Sacred Heart Seminary

2701 West Chicago Boulevard at the intersection of Linwood in Detroit

When Detroit's population boomed from the 1880s to the 1920s, thousands of Catholic from a dozen or more eastern European nations arrived. The Detroit diocese established numerous "ethnic" parishes to serve their needs, but priests immigrated to the US along with their congregants, so quite a few ethnic groups could and did establish Catholic churches pretty much on their own. Priests from abroad who were not very deferential to the largely Irish and Germany hierarchy of the Detroit diocese often served at ethnic parishes. Gaining control of ethnic Catholics who had their own priests, established their own schools and controlled their own finances was a major challenge for the Catholic diocese of Detroit. Polish Catholics were the most independent. Indeed, Polish Catholics who refused an order from the bishop to stop built the attractive Sweetest Heart of Mary Church on Russell—a competitor for the title of the city's most impressive religious building.

This massive seminary complex represents the successful efforts of Bishop Gallagher—in the post World War I years—to gain control of the training of all priests in the diocese. It "ended" the ethnic seminaries, and then, after 1924, new federal immigration laws impeded the immigration of priests from Eastern Europe. This huge building was designed to offer training at both the high school and collegiate level to all Michigan men who wished to study for the priesthood.

This inspiring Collegiate Gothic style structure is done in red brick with light stone trim. You get a clear sense of a university and a dedication to scholarly activities when you examine this building. You are reminded of late medieval scholarship and the accomplishment of Catholic scholars in transmitting the heritage of Greece and Rome to us. The building is 600 feet in width and features the very substantial 130-foot tower, reminding you of an English university.

At the corner of Linwood and West Chicago is an unusual statue of Christ. It shows him as an African and is widely know as the Shrine of the Black Christ. Cardinal Deardon was deeply moved by the riot of 1967. Apparently, he drove by himself throughout the city during the riot and belied the violence as an abrogation of Christian teachings. When the riot ended, he gave one million dollars to African American causes. During that violence, the features of Christ were painted a deep black and they remain so today. There are very stories about how this status of Christ came to be painted in black. Perhaps, someone from the local community painted it black during the first day or two of the 1967 riot either to indicate a dedication to Christian principles or in hostility. There are also story that someone from the Sacred Heart staff painted the statur in black. In any event, it has been repainted in black in the many decades sine 1967.

It is ironic that Reverend Clague's Shrine of the Black Madonna is just a few blocks to the east on Linwood. Clague was trained in theology at Yale and was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1943. His father had founded St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Detroit and, in 1951, Clague moved to Detroit to serve at his father's church. In the late 1950s and early 1950s, this area of Detroit became home to many African-Americans. Reverend Clague's took over the former Brewster Congregational Church and, I believe, renamed the racially integrated congregation Central Congregational Church of Christ.

In the 1960s, black nationalism flourished in the United States and many new organization espoused many ideas about the rigthts and economic development of the nation's African American population. Along with the Henry brothers, Reverand Clague help to development an organization called the Republic of New Africa. They advocated racial separation and laid out their hopes that the nation's African Americans could eventually move into five either all-black or alsmot all-black states. This was, in some ways, a 1960s reinterpretation of the ideas of the once-popular Marcus Garvey. On Easter Sunday, 1967; Reverand Clague renamed his church here on Linwood giving it the name The Shrine of the Black Madonna. At that time, he unveiled a large painting of Mary as an African American women. Three months later the Shrine of the Black Jesus appered on Linwood.

In 2016, Sacred Heart Seminary purchased the empty and deteriorating Chicago-Lawton Terrace Apartments located adjacent to the campus of the seminary. There are plans to raze the former apartments and use the land for a green space and for parking. In 2017, this collegiate institution enrolled 107 men studying to take Holy Orders and 380 other students of theology and other subjects.

Architects: William Donaldson and William Meier
Architectural style: Collegiate Gothic
Date of Construction: 1923 to 1925
Michigan Historic Registry: P25216
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed: December 2, 1982
Use in 2017: It is still a seminary and is often used as a meeting place by civic, religious and educational groups.
Photo: Ren Farley, October 2002
Description updated: April, 2017

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