After years of water damage had taken a toll, Knights at St. Paul Albanian Parish in Rochester Hills step up to help inner-city parish

DETROIT — The historic frescoes of St. Moses the Black Parish in Detroit are getting new life, thanks to the men of the St. Paul Albanian Knights of Columbus Council 10343.

The group, headed by Grand Knight Mark P. Djokaj and operating out of St. Paul Albanian Parish in Rochester Hills, have a working relationship with St. Moses pastor Fr. Marko Djonovic. Fr. Djonovic asked Djokaj, a professional contactor, if he and the Knights could do anything about the decaying frescoes that were suffering from water damage.

Djokaj looked at the frescoes and knew the Knights would step up.

“This is our way of giving back,” Djokaj told Detroit Catholic. “Fr. Marko is working really hard at the parish. He’s passionate, a good guy, a great priest we’ve known for a long time. We were more than happy to go in and put a team together. The work was really hard, but by the grace of God, we finished it in a few days.”

Djokaj, owner of Better Painting, a codex company, and NPG Epoxy, an epoxy flooring company, put together a team of five men to do the restoration work. The crew cut out old sections of the ceiling and wall that were rotted with water damage, using mason’s mix to take out the stains in the wall and went about cleaning the frescoes.

The interior of St. Moses the Black Parish in Detroit, which used to be the Church of the Madonna, was in need of repairs after years of wear and tear, Djokaj said. 

For the ceiling itself, they patched small holes and put on a couple of coats of primer and paint, getting the same color and shade to match the original ceiling.

All of the work was done with scaffolding that had to be built from the floor of the church to the ceiling, as the team wasn’t able to get a lift into the Oakland Boulevard church.

In spite of the challenges, the crew finished most of the work, save some touchups, in three days — much to the gratitude of parishioners who passed on their thanks and admiration.

“We met parishioners who were so thankful, such devout Catholics, great people who would offer anything, from food to water,” Djokaj said. “We were embarrassed, them constantly asking us if we needed anything.”

Djokaj recalled the history of St. Moses the Black, which was built in 1924. The church, which used to be the Church of the Madonna until a 2013 merger with St. Benedict and St. Gregory the Great created St. Moses the Black, was pastored by the late Fr. Bill Cunningham, co-founder of Focus: HOPE. Djokaj said his work with Detroit’s residents inspired the Knights to give back.

“This is what Catholic men do, it’s what Knights of Columbus do, we have to give back, we have to work hard,” Djokaj said. “We’re not that important where we can’t sacrifice a couple of days for a worthy cause. It’s hard to concentrate on the Word, the Mass, if you have things overhead about to fall, so we’re glad to help.”

In spite of the challenges, the crew finished most of the work, save some touchups, in three days — much to the gratitude of parishioners who passed on their thanks and admiration.

The Knights have done prior work at St. Paul Albanian Church, along with a Rochester Fire Department firehouse and the Book Building in downtown Detroit.

Fr. Djonovic said he was pleased with the project, along with parishioners, and Djokaj invites visitors to come to the parish, see the frescoes and become inspired to do something great in their own community.

“Things like this give people inspiration,” Djokaj said. “You see a lot of people care, but we acted on that need. We hope this will inspire other men, families to come look at the Knights of Columbus, to join us in contribute to the community.

“What you do doesn’t have to be a large project, it can be something small, but worth it,” Djokaj said. “But every now and then, we’re called on to do something more, something that will really inspire people. We are glad to play this part in restoring the church.”