Holy Redeemer Catholic Church

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church

1721 Junction at the corner of West Vernor in southwest Detroit

In the late Nineteenth Century, men in Detroit and other cities used a great quantity of cigars and chewing tobacco. Women consumed snuff. Cigarettes were not readily available since J. B. Duke had not invented the rolling machine that helped make smoking very popular. In most large cities, there once were dozens of firms bringing in tobacco and hand rolling cigars. Daniel Scotten, an early Irish immigrant to the city, became the first of his ethnicity to rise to the top economic ranks, thanks to his successful development of tobacco manufacturing. By 1900, Detroit ranked among the top 6 cities in the US in tobacco production.

One of Daniel Scotten's larger plants was located on West Fort near the intersection of Clark. Irish immigrants continued to come to Detroit in large numbers late in the Nineteenth Century, and a considerable number of them found employment in Scotten's cigar factories. Indeed, this was one industry that employed large numbers of women, chiefly to roll cigars. The Redemptorist fathers founded Holy Redeemer Parish on Junction in 1880 and soon served the needs of very large numbers of Irish immigrants. Rapidly, they build a huge religious complex—a church that accomodated almost 1,000—reminding us of both the willingness of immigrants to support their church and the efforts of the priests to provide a complete community to their parishoners. Note the large schools, the recreation halls, and the massive convent and rectory that were built adjacent to the huge church. Almost all of this construction was completed before World War I. Until the suburbanization of whites, the parish continued to grow and Holy Redeemer was, just after World War II, the largest Catholic parish in the United States. The 14 Sunday Masses were, apparently, attended by more than 15,000 of the faithful.

Father Aegidius Smulders founded this parish. He was a missionary who came to the United States. He served as a Catholic chaplin in the Confederate Army, but lost that job when Robert E. Lee surrendured to Ulysses S. Grant. Father Smulders was unemployed at the age of 65, but came to Detroit where there were other Redemptorist priest and created what eventually became the nation's largest Catholic parish. This area of Junction was sandy soil when the frame church was built in 1880. The present church was designed in 1922 in a basilica style resembling the Church of St. Paul in Rome. The extremely impressive and large stone campanile that dominates the neighborhoods was built between 1924 and 1927 in memory of the young men from the parish who died in World War I.

This parish also illustrate an important type of recycling occurring in many religious facilities throughout urban American. The Irish and their descendents moved to the suburbs after World War II, but the surrounding neighborhood is once again an immigrant neighborhood and the church now serves the needs of the many immigrants arriving from Mexico.

Architect: Donaldson and Meier
Stained Glass Windows: Charles J. Connick

Return to Religious Sites

Return to Homepage