St. Josaphat Roman Catholic Church was founded on June 1st of 1889. It was the fourth Polish-speaking parish established in the city of Detroit. It was founded in response to irregularities and disagreements taking place in the neighboring parishes of Sweetest Heart of Mary and St. Albertus. On February 2nd, 1890, the first combination church and school building was dedicated. Within a decade plans were made for a new church, rectory and convent. The church is named after St. Josaphat Kuntsevych, who was a Greek Catholic priest and was appointed archbishop of Polotsk, Poland in 1617. He was martyred in 1623 and canonized in 1867.
In 1907, the convent was completed. The Parish Elementary School and High School were staffed by the Felician Sisters. (For more information about the school, see below)
In June of 2003 St. Josaphat Parish was clustered with the parish of the Sweetest Heart of Mary and in May of 2004 with St. Josaph. Parish business is conducted at the rectory of Sweetest Heart of Mary. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and received historic recognition from the city of Detroit in 1983 and the state of Michigan in 1985.
In 1901 this late Victorian Romanesque style church was completed by Joseph G. Kastler and William B. N. Hunter. Local carpenters, Harcus and Lang and the Jermolowicz Brothers, were the builders. The church also features some gothic and Baroque details.
St. Josaphat Church is built of a red orange brick and is trimmed in Bedford Indiana buff limestone. The stained glass was crafted by the Detroit Stained Glass Works. The church is 132 feet long and 56 feet wide. The ceilings are 65 feet high and the seating capacity is 1200. The main steeple is 200 feet tall while the side steeples are each 100 feet tall.
All of the sacred images of the church are illuminated by a myriad of tiny light bulbs. The church was originally built with both gas and electric which can be seen by observing the fixtures throughout the church At the turn of the century there was a great fascination with the electric light bulb which is clearly witnessed in St. Josaphat Church.
Traditional Latin Mass
In 2004, St. Josaphat became the home for the Archdiocese of Detroit’s first regular celebrations of the Tridentine Latin Mass since the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council. Attendance at weekend Masses has significantly increased as people from all over southeastern Michigan travel to St. Josaphat for this liturgy. St. Josaphat has also developed a choir and music program to accompany the Tridentine Mass. Since Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 widened permission for the 1962 form to be used as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, St. Josaphat has added weekday and Holy Day Masses and special events for its Latin Mass Community.
The interior of the church features five beautiful altars. The main altar is centered around a painting of the patron of the parish, St. Josaphat dressed in the vestments of an eastern rite bishop. This painting can also be raised to reveal a beautiful image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the “Black Madonna”. On either side of the central image are figures of Ss. Stanislaus Kostka and Aloysius Gonzaga.
The side altars in the sanctuary are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. They also feature figures of Ss. Joachim and Anne and Ss. Peter and Paul. In the transept of the church are altars dedicated to Ss. Anthony of Padua and Francis of Assisi. Figures of St. Clare and St. Theresa of Avila are also found there.
The stained glass windows feature Mary and Joseph and the twelve apostles. The woodwork throughout the church is white oak.
Throughout the church a beautiful collection of murals can be seen on the ceiling and walls. Above the high altar the Most Holy Trinity is pictured. On the left and right of this are the Nativity and the Last Supper. The Resurrection is also portrayed. On the side walls of the sanctuary are murals of a Pilgrimage to Czestochowa and a Battle during World War I between Polish and Russian forces. The Poles were victorious due to the miraculous intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The central transept of the church features images of the four evangelists. Over the nave of the church is a unique image of Mary the Queen of Poland surrounded by the saints of Poland. Other images to be found are Holy Family, St. Cecilia, and Christ and the children.
Above the four confessionals are murals depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of paradise, St. Peter’s denial of Christ, the return of the prodigal son and Mary Magdalene drying Chris’s feet with her hair.
St. Josaphat Elementary School opened in 1890. It is not known precisely how many students were enrolled that opening year but it has been recorded that 100 students received First Holy Communion in 1890. The number of classrooms was quickly expanded during the 1891-92 school year as well as in the years that followed. The elementary school reached its peak enrollment of 796 students in the 1912-13 school year (and again reached 790 in 1923-24), which would have amounted to about half the enrollment at the nearby Polish Catholic schools of St. Albertus and Sweetest Heart of Mary (who reached enrollments of 1600 students).
In 1942, tuition for the elementary school was $.50/month. It was raised to $.75/month in 1943 and to $1.00/month in 1944. It was raised one last time in 1956 to $3.00/month.
St. Josaphat High School began with a ninth grade class in 1915, twenty-five years after the opening of the elementary school. But it would be the 1925-26 school year before the high school had a full compliment of grades and its first graduating class. This was due to the deterioration of the surrounding neighborhood and the need to build more structure to house the high school students. Peak enrollment at the high school reached 150 students during the 1931-32 school year and diminished rapidly after that. The decline in enrollment parallels the exodus of members from St. Josaphat parish due to deterioration of the surrounding neighborhood. In spite of its small enrollment, the high school offered a good education including the following academic areas: religion, language, science, mathematics, social studies, and business-secretarial. The fact that the high school program at St. Josaphat was continually offered accreditation by the University of Michigan is evidence that it provided its students with a high quality education.
In 1942, the high school tuition was $2.00/month. It was raised to $2.50/month in 1945 and to $3.50/month in 1956. Both St. Josaphat Elementary and High School closed in 1960. At that time, the cost of the high school tuition was $4.00/month.