Home to a diverse congregation, southwest Detroit parish lives the motto its famed pastor coined: 'It will arise from the ashes'

DETROIT — Detroit is rising, and Ste. Anne Parish is rising with it. 

While grand in structure and emblematic of traditional Catholic standards of beauty, the parish is actually more unassuming and humble, much like its patroness. However, also like its patroness, it is capable of so much more.

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The parish, which has been a staple in its current neighborhood for 133 years, has been a Detroit landmark since its establishment in 1701. Beyond its geographic prominence, however, Ste. Anne has been an integral part of the surrounding community, adapting to serve both the needs of its current, largely Hispanic congregation and the Mexicantown neighborhood at large. 

The parish has approximately 575 registered families; however, many in the congregation who attend regularly do so without officially registering, and the church routinely hosts out-of-town travelers who make an effort to stop at Ste. Anne as they pass through the area. 

Ste. Anne Parish has a predominantly Hispanic presence, with many ministries including young adult groups, choirs, service opportunities and devotions in Spanish. (Joe Skipinski | Detroit Catholic)

To Anne-Marie Fry, Ste. Anne’s pastoral associate, Pope Francis' acknowledgement of the church as a minor basilica — which was announced March 1 — solidifies its importance and place in the neighborhood. 

“We’ve been around for 320 years, and we intend to be around even more,” Fry told Detroit Catholic. “(The pope) has recognized that we are a special parish, that we are a special community, and we are really proud of that.”

But with that honor comes a responsibility, Fry said, both to the congregation and to the city of Detroit. Fry said the parish is still deciding how it can best serve the community going forward, and isn't sure what new responsibilities and ministries the parish will take on.

However, Fry said, Ste. Anne’s unique charisms have helped to carve out the parish’s role in the community. Ste. Anne is clustered with nearby Most Holy Trinity Parish, and Fry likes to think of them as two unique personalities. 

“I like to refer to it as one is a Martha and the other is a Mary,” she said. “Holy Trinity is a Martha; they are very busy about doing outreach, Christian service and social justice work. Whereas Ste. Anne tends to be the Mary; very spiritual and a lot of the programs are rooted in spirituality and bringing people into a more spiritual life.”

A young altar server carries a candle during a procession on Ste. Anne's feast day, July 26, in 2019. Young families make up a significant portion of Ste. Anne's congregation. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

The church already serves as a pilgrimage site and is known for its nine-day novena to Ste. Anne leading up to her feast day every July. Pilgrims travel from far and wide to take part in this spiritual event that has been taking place for more than 100 years. 

According to Msgr. Charles Kosanke, Ste. Anne’s pastor, approximately 15,000 people come to venerate the relics of Ste. Anne — the grandmother of Christ and the patronness of expectant mothers — every year.

“Every year, we have women coming to seek Ste. Anne’s intercession for a child or to find an appropriate spouse,” Fry said. “It is notorious that each following year, we have women coming back with their babies, or getting ready to have their baby, thanking Ste. Anne for her intercession in their life.”

Beyond the clear devotion to its patroness, Msgr. Kosanke describes the parish's personality as twofold. 

“The parish has a strong Mexican community, and so we have a lot of ministries to the young Latinos that we've started,” he said. 

A young dancer performs during Ste. Anne's feast day in 2019. Leading up to the feast, the parish traditionally hosts a novena that celebrates different aspects of Detroit's cultural heritage. (Joe Skipinski | Detroit Catholic)

Two of those ministries include the young adult groups Jornadas — Spanish for “journeys” — and Corazon Puro, which means “pure heart.” The latter is a chastity program started by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York, which has proven successful and is gaining members at Ste. Anne, Msgr. Kosanke said.

The church also hosts a large number of quinceaneras — traditional 15th birthday celebrations for girls in Mexican culture — and “presentations,” a custom in which parents bring their children, usually at three years old, to “present” them to the Lord in view of the congregation.

Ste. Anne also offers Masses, choir opportunities and regular devotions such as rosaries, holy hours and healing services in Spanish.

On top of its vibrant parish life, the church offers several external opportunities for engagement and evangelization, including a pilgrimage to seven city churches on Holy Thursday, and Holy Rollin', a bicycle tour of historic churches in downtown Detroit, in the summer. 

As one of the city's premier “destination” churches, Msgr. Kosanke acknowledged Ste. Anne's role in another vital ministry: weddings. 

Bicycle riders begin the annual “Holy Rollin'” bike tour, which starts at Ste. Anne Church and visits some of Detroit's most historic neighborhoods and churches. (Photo courtesy of Ste. Anne's Parish)

“We have the most weddings of any church in the archdiocese,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “I think we have just over 80 scheduled for 2020.”

Msgr. Kosanke said not everyone who calls the parish rectory looking to get married at Ste. Anne is a parishioner — or even an active Catholic.

“Young people come because they like the beauty of the church,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “But our purpose is to try to reach out to what they call the 'nones,' those who are not affiliated with the church. And our hope is that by bringing them to a good marriage preparation program and having a positive experience with the priest and staff, that we actually get them reconnected to the Church.”

As a pilgrimage destination, Ste. Anne has more to offer than just its patronness. It also is the burial site of one of Detroit's most famous priests, Fr. Gabriel Richard, whose remains are interred in the parish's chapel. 

In addition to serving as Ste. Anne's pastor from 1798 to 1832, Fr. Richard founded the University of Michigan, served as a member of Congress and coined Detroit's well-known motto following the city's infamous fire of 1805, Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, which means “We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.”

A bust of Fr. Gabriel Richard sits atop his tomb in Ste. Anne's chapel. In addition to being a shrine to Ste. Anne, the parish also hosts exhibits on Fr. Richard's life. (Paul Duda | Detroit Catholic)
A woman prays in Ste. Anne Church during the annual novena, which attracts tens of thousands of Metro Detroiters each year. (Joe Skipinski | Detroit Catholic)

The parish hosts periodic exhibits on Fr. Richard's life, as well as various historical and cultural festivals, including its annual Rendez-vous, a festival celebrating Native American and French-Canadian heritage, in the fall.

The parish event has a gift shop that's open on the third Sunday of every month, or for large tour groups.

While Ste. Anne might tend more toward the “Mary” spirituality than the “Martha,” its interest in helping the community extends beyond the spiritual, Fry said. 

Beyond feeding the hungry souls of their parishioners, the parish helps combat physical hunger with a food pantry that serves the neighborhood every Wednesday. The food pantry's reach has grown as other food pantries in the area have closed down, Fry said. 

A group of women from the parish is also working to renovate an old convent on the parish's grounds in the hopes of converting it into a home for single mothers in need, similar to Mary's Mantle. 

Ste. Anne pastor Msgr. Charles Kosanke poses with Ste. Anne parishioners during a cultural celebration. (Joe Skipinski | Detroit Catholic)

“We look at all of this as the way Ste. Anne is choosing to unleash the Gospel and bring people to Christ,” Fry said. 

In a way, Ste. Anne's resurgence as an oasis of faith mirror's Detroit's own comeback narrative, Fry said — a comeback both inspired and foreshadowed by Fr. Richard's famous motto. 

“This neighborhood is rising again, the city of Detroit is rising again, and Ste. Anne’s is rising again,” Fry said.

It's God’s plan, Fry added, and it’s exciting to see Him at work and to see what will come next. 

Visit Ste. Anne

Ste. Anne Parish offers docent-led tours and pilgrimage opportunities for all ages and demographics, which can be scheduled from Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. To schedule a visit or for more information, call (313) 496-1701 ext. 14 or email kristen.andree@steannedetroit.org

Gabriella Patti is a staff reporter for Detroit Catholic. To receive Detroit Catholic news in your inbox daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to our e-newsletter.