Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Mighty Motor City - Part 2: St. Agnes/Marty's of Uganda

It was the second stop of the day on our latest trip to Detroit, MI. After checking out Ferris Elementary School, we made our way to St. Agnes at the request of Gozer. For her, this would be her first time seeing it, but it was a place our guide, Al Duce, and myself had seen before. Little did I know how much could change at an abandoned church in just a year and a half.

Above was the view of St. Agnes from its choir loft in August of 2009. Below is how she looked from the same view this past February:

St. Agnes had been a Catholic parish established in Detroit in 1913. The building seen above was completed in 1924. The church also featured both a high school and grade school, eventually only serving grades K-8. By 1989, the parishes of St. Agnes and the neighboring St. Theresa were merged to form the Martyr's of Uganda parish. In 2006, the Archdiocese of Detroit closed and disbanded the parish. I came across a thread of former parishoners/students sharing stories about the church.

For a young child who had a very unhappy home, to be able to go into that wonderful church and just sit and feel so close to God, was something I will never forget. I became Catholic when I was twenty years old. I am sure it had something to do with that wonderful old St. Agnes. - Former St. Agnes Parishoner

- The Church as it had looked when still active. This photograph appears on the cover of Catholic Churches of Detroit by Roman Godzak.

From the air, you can see that St. Agnes is shaped like a cross - one of the many intricate architectural details of the church. Once ornately decorated in beautiful stained glass windows and sacred relics, the church is now barren.

- Compare this view with the above one on the cover of the book.

When I first saw St. Agnes in 2009, the church had only been closed for three years. It was still in pristine (as pristine as an abandoned building can be) condition at the time. Its pews were gone as were any items of holy relevance, as is typical of decommissioned Catholic churches. Other than that, hardly anyone had touched it. There was no evidence that scrap thieves had gotten a hold of it, no vandalism and we had seen little evidence online of other photographers having been there.

- St. Agnes in February, 2011.

When we initially visited in 2009, everything on the church property was locked up tight. In fact, to get in, we had to help lift each other up through a broken window into what once had been the rectory where the priest lived. By the time I was back in 2011 there was no need to climb through any windows. Nearly every door had been knocked down, windows were broken, any trace of valuable metal had been ripped from the church, graffiti covered walls and the stone columns supporting the ornately decorated roof had been broken down to their cores.

- As of 2009, the organ was gone, but the pipes still remained.

- As of 2011, the organ pipes were completely ripped out of this area of the choir loft.

If you read about and saw St. Agnes from our first trip there, you might remember how the basement had been set up as a sunday school/parish center. Al took one look down there, before coming back up and reporting to us that the walls were covered in mold. With no protection from the weather and having been torn apart by scrap thieves and vandals, St. Agnes was now in an incredible and tragic state of deterioration.

- What had once been the altar.

There's a few scenes in the film Gran Torino (one of my favorite movies that you should probably see if you haven't already), where Clint Eastwood's character visits a Catholic church. Set in Detroit, the pews are mostly empty, the neighborhood has changed and it's a different time. St. Agnes seems eerily similar, a feeling echoed in another quote from the aforementioned thread.
I drove by there about a month ago. The school is still standing, but it has been vandalized. The church still looks nice though, at least from the outside.
As for the surrounding neighborhood, well maybe its best not to ask if you haven't been there in a while. - Former St. Agnes Parishoner

- Columns of the church, torn apart.

St. Agnes is maybe one of the best reflections of what happens to a place that was once important to so many people is left behind, void of life. Its decay at the hands of thieves is tragic, yet the church's current state is reflective of the changes that have taken place in Detroit. Just as the film Gran Torino illustrated, Detroit has had a massive population decline. Detroit has changed. Places like St. Agnes are a reminder of a time that once was.

For Part 1 of "The Mighty Motor City" - click here.
For Part 3 of "The Mighty Motor City" - click here.

Update | Oct. 18, 2017:
  • At one point, I considered Gran Torino to be one of my favorite movies. As time goes on, people mature. Clint Eastwood's an asshole and that film is terrible.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your exploration, this was very interesting to read and so sad. Also, people like the other commenter on this post are sadly one of the major problems in this world. Someone else needs to look in a mirror, especially if this church meant anything to them at all. There’s a higher judge waiting for you, anon.