Joseph, St. Michael, etc… Close to 300 students attended school under the guidance of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice or commonly known as Felician Sisters.

Problems Arise

Difficulties arose in 1905, and as described in the local newspapers of the day, conflict seemed to begin over the fact that the Pastor had come from the Prussian part of Poland while the people were “Galicians” from the Austrian part of Poland. The people said that they had difficulty understanding him. As problems escalated, the Parish Committee began to come in conflict with the Pastor in the operation of the Parish. They especially sought to have a “Galician” priest appointed as pastor. By June, Bishop Foley had become involved and had demanded on June 15 the committee return Church books to the Pastor. They refused, so the Bishop recalled the Pastor, ordered the Church closed, and excommunicated the committee. By August, Archbishop Symon of Poland, who had come to the United States to survey the condition of the immigrants, served as intermediary to settle the dispute.

A compromise was reached and on August 27, the Church was reopened by Bishop Foley whoa also removed the ban on the committee. The committee had surrendered the Church books and the Bishop promised a new pastor. Some 3,000 faithful crowded into the Church to attend the reopening services.

A New Beginning

The Jesuit Fathers from Poland under the administration of Father Karol Janowski took care of the church for six weeks from August 25th until October 8, 1905. With the guidance of Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, Bishop Foley invited the Conventual Franciscans, who resided in Buffalo New York, to come to Detroit, offering them St. Hedwig Parish. Father Bartholomew Szczerba, a Conventual Franciscan from Poland became the pastor of St. Hedwig on Sunday, October 8, 1905. Fr. Szczerba moved into a home owned by Mr. Nizinski at 1108 Junction Street. The new Pastor set to work energetically with the help of the parishioners to develop the Parish.

In January 1906, the Jesuit missionaries celebrated the first mission with Father Janowski officiating. This mission lasted two weeks. At this point, the parish began to grow, and soon it became obvious that it was time for Father Szczerba to have an assistant. Following the mission, Father Patrick Topolski, who had been educated in Europe, arrived to help. Later that year, the Parish purchased a house at 1111 Junction Street, which would serve as a convent for the six Felician Sisters who taught in the school. =The Sisters existing living quarters at the school were converted into much needed classroom space.

In 1907, Father Szczerba hired general contractor J.J. Kudron to build a wooden addition to the back of the Church/School building. Within two months, the new addition was complete with four spacious classrooms that could accommodate approximately 400 children.

St. Hedwig Parish was expanding and it appeared that the temporary rectory proved too small. Therefore, in 1908, Architect Joseph G. Kastler designed the present rectory, and Joseph Nowakowski was contracted to build the three-story, 70-foot by 40-foot brick rectory. On March 17, 1909, the Franciscan moved into the completed rectory, which cost nearly $20,000 to construct. In September of the same year, Father Topolski was recalled and in his place was sent to assist Father Szczerba, a twenty-four year old priest, Father Eustace Bartoszewicz, who for two years after his ordination, had fulfilled his duties at Corpus Christi Parish in Buffalo.

The Need for Expansion

Prior to World War I, especially from 1910 to 1914, an increasing number of Polish immigrants arrived in the United States and many settled in the Detroit area. Lack of room for the children in the school and lack of room for the faithful in the church were both evident in the Parish. There was talk that a new Church was needed. By this time, the Parish had swelled to over 1,000 families. The number of Felician Sisters increased to fifteen and it became apparent that the house on Junction Street was too small. In 1910, the Parish purchased twelve lots on the other side of Rollins Street (now Konkel Street). Parish property now was bisected by Rollins Street After the investigation of Alderman X.B. Konkel, a parishioner, the city gave permission to join the parish grounds into one large parcel. The Parish returned to the city Rollins Street with as much land as the city needed for a through street behind Parish grounds. To remember the good deed of X.B. Konkel, John Kronk, a Detroit City Councilman and a parishioner, endeavored to change Rollins Street to Konkel. Also, at that time, it was decided to change Norton Street to St. Hedwig Street, Ingersoll to Kopernick, and Julia to Kulick. All of these streets can now be found in the Parish neighborhood to this day.

In 1911 the Architect, Harry J. Rill designed plans for a new church and also a residence with enough space to house thirty Sisters. Due to the fact that both buildings were necessary and sufficient loans for both buildings impossible to obtain, it was decided to build a convent for the Sisters and only the “Lower” church until sufficient finds became available to complete the church. In March 1911, work began in building the sisters’ home and the church basement. The contract for the carpentry was given to John J. Kudron and the masonry contract was given to Joseph Nowakowski. The cornerstone was performed by Bishop Edward Kelly in the middle of July 1911. By November of the same year, a high conveniently spacious, wide chapel had been completed. With the help of many parishioners, everything was transferred from the old church to the new chapel. On Sunday, November 12, the first Mass was celebrated. The chapel’s height was 16 feet and had enough room to seat 1,800 people. In the old building, the top floor was converted into classroom space. In the beginning of 1912, Father Raymond Marcin was sent by the Provincial to help in parish work. He stayed until 1915 when he was appointed as the pastor of the new Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish, a daughter parish of St. Hedwigs. In September, Fr. Szczerba who had been the pastor of the Parish for seven years and who had really developed it, was recalled by his superiors to Poland. At that time, Father Eustace Bartoszewicz, who had been Father Szczerba’s assistant for three years, was appointed pastor and guardian. Both the parish and school were continuing to grow. More room was soon needed. In July 1913, workmen began building a twelve-classroom school to be joined to the existing school. By February 1914, the new space was in use.

The Building and Expansion Continues

By 1913, the parish had paid off its debts and, in the beginning of 1915, the Pastor thought it was time to complete the church proposed by his predecessor, Father Szczerba. Harry J. Rill, the architect, distributed plans among contractors for bids. The low bidders received the work. Joseph Nowakowski received the masonry contract, Thomas Jurkiewicz the plumbing, and Leonard P. Stentzler for the painting and decorating. In April, work had begun on the church. By December 1915, the church structure was complete. Many more months were needed to paint and decorate the interior. On November 20, 1916 Bishop Edward Kelly blessed the church. There were present many Franciscan and diocesan priests. Approximately 3,000 faithful filled the magnificent church to witness this solemn occasion.

All of the Parish Societies contributed to the $5,000 cost of the High Scagliola Altar. It is an original, the work of the Daprato Statuary Company of Detroit. They are also responsible for the other statues and the stations of the cross. In 1917, the Vorrler-Holtkamp Sparling Organ Company of Cleveland, Ohio completed the installation of the pipe organ. In 1918, the artistic stained glass windows were placed in the church by the Daprato Statuary Company The donors’ names can be read on each window.

In 1919, the Parish began building a large, three story school with a basement on St. Hedwig Street. On the first and second floors were to be sixteen large classrooms. The third floor was finished off as a eight lane bowling alley. The architect was Harry J. Rill and the cost of the new school building was $160,000. In March of the same year, digging began for the foundation. On May 30th, Memorial Day, Bishop Gallagher blessed the cornerstone for this new school. After nine months, this school on St. Hedwig Street was completed. In February 1920, children from the old school’s upper floors entered their new classrooms. Immediately work began on setting up a Parish hall in the area where services had been held and later where temporary classes had been held. The wooden partitions were torn down and a large stage was built. The well-known local painter Leonard P. Stentzler did the decorations and scenery. The Hall was completed in December, and on December 26, St. Stephen’s Day, a public open house was held.

In June 1921, the Detroit area and especially the neighborhood had a heavy downpour. As a result, the basements in the surrounding homes and the Church basement itself were flooded with water two feet deep. The interior of the lower church or chapel was devastated. After the Pastor’s personal inspection, the lower church was restored and the entire chapel was repainted. Three new side altars were purchased by the Parish societies from the Daprato Statuary Company.

The Felician Sisters, who had staffed the school so successfully since the beginning of the school, did not have enough sisters to keep up with the large influx of students which had grown from 300 to 2,400 in 1923. As a result the Felicians left St. Hedwig in June 1923. To replace them, in September 1923, the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph from Buffalo arrived. They remained in the school until the St. Hedwig Schools closed permanently in 1995.

In 1924, the project to enlarge the sisters’ convent began. The existing building could only accommodate thirty sisters, and with the addition, it could now house forty sisters. The addition had thirteen comfortable bedrooms, a high chapel, dining room and kitchen. Stanley Bozek received the contract to do the work. In March 1925, Father Bartoszewicz blessed the new section of the convent. At the end of April 1926 the building campaign continued, digging had begun for the foundation of a new school building on Konkel Street. The Polish architect Ladislaus Garsztecki had drawn plans for this new structure. The entire building was to be fireproof. The first and second floors had twelve classrooms. The third floor has a spacious gm for basketball with a four-foot gallery around the entire space. The building was completed in the early part of January 1927.

St. Hedwig Parish celebrated it’s silver jubilee in 1928. Early that year, Three bells were purchased from the Meneelly Bell Company in Troy New York, and were installed in the south tower. At the same time, five clocks were installed in both towers of the church. Bishop Joseph Plagens blessed the bells. During the year, many celebrations were held and commemorative items were given out including a commemorative medal, a poster, and a commemorative book was printed.

St. Hedwig Parish Prospers

After the Jubilee celebrations, life moved on at St. Hedwig’s. By 1939, a High School was established and it now had grades nine and ten with 135 students. The elementary school at this time had 1,129 students. In 1941, the high school grew to a fully accredited four-year high school. In the following year, 1942, Fr. Eustace Bartoszewicz who had labored and truly built up St. Hedwig Parish was reassigned to Our Lady Queen of Angels, who had been at St. Hedwig for nearly thirty-three years, and ending a thirty-year assignment as Pastor. Fr. Florian Zaklikowski replaced Fr. Bartoszewicz as pastor. However, he became ill and was replaced by Fr. Ladislaus Surak, the interim Pastor in 1945.

On September 15, 1945, Fr. Callistus Winiarz was appointed pastor. During his term, which lasted until 1951, the Parish hall was modernized and the lower church was remodeled. He also put rubber on the kneelers in the upper church. The bowling alley was modernized at a cost of $7,881. In 1948, the population of the parish was estimated to be approximately 7,500 adults and children, about 1,500 families. There were 698 students in the Elementary School and 345 students in the High School.

In 1951, Fr. Bartholomew Snella was appointed as Pastor. He served until 1963. During his term, in 1953, the parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee. Many events took place during the year. In June, the Golden Jubilee float, designed by Walter Jajae, won first place and a trophy in the Catholic War Veterans National Convention Parade. The Holy Name Society held a Gold Jubilee Ball on September 19 at Dom Polski.

In 1963, Fr. Paul Czubaj became pastor. During his term, new plans were made for the future of the buildings on the St. Hedwig property. New space was needed for the changing times both for the church and for the school. The High School needed updated facilities and the church needed additional parking, which it lacked. As a result, a master plan was developed for the St. Hedwig Property including a “new” High School building that would join the Konkel and St. Hedwig Street buildings. The new modern structure would house six classrooms, laboratories for physics, chemistry and biology, and rooms for drafting and typing. It was to cost $700,000. The old school and parish hall would be demolished to make way for a parking lot as soon as the new structure was completed. The architectural firm of Herman, Simons, and Bassett planned the project. Fr. Callistus Winiarz, the former pastor, returned to the Parish as Pastor from 1966 to 1969. During his second term, the master plan as developed by his predecessor, Fr. Czubaj, was carried out. The new structure was completed and the original building (1903) and addition (1913) on the site was razed. The High School graduating class of 1968 was the first class to occupy the new building. When the old hall was demolished, a need arose for a new parish hall. At that time, the parish numbers were decreasing and it was apparent that a lower church was no longer needed. As a result, the lower church was dismantled and remodeled into a parish hall which is in continued use today.

In 1969, Fr. Anthony Kaleciak became Pastor. In was during his term, which lasted until 1972, that the upper church was painted at a cost of approximately $40,000. During the term of the next Pastor, Fr. Bernard Michalik, from 1972 to 1975, the school hall and kitchen were modernized and new kneelers were added to the Church.

On September 10, 1975 Fr. John Joseph Mikula who had been baptized and attended school at St. Hedwig’s, became Pastor. He added a new marble altar and made other changes in keeping with Vatican II liturgical requirements. Bishop Walter Schoenherr consecrated the new altar and ambo on November 11, 1978. The altar and ambo were designed by Angelo Lanzini of San Mateo, California, fashioned, and constructed in Italy. Other improvements that were made: art work in the church was completely redone, the stations of the cross were repainted, the stained glass windows were repainted and glazed on the exterior, new doors were added to the front of the Church. In 1978 the parish celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. A special Mass of Thanksgiving was held with twenty-four concelebrants led by Bishop Walter Schoenherr. An especially moving musical program conducted by parishioner Gregory Kasza, who led the combined choirs of St. Hedwig and St. Christopher, along with thirty-three musicians largely from the University of Michigan. There was approximately 1,700 people in attendance. A Diamond Jubilee Banquet was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Larkins near Michigan Avenue with a crowd of 732 people.

In 1984, Fr. Michael Rozewicz became Pastor of St. Hedwig. During his term, which lasted until 1987, the tuck pointing of the Church was begun. A new rood was also put on the Sisters’ convent. Fr. James P. Henning became Pastor in 1987 and he remained until 1990. Under his administration, tuck pointing continued. In eighteen months, $103,000 was raised to repair the distinctive twin Church towers. The Knokel building’s roof was also repaired. During this time, the Head Start Program came to St. Hedwig. After serving as the education center for many thousands of students over the years, low enrollment and financial constraints forced the closing of St. Hedwig High School in June, 1990. It was a sad day for the St. Hedwig family.

End of an Era

In August of 1990, Fr. Aloysius Romanowski came to St. Hedwig. Under his administration, the Church roof was extensively repaired. The interior of the Church was decorated with gold leaf thanks to the generosity of many people. Over $80,000 was expended to renovate the heating system in the Church and St. Hedwig Street buildings. In 1992, the vacant Konkel Street building was rented to the Detroit Board of Education and, after renovation opened its door as the Academy of the Americas, a school of “choice” in where the students are taught basic education in English and Spanish. All during 1993, the Parish celebrated its 90th Anniversary with many events sponsored by parish organizations. The 90th Anniversary was a bittersweet occasion. While the parish celebrated its accomplishments, it was announced the Conventual Franciscan Friars would be withdrawing from the parish in July of 1994. The Conventual Franciscans ministered at St. Hedwig for close to 89 years.

A New Beginning, Again

One chapter closed in the history of St. Hedwig Parish, but a new one opened. In August of 1994, Fr. Kenneth Chase was appointed pastor and guardian of St. Hedwig. Fr. Chase was the first diocesan Pastor since Fr. Jan Mueller in 1905. In 1995, due to low enrollment, the Elementary school closed its doors. The three school building behind the church were sold to the Detroit Board of Education, and after more renovation the Academy of the Americas occupied all three buildings. During the administration of Fr. Chase, a passenger elevator was installed in the North Tower, the rectory was remodeled, and the church towers were completely restored, and the Latino Cultural Pastoral Center opened its doors in the old convent, to held serve the growing Hispanic population around St. Hedwig.

Fr. Christopher Maus, came to St. Hedwig in 1998. During the tenure of Fr. Maus the following improvements were made: installation of a new slate roof on the church, re-glazing and restoration of the exterior protective covers for the stained glass windows, repainting of the entire Lower Church Hall along with the floor, installation of new carpet in the Sanctuary, a new sound systems was installed both in the Church and in the Lower Church Hall, renovation of the old Sacristy in the lower church hall as a new meeting room, creation of the new Heritage Room, and for the first time added a Spanish Mass to the schedule to better help serve the Hispanic population which has grown three-fold from 1993 until 2003 in Southwest Detroit. The 12:30 Sunday Mass was added in September 2003.

In 2003, Saint Hedwig Parish celebrated its Centennial Jubilee. Many events were planed throughout the year. A Parish Mission was conducted in March, Alumni Day in May, Marriage Recognition in June, the Heritage Room was dedicated in September with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and in November the Centennial Mass was celebrated with Adam Cardinal Maida with former pastors and priests from the vicariate concelebrating.


In 2004, Fr. Robert J. Wojciechowski was appointed pastor of St. Hedwig Parish and was clustered with St. Francis D'Assisi Parish. During his time at St. Hedwig, Fr. Wojciechowski continued to help grow both parishes, planning for the future by growing the Spanish ministry at both Churches as well promoting both Spanish and Polish culture, history and traditions. On April 8, 2011 Fr. Wojciechowski passed away suddenly.
In 2011, the PIME Missionaries (PIME stands for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Latin) came to St. Hedwig and St. Francis under the care of the new pastor Fr. Kenneth Mazur, PIME and assistant pastor Ravi T. Marneni, PIME. In 2012, Fr. Ravi T. Marneni, PIME was appointed as Administor.

In July 2013, St. Hedwig Parish and St. Francis D'Assisi Parish merged into one new parish named St. Francis D'Assisi-St. Hedwig Parish.

Last updated 09/01/2024