THE FIFTIES: RENEWED GROWTH
Although the convent exterior was completed in time for the parish Centennial celebration, the building's interior required additional work and, concomitantly, additional funds. Father Collins, now acting administrator of St. Mary's wrote to the Archdiocese Chanery with a request for a loan of $11,000 but Chancellor Edward Hickey's reply was not encouraging. He reprimanded Collins, reminding him of the original project loan of $400,000 in 1948 and of another $16,000 loan in February 25, 1950. Interest on the parish debt from January 1 to July 1, 1950 was $6,086.988, making a total debt of $432,341.51, "$16,341.51 more than the two permissions." Hickey concluded by saying that any further borrowing would have to be taken up with Cardinal Mooney himself.
As the Sisters settled into their new residence, the old convent on St. Mary's Avenue was converted into a music conservatory and meeting hall but not everyone appreciated the change. Neighbors complained to the parish of the excessive noise and threatened legal action of these activities were not restricted to parish grounds. The parish complied and promptly sold the home in January 1951 for $9,000.
Overcrowded conditions prevailed at both schools, particularly the elementary school, with no sign of relief. There was a waiting list of 148 children for registration to the elementary school while the high school accepted only those from the parish. In June 1951, Father Lawrence McHugh, senior assistant and now parish administrator in the wake of Father Collins' departure, wrote to Cardinal Mooney and proposed a solution to the predicament. The idea was to partition two of the larger high school laboratories into classrooms for the elementary school at a cost of $5,000. The proposal was accepted and as a result, 100 of the waiting children were allowed into the elementary school.
On August 10, 1951, the ailing John Cook died while at his summer cottage on Harsen's Island. Given St. Mary of Redford's premier status within the Detroit Archdiocese and the responsibilities that came with the prestige, it seemed that no mere mortal could ever follow in Cook's footsteps. Fortunately for the parish, Cook's successor was the capable Monsignor Edward J. Hickey, Archdiocese Chancellor from 1938-1951. Hickey was familiar with the problems facing St. Mary's and aware of the parish's tremendous growth potential.
Shortly after Hickey's appointment, two of his five assistants were transferred leaving the parish shorthanded until the December 1951 arrival of Father George Pare, Archdiocese historian, as assistant. Though Pare's presence was certainly welcomed, it did not resolve the main problem of providing enough space to handle the burgeoning multitudes at both the church and the schools.
In June 1952, Hickey submitted cost estimates for two projects, a proposed addition to the present basement and a six-room addition to the elementary school on St. Mary's Avenue at costs of $200,000 and $175,000 respectively. Hickey stated that the current parish debt was $240,000 but believed that half that figure would be paid off by the time the projects were finished, while the balance would be paid at the rate of $10,000 per month. Hickey was confident that "when the parishioners see these two construction jobs under way to provide additional capacity to both the church and the school, more will use their envelopes and many will be more generous." Hickey intended to keep the total parish debt, including the two projects, under $500,000.
At a meeting in early July at St. John's Seminary, Cardinal Mooney, his ViceChancellor and Monsignor Hickey concurred that the plans for the proposed basement church would be abandoned. Revised estimates pushed the cost of that project to $350,000. A less costly alternative would be to construct a combination chapel-school within already existing parish boundaries that would accommodate 350-400 persons for Sunday Mass and provide four school rooms for grades one through four. Costs for this plan were approximately $135,000. A lot purchased at the intersection of Greenfield Road and Tyler Street southeast of St. Mary of Redford for $40,000. Hickey also suggested purchasing a home in the GreenfieldTyler vicinity for use as a temporary rectory but Mooney preferred the construction of a new rectory adjacent to the proposed chapel-school.
In a lengthy letter dated July 2,1952, Hickey outlined his plans and needs to Cardinal Mooney, among them the conversion of the rectory garage into a makeshift classroom to avoid putting the Fifth grade on half-day sessions, the extra Sisters needed to staff the extra classrooms and questions regarding St. Mary's territorial boundaries. At the letter's conclusion Hickey quipped that "by the time I become immersed in these two building projects and the additional project of obtaining the additional Sisters, I may wish I were back at the Chancery."
Hickey sought assurance from the IBM Motherhouse in Monroe that St. Mary's would receive the necessary Sisters for the expanding parish. He wrote to Mother Mary Theresa, IBM Superior General and explained the difficulties his parish faced because of the overcrowding. The first, third and fifth grades were forced to go on half-day sessions, necessitating a six-room addition to the elementary school with four extra Sisters as well as two more Sisters for the high school beginning in 1953.
Hickey then explained the need for the auxiliary chapel-school, saying that both Cardinal Mooney and he shared the fear that if some members of St. Mary's congregation felt neglected, they would gradually drift away from the Catholic Church. Among the 4100 families at St. Mary's were about 3500 school-aged children of whom the parish schools could only accommodate half. The remainder attended other Catholic schools supplemented with regular religious instruction. The proposed chapel-school will have four grades requiring an equal number of teachers, bringing to ten the total number of additional Sisters needed d at St. Mary's. The Monsignor did not mince words. "We must make an heroic effort to corral these 'lost sheep' and stop the 'leakage' from the Faith."
In August 1952 Hickey wrote to Chancellor Bernard Kearns with a proposed alteration to the chapel-school. According to the architects and builders, it would be simpler and more economical if the school were confmed to a one-story building and additional property purchased for a playground, parking lot, etc., rather than meeting city and state building codes for a two-story structure. Hickey recommended the purchase of an extra 120 feet of property adjacent to the Greenfield-Tyler site for a cost that should not exceed $11,000. Meanwhile construction of the six-room addition to the elementary school on St. Mary's Avenue began in the fall of 1952 with a combined enrollment at that time of 1720 students. The expansion projects at St. Mary of Redford, actual and planned, pushed the parish debt to an unprecedented $550,000.
Construction of the chapel-school began in January 1953. In that same month, the St. Mary's Tractor evidenced the parish's phenomenal growth. St. Mary of Redford was the largest Catholic parish in the state of Michigan. The average Sunday attendance for all Masses combined was 10,000. There were 4100 registered families. The physical property of the parish was appraised at $2,500,000. A chapel with a seating capacity of 550 and a four-grade elementary school were under construction with the possibility that these may evolve into a separate parish. School enrollment stood at a combined 1700 for the parish schools. The teaching staff consisted of 38 IHM Sisters and eight lay instructors. In February 1953 Hickey wrote Monsignor John Donovan at the Chancery that construction of the school addition was ahead of schedule while the chapel-school lagged somewhat, but that both buildings should be ready for occupancy by May.
No name had yet been selected for the chapel. A number of possibilities were suggested. Hickey favored "Notre Dame Chapel" in the belief that the austere, functional architecture would again immediate recognition but the Cardinal disagreed. It was eventually decided that the chapel would be named "Mother of Our Savior." Hickey wanted to ensure, that St. Mary's students would have the necessary instructors and urged Mooney to "kindly put a bug in Mother Theresa's ear" to have her send the additional Sisters requested earlier.
On August 9, 1953, the first Mass was celebrated at Mother of Our Savior Chapel, with five regularly scheduled Masses each Sunday from 7 a.m. to 1p.m. Although the entire chapel complex was not yet complete, Hickey spoke of his congregation's achievement with pride. "It is not unusual in rural areas that one parish establishes one or more missions in other small towns. But it is unique that a parish in a large city also has a chapel within its territorial limits." The new chapel was formally dedicated on August 24 as Mooney reminded St. Mary's parishioners that they were free to attend services at either location. The regular parish assistants would be present at the chapel and IHM Sisters would staff the school. Students were also given the option of either registering exclusively for the chapelschool or being assigned to it. Nearly two thousand students could now attend the St. Mary's parish schools ("Mansfield Campus") and Mother of Our Savior School. ("Greenfield Campus"). Half-day sessions were soon eliminated.
Property values in the vicinity of Mother of Our Savior Chapel appreciated as area residents learned of St. Mary of Redford's expansion plans. Some individuals, being favorably disposed toward the parish, sold their lots and homes at fair prices while other sought to maximize their profits. Hickey asked Mooney for permission to quickly negotiate deals on nearby homes while their prices were still within the parish's reach. Complaints from Hickey to the city of Detroit regarding the poor roads around Mother of Our Savior led to the paving of Tyler and Prest Streets for which St. Mary's was assessed its share.
In 1954, the combined seating capacity at St. Mary of Redford and Mother of Our Savior was over 1600 but still inadequate to handle the sizeable congregation of 4500 families. Hickey believed the only alternative would be to build a second chapel within St. Mary's territory and in February requested permission to purchase the first prospective building site. The lot, on SouthfIeld Road near the intersection of Acacia and Ashton Streets, was priced at $6,400. The second site chosen was located in the northeast section of St. Mary's territory at the southwest comer of Hubell and Fenkell near Cooley High School.
Hickey then concentrated his efforts on acquiring prospective sites in the southwest comer of parish territory. Two initial attempts produced no results. The Harry Ferguson Tractor Company rejected the parish's offer of $5,000 for fIve or six acres in the vicinity of Southfield Road north of Schoolcraft. The other site chosen, at Davidson and Southfield, was seen by Mooney and the architects, Giffels and Vallet, as very restricted with little room for expansion of the chapelschool facility.
In April, negotiations commenced with the city of Detroit for a tract of land on the south side of Glendale Street, including both sides of Archdale adjacent to Southfield Road. Hickey appealed to Detroit Common Council for the city to vacate the cul-de-sac portion of Archdale and the adjoining alley (which were cityowned) that served no function as public thoroughfares. These in tum could be unified into one parcel of land which would permit construction of a chapelschool. Finally in late May, the first public announcement was made of the purchase of the Glendale-Archdale site for the second St. Mary of Redford chapel which, like Mother of Our Savior, would provide four classrooms for the parish's school children. In August permission was granted to Hickey to construct the second parish chapel-school for the sum of $205,000. Construction began that October. In the fall of 1954, the largest clerical staff ever assembled at St. Mary's consisted of Monsignor Hickey and six assistants, Father Marhsall, Bonin, Klauke, Blaska, Weingartz, and Pare.
The prospect of another chapel-school did not alleviate Hickey's concern about continuing overcrowding at St. Mary's, prompting him to seek Mooney's permission to purchase more property in the northwest comer of parish territory should it become necessary one day to erect yet another chapel-school. One site, priced at $5,000, was situated at the northeast comer of Southfield and Keeler while the second site was an adjoining lot for which no price had been set. Hickey concurred with Mooney's assessments that although the property was too close to St. Mary of Redford Church, this was the best available in that area as vacant land was becoming more difficult and more costly to acquire. Hickey received permission immediately to make the purchase.
Construction progressed smoothly although Hickey expressed concern that his parish was inadequately staffed to handle the expected total of 16 Masses each Sunday at the church and two chapels and asked Mooney for additional assistants. On June 5, 1955, the first Mass was celebrated at the new chapel named Our Lady Queen of Hope and formally dedicated by Cardinal Mooney in September. Additional real estate was purchased in the Grandmont subdivision for $32,500 immediately adjacent to Our Lady Queen of Hope should that facility ever need to be expanded.
In September 1955, Hickey wrote to Mooney with plans for development of three locations within St. Mary's territory, at Greenfield and Hemlock, Schaefer and Grand River, and Fenkell and Glastonbury, but the pastor was apprehensive that each of these sites encroached on the territories of neighboring parishes. Hickey was subjected to criticism from some of his own parishioners who were not anxious or able to support his expansion plans. A number of quarterly financial statements mailed to each family from St. Mary's were returned to the rectory with harsh words for the pastor.
One possible solution suggested by Mooney was the division of St. Mary's territory into five entirely new parishes but Hickey cautioned his superior against hasty action. "If St. Mary's is to be divided into five parishes, the neighbors should feel happy if the neglected areas in their parishes, which adjoin St. Mary's territory, are being cared for by churches and schools at the expense of St. Mary of Redford." Hickey stressed that any new parish should be located no closer than one mile from St. Mary's church or one mile from either chapel but his fears were infounded, The five-parish plan never materialized.
While plans and projects proliferated throughout St. Mary's territory, there was some expansion needed closer to home. In September 1955, Hickey requested permission to remodel portions of the rectory interior to create additional office space, sleeping quarters and baths. The original floor plan, now nearly 30 years old, was not designed to house so many residents. Upon submission of a new plan, Hickey was allowed to spend $4,400 for the necessary renovations.
Despite the extra classrooms at the parish school and the four grade levels at each chapel-school, space was still at a premium. Hickey relayed a message to Mooney from Mother Superior at St. Mary's high school that the "graduates" of the chapel-schools cannot be accommodated into the parish schools. The solution would be to upgrade each chapel-school though eight full grades at an approximate cost of $240,000. Since Hickey's arrival at St. Mary's, 15 classrooms were added (six at the elementary school, four each at the chapel-schools and a music room converted from a part of the rectory garage) but more were needed. Permission to proceed with the chapel-school expansion was granted contingent upon Hickey's submission of plans. Mooney questioned whether the convent could house five to seven additional Sisters needed but Hickey assured him that it would.
Negotiations had been underway since January 1956 between St. Mary's and the city of Detroit for purchase of four lots on Archdale Street just south of Glendale. Although businesses adjacent to Our Lady Queen of Hope Chapel had generously opened their parking lots to Sunday worshippers, the chapel needed more parking facilities, four more classrooms and possibly a rectory and convent. The deal was concluded in July for the sum of $2,500 on the condition that St. Mary of Redford did not remove the "greenbelt" of shrubs and trees at that location specifically designed as a buffer between commercial and residential property. A new parish auditorium, originally slated fore construction in1949, was repeatedly postponed as other matters took precedence but the urgent need for space forced Hickey to act. In July he requested permission to build a one-story addition to the present structure.
Combined school emollment at St. Mary's for the 1956-57 school year (excluding the chapel-schools) stood at 1843 with 48 Sisters staffmg the classrooms. In May 1856 Father Joseph Thang form Vietnam arrived at the parish as temporary summer assistant but stayed over a year, giving Hickey seven assistants. The parish debt grew substantially as well. From September to December 1956, St. Mary of Redford borrowed a total of $122,000 to begin construction of the much-needed classrooms at the chapel-schools, pushing the parish's financial burden to $528,722. By March 1957 that figure increased to nearly $541,000.
St. Mary of Redford's remarkable growth did not go unnoticed by the Detroit community. An article in the Detroit News lauded Hickey's achievements especially his "chain store" approach to Catholic evangelism.
Hickey was quoted as saying that his technique was preferable to carving out small portions of larger parishes to establish new struggling congregations and that this chapel-school projects had a stabilizing effect on the neighborhood. "Any family which wants to join a church, whatever its denomination, and provide children with a religious education, is not yet the type of people who will blight a neighborhood." In an open letter to his parishioners, Hickey cited St. Mary of Redford's accomplishments since his tenure began six years ago, and thanked his people for their generosity and spiritedness.
Hickey envisioned a Catholic enclave in northwest Detroit with St. Mary of Redford at the core.
No child would be farther than six blocks from a Catholic church, a concentrated Catholic neighborhood would result, our heavy investment in St. Mary's would be safeguarded thus avoiding a recurrence here of what happened to parishes in blighted area downtown. Also families' investment in land and buildings would be protected.
Hickey's strategy centered on the construction of three more chapel-schools, at Fenkell and Greenview, Greenfield and Hemlock and along Schaefer Highway. Hickey sent Mooney the results of an in-parish survey indicating that people would be interested in attending a chapel-school west of Southfield Road, as city plans for widening that thoroughfare would isolate Catholics on its west side. Hickey was denied permission however, for further construction. Mooney's affirmative responses to Hickey's past requests seemed routinized but now the Cardinal felt it was time to halt St. Mary's unbridled growth.
The problem of crowding in church - which is not restricted to St. Mary of Redford - could apparently be solved by the building of another chapel. ..For the present however, we may have to live with that problem - which your zeal has notably reduced pending a substantial reduction of the very heavy debt which you are now carrying.
Undaunted, Hickey persisted in his quest for more property. In June 1957 he wrote to Mooney for permission to purchase a lot on the southwest comer of Schoolcraft and Stansbury for possible use a school, auditorium and playground. Mooney replied that he needed time to consider the request before replying. Meanwhile he did grant Hickey permission to purchase a house and two lots on Prest east of Greenfield as well as two houses rented by St. Mary's on that same street for possible use as a convent and rectory should Mother of Our Savior ever be declared and independent parish by the Detroit Archdiocese.
In December 1957 Mooney was "favorably disposed" to the idea of a third chapel-school in the Grand River-Schaefer area but questioned Hickey whether it would alleviate the existing overcrowding in the parish elementary school or simply aggravate the situation? Mooney felt the new classrooms would be filled by students previously denied admission for lack of space but would not provide ample room for real growth in the future. A more practical and less costly solution was to build a four-room addition onto the elementary school which in tum, freed four classrooms badly needed by the high school.
Hickey's plans to construct another chapel-school in the Greenfield-HemlockWinthrop vicinity were met with resistance by the pastors of neighboring St. Scholastica and Precious Blood parishes who believed St. Mary of Redford was encroaching too closely to their own territory. Hickey countered their protests by proposing possible solutions to settle the dispute amicably including the annexing of this area by St. Scholastica and Precious Blood, approaching Cardinal Mooney with a plan for establishing an entirely new parish, or simply withdrawing their protests and letting St. Mary's have its own way.
In April 1958, Hickey suggested to Mooney that, in lieu of an all-new chapelschool, St. Mary's instead purchase an already extant building and convert it for use as a chapel-school. Hickey had his eye on the Schoenrock Building on Schaefer which, according to consultants, had good possibilities for such a conversion but was aesthetically unappealing. Mooney denied Hickey permission to make the purchase as he wished the parish boundary in that area to remain on the east side of Schaefer.
Despite Hickey's herculen efforts to ease the overcrowding at his church, the situation changed very little. One newcomer to St. Mary of Redford detailed her experience at a Sunday Mass in a letter to the pastor, citing the difficult parking, jarnrned aisles in the church and numerous disturbances as people left early to beat traffic. Hickey lamented that these inconveniences constituted a typical Sunday at St. Mary's and that building more chapels would require more funds and more priests.
By early spring of 1959, St. Mary of Redford's approximately five square mile of territory contained 4455 registered families with a parish debt of $374,483.55. That debt was reduced by late summer to $231,500. Cardinal Mooney's successor as head of the Detroit Archdiocese, Archbishop John Dearden, ordered Hickey to cease purchasing property in the vicinity of Mother of Our Savior chapel as it was soon to become an independent parish. In mid-June 1959, St. Mary of Redford's first chapel-school was detached and elevated to parish status with former St. Mary's assistant Father Richard Haney as its first pastor. In the wake of Mother of Our Savior's separation from St. Mary's and the establishment of exclusive boundaries, the number of registered families at St. Mary's was reduced 4100 while 1064 families belonged to the new parish. The combined school enrollment at St. Mary of Redford was 2289 (1623 at the elementary school and 666 at the high school) and Mother of Our Savior had 393 enrolled at its school. The summer of 1959 also saw a reduction in the number of assistants at St. Mary's. Two priests were transferred to other parishes but only one replacement was sent, leaving Hickey with four assistants, the lowest number in ten years.
Hickey appealed to Dearden for permission to purchase four homes on Longacre Street between Schoolcraft and Greenfield near OUT Lady Queen of Hope chapel which would give St. Mary's a greater claim to the 'greenbelt' area when the second chapel became and independent parish. Hickey made his opinions known to Chancellor Keams, saying he would need more help at St. Mary's since his present staff was assisting at Mother of Our Savior parish as well. Many St. Mary's parishioners preferred going to Our Lady Queen of Hope chapel but if it ever became a parish, these people would be forced to return to St. Mary's thus requiring an increase in the number of Sunday Services from seven to eight. St. Mary's would likely have to assist at Queen of Hope also.
Hickey's envisioned scenario would not come to pass however. Keams replied that Archbishop Dearden had no intention of granting Our Lady Queen of Hope parish status because"...ravages being wrought by death and serious illness among priests have...preoccupied him... " Hickey did not realize it at that time but the growth and expansion of St. Mary of Redford over the previous decades finally came to an end. The heyday was over.