Having walked passed the church many times, I was struck by its profound beauty and Victorian-Romanesque façade. Now that I know about the history of the building, I want to share this information with you. In this post, I will look at and summarize the story of the “Chapel of St. Theresa–the Little Flower” located in Detroit, Michigan. Established in 1862 during an influx on Catholic followers to the city, throughout the mid-late 19th to early 20th-centures, the newly established St. Patrick’s parish was becoming a realized community. Built by the firm Donaldson and Meier, the architecture featured Romanesque Revivalist aesthetics like Corinthian columns, basilica floorplan, terracotta shingles, and two campanarios. As the Detroit area grew in business and people, a need for a new building was realized which was closer to the related school built for the attending children. Thus, this was built, yet the other church was still in use at this point. However, by the mid-1970s the parish was lessening in people and thus the parish was transferred to St. Theresa. In 1992, the first St. Patrick’s church burned to the ground, and in 2015 the St. Theresa congregation was disbanded due to poor attendance, although the building remains in hopes of congregating once again. In a Detroit Free Press article from 2015, Detroit Archdiocese spokesman Joe Kohn had said, “Given its location, in a part of Detroit that is being revitalized, there’s a hope that it could be used in the future.” I sincerely hope this church will once again thrive and return to its regular services as it had before.
St. Theresa’s Architectural Story
As I had said, the firm that was responsible with creating the building’s Romanesque style was John Donaldson and Henry J. Meier. This is significant for the fact that they were responsible with building many important buildings of their time including: First Unitarian Church of Detroit (1982), the Ste. Claire Hotel (1893), the Mulford T. Hunter House (1895), as well as a huge amount of churches beginning in the 1930s like the Saint Aloysius Roman Catholic Church (1931), and the Saint Matthew Roman Catholic Church (1955). The very last building that the firm was responsible for seems to be the Saints Peter & Paul Roman Catholic Church (1959) which, if one looks at their architectural style, had changed significantly since the beginning of their careers. One of the most famous buildings is the “Beaumont Tower“ (1928), created using the ‘Collegiate Gothic’ style, taken from the Tudor and Gothic periods. This is all to say that their 79-year career was full of private homes, churches, clubs, and hotels, many of which still are used to this day. Many of their buildings utilize aesthetic features related to the style known as “Richardsonian Romanesque.” This aesthetic originated with the American architect Henry Hobson Richardson who took from the Medieval aesthetics of 11-12th century southern Spanish cathedrals. This means columns, rustification (emphasized stone placement), spires, embellishments, cone-shaped tops, emphasized windows, and usage of red brick. St. Theresa features a twin bell tower design which, on service days, must have rung with vigor throughout the neighborhood. The vaulted arches at the entrance also make a dramatic impression on me as well.
As one website says and which I fully agree with,
“This is a beautiful religious structure, well worth a detour if you are driving toward or away from downtown Detroit.”Detroit 1701