History of Christ the King Parish, Detroit, Michigan
Back in the Day …
When Christ the King was founded in 1927, Grand River Avenue cut through farmland and wilderness from Redford to Brighton. Fr. Leo Gaffney celebrated the first mass on Christmas Day, in Redford High School.
About 300 families joined the new parish, and we erected a temporary multi-purpose building in 1928. A year later, the bottom fell out of the world economy and we could hardly pay the light bill, much less the bank loan. We had to take out a second loan just to pay the interest on the first.
When Fr. Joseph Marshke arrived in 1932, he uttered a prayer of desperation over the unfinished building site, surrounded by frog ponds. The people resolved to build a chapel for Sunday Mass, so that plans could go forward to establish a school. They built this second temporary church “brick by brick, with their own hands.” Those first buildings still stand, now incorporated into the school.
The school opened on September 12, 1938, but the classrooms were not finished. Classes met in the four corners of the gymnasium. Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters from Monroe rose to the challenge of teaching 134 squirming students over the noise of road crews paving Trinity Street. Sr. Ann Fix, IHM, founding principal of the school, served until 1944.
In addition to teaching in our own school, the sisters and parish volunteers reached out to the larger community. They organized a catechism brigade to teach boys at the Wayne County Training School for Delinquent Youth in Northville. That tradition of service to the community is a legacy that we sustain to the present day.
In 1947, with a new wing of the school partly constructed, Fr. Marshke died. The new pastor, Fr. Henry Koelzer led the parish as we completed the school, a convent for 16 IHM Sisters, and a third “temporary” basement church.
The permanent church was dedicated in 1962, and the basement was converted into a social hall, later named “Koelzer Hall” in memory of this very popular and busy pastor. By this time the parish had grown to nearly 3,000 families, even though several other parishes had been carved out of Christ the King’s original territory.
Transition and Transformation …
In January, 1968, Msgr. Arthur Karey was installed as pastor. The Second Vatican Council had just ended, and for the next decade there were unprecedented changes: liturgical renewal, a parish council, countless committees and commissions, all preparing for a harvest of lay leadership.
We were one of the first to have a lay School Board, and our Christian Service Commission had a reputation city-wide for relating the parish to the surrounding community. There were human relations action groups, block clubs, alliances with neighboring Protestant churches, and ecumenical food programs. This inclusive approach to parish ministry is still the hallmark of Christ the King.
In the summer of 1980, Fr. Victor Clore was assigned as pastor, and the pastoral staff was expanded to include religious sisters and lay ministers. Sr. Fiorentina D’Amore, HVM, served for more than thirty years as pastoral associate until 2012. Sr. Patricia Guthrie, IHM, served as the school Principal for six years. She reversed a declining enrollment and implemented our academic accreditation. She was followed by Mrs. Margaret Pic-Kell, a master teacher. We were truly saddened by her sudden death in 1999.
The Church of the Future…
There is something prophetic about our early experiences in “temporary” churches. We now have a “permanent” church building, but we are still a Pilgrim Church, making a difference day-to-day, wherever we are. In 2009 Christ the King territory was expanded to include districts that had been served by St. Monica, St. Christine and St. Gemma.
St. Christine Christian Services continues to respond to the needs of our community, especially in the Brightmoor district, with our Soup Kitchen, Pantry, Warming Center, Parolee Re-entry Program and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Christ the King School is one of the few remaining Catholic parish schools in the city of Detroit. The Pic-Kell Scholarship continues to provide tuition grants to needy children living in the community, who benefit from an old-fashioned “Catholic School.” Our vibrant, enthusiastic Principal is Mrs. Amanda Lund.
Christ the King’s membership is smaller than in its heyday, but more vibrant than ever. Parishioners participate fully in worship, faith formation, social service and decision-making.
Mrs. Andi Kovach continues to minister in our parish office. Mrs. Maureen Northrup is our Human Services Minister. Deacon Joe Urbiel works especially with the Youth Group, and we have a crew of more than 30 Ministers of Service.
As we have been doing since 1927, we face challenges with faith, hope and love, leading the way into the Twenty-First Century Catholic Church.