Sainte Anne de Detroit Church
Sainte Anne de Detroit Church was founded on July 26, 1701, just two days after Antoine Cadillac arrived to found the first permanent settlement in Detroit. The first Ste. Anne’s church was a simple log chapel, the first building constructed in Detroit. The church was destroyed and rebuilt many times. The current Gothic Revival cathedral was dedicated in 1887. Ste. Anne’s is the second-oldest Roman Catholic parish in the US that has been in continuous operation.
Backstory and Context
On October 5, 1703, the church, the rectory, and the parish records were destroyed by a fire that swept through the settlement. A make-shift church was set up in Cadillac’s barn for several years.2 On February 2, 1704, Cadillac’s daughter Marie Therese was born, the first European born in Detroit, and the first recorded birth and baptism at Ste. Anne’s.2 In 1714, a third church was also destroyed by fire, though this time intentionally, as soldiers of the fort wanted to prevent it from housing Native American enemies they were battling.3 Other churches were built in 1723, 1755, and 1806.2 Finally, a seventh church, constructed from stone, was built in 1818 near Larned and Bates Streets.2
Father Gabriel Richard was an important figure in not only the church’s history, but also the history of Detroit. He was born in France but sought asylum in Detroit after the French Revolution and served as pastor of Ste. Anne’s from 1802 – 1832. Father Richard founded six schools for disadvantaged children and was a co-founder of the University of Michigan. He published Michigan’s first newspaper, The Observer.1 He also served in Congress from 1823 – 1825, the first priest to do so. While in Congress, he helped create road infrastructure, including a road from Chicago to Detroit. While administering aid to the sick, he contracted cholera and died in 1832. He is buried in a tomb underneath the current Ste. Anne’s Church.4
In 1886, the parish had outgrown its little stone church and constructed a new Gothic Revival cathedral of red brick and limestone. Designed by Albert E. French and Leon Conquard, the eighth home of Ste. Anne’s parish is a standard cruciform plan with twin spires at the front that are reminiscent of the cathedrals of northern France. The church was dedicated on October 30, 1887 and has a capacity of 1,400 worshipers.5 It contains a 35-foot altar, and the stained glass windows are the oldest in the city, created by The Detroit Stained Glass Company.1, 4 According to the church’s official website: 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. […] 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.”1
The church complex includes a rectory, parish hall, school, and convent. The last Mass held in French at Ste. Anne’s was in 1942, and services in Spanish began in 1944.5 Today, the Ste Anne’s parish and surrounding neighborhood is mostly made up of Latino families. The church’s parish records, dating from 1704, remain an important source of information about the first French settlers of Detroit.4 In 2011, Ste Anne was officially named the patron saint of Detroit by the Vatican.6 Today, Ste. Anne de Detroit is the second-oldest continuously-operating Roman Catholic parish in the US (surpassed only by St. Augustine in Florida).1