The main steeple of St. Josaphat Church on East Canfield Street in Detroit can be seen leaning as Detroit Police had the area blocked off.
Detroit — The city of Detroit could lose one of the most iconic parts of its skyline after heavy storms and wind damaged the main steeple of historic St. Josaphat Church off Interstate 75 last week.
The 200-foot Gothic Revival structure, which appears rising above the city’s Renaissance Center to those driving south on I-75, could be seen with its main steeple tilting visibly to the southwest after strong windstorms swept through the area Nov. 17. Several shingles were also missing, and a hole had been ripped open on one side.
Now the parish is faced with a difficult decision as to whether to remove or attempt to salvage the historic steeple.
Storm damage can be seen to the roof and steeple of St. Josaphat Church. Since Nov. 18, the city of Detroit has closed the area around East Canfield and I-75 to traffic because of fears the spire could topple, and Masses scheduled at St. Josaphat have been canceled or moved to one of the two other churches, Sweetest Heart of Mary or St. Joseph, belonging to newly merged Mother of Divine Mercy Parish.
A close-up of the storm damage to the roof of St. Josaphat. While the immediate implication was that the bowed steeple would have to be removed, an engineer’s inspection determined it might still be able to be saved, parish council president Kevin Piotrowski told The Michigan Catholic. Still, with estimates yet to be received, everything will come down to cost, he said, and will likely depend on outside help.
Still, Piotrowski said he knows the steeple means a lot to Catholics all across the region, and some have already stepped up to the rescue.
“I was overwhelmed by the response that people have to that church and that steeple,” Piotrowski said, adding that one man drove from Holly last week to hand-deliver a $100 check for its restoration. “He said, ‘This might be your church, but that’s Detroit’s steeple.
’ That’s how much it meant to him.
”Piotrowski said the parish’s upcoming Changing Lives Together campaign would be focused on saving the St. Josaphat steeple. Leveraging its visibility along I-75, the parish plans to hang a sign outside the church to that effect, he added.
“We’re doing Changing Lives Together, but ours is really called ‘S.O.S.
’ — Save Our Steeples,” Piotrowski said, adding that the spires at Sweetest Heart of Mary are also in need of maintenance.
As the parish considers its options, a crane and work crew were already outside the church Nov. 25, and work had begun to temporarily reinforce the structure through cabling and support beams, said Frank Mac
Donell, buildings director for the Archdiocese of Detroit. The idea in the short term is to make the structure is safe for crews to work and reopen East Canfield, but the reinforcement alone will cost nearly $94,000, and insurance help is still to be determined.
Long-term, the project is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — with a full restoration likely to cost more than removal. Another option, Piotrowski said, is to remove and cap the steeple and build a new one at a later date, but any rebuild will likely depend on whether the 850-family parish can raise enough money.
And the parish hasn’t given up on that idea, especially when prayer is always an option. In a notice posted on its blog last week, parishioners were urged to join a private rosary novena “for the restoration of St. Josaphat Church,” starting Nov. 21, the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple.
St. Josaphat is well-known for its traditional Latin Mass community. The celebration of the External Solemnity of St. Josaphat in the traditional calendar is Nov. 14, and the church’s Tridentine community had just celebrated the occasion with the veneration of a relic of the 17th-century saint on Nov. 17.
All Latin Masses will be moved to St. Joseph Church on Jay Street until repairs are made at St. Josaphat, the parish said, which could take until early next year. A Thanksgiving Day Mass was moved to Sweetest Heart of Mary, down the street.
The 112-year-old St. Josaphat Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Michigan State Historic Site.