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Iconic Detroit Building of the Week: St. Aloysius Church

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Photos via <a href="http://www.stalsdetroit.com/history.html"> St. Aloysius Catholic Church</a>
Photos via St. Aloysius Catholic Church

Building: St. Aloysius Church
Facts: In the late 1920s, Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher drew on some great connections—the Fisher family of Fisher Auto Body famously bought him a 40,000-square foot mansion—to fund a grand new church building to replace the former Presbyterian church St. Aloysius called home for its first fifty years in Detroit.

Despite the Great Depression and the fact that the diocese would be bankrupt by 1933, very few expenses were spared. The church can seat over 2000 people, and the materials used in the handsome granite structure included more than 26 kinds of marble.
Style: St. Aloysius was constructed in the Italian and French Romanesque style. The building was intended to complement the adjacent Chancery Building, which holds the offices of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Architect: Walter Meier of Donaldson and Meier. Donaldson and Meier built many historic Detroit churches including St. Anthony Church (1902) and Most Holy Redeemer (1921).
Art: The church's facade is decorated with statues and carved stonework made by prolific Detroit architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci. Parducci's work also adorns the Fisher and Guardian buildings. In fact, the sculptor was in such demand in Detroit in the 1920s and 30s that he worked constantly, telling an interviewer in 1975 "My day was about 18 hours long. I remember a couple of years where I had dinner at home only twice during the year."
Innovations: The church's interior had such a narrow footprint (72 by 100 feet)that architect Meier turned to theater designs for ideas. The church seats 2100 worshippers on three levels. Because everyone in the building—on all three levels—has a clear line of sight to the officiant and altar, St. Al's (as it's affectionately known) got a very democratic rep and the nickname "Everybody's church."
Recent events: In July 2015, Detroit Mass Mob took its group of church revitalizers to St. Aloysius. The organization selects historic churches and organizes large groups of worshippers to attend on a given Sunday. The increased collection plate donations and added public interest help these old churches sustain despite declining congregations and changes in city neighborhoods.

St. Al's pastor, Franciscan Brother Loren Connell, told the Detroit Free Press that he hopes the Mass Mob and the building's convenient location will draw more people to mass. "There's potential. In our parish boundaries are the Red Wings, the Tigers and the Lions. And I would like to reach out to the fans," Connell told the Freep. "When people come down to a game, we'd be delighted if they prayed with us at 4 p.m. mass on Saturday evening or 11:30 mass on Sunday morning." Given their general performance, we think the Lions and all their remaining fans might try attending before games, but Brother Connell's idea is a fine one, too.

Curbed reader Mary McGrath Nimmo nominated St. Aloysius, calling it "a most unusual church," and adding "My daughter was married there last weekend and our guests were amazed at the unusual layout and beauty of the church." We want to thank our readers for all of their great suggestions, and encourage you to send more Iconic ideas to rebecca@curbed.com.


·St. Aloysius Church [Detroit 1701]
·Oral history interview with Corrado Parducci, 1975 Mar. 17 [Archives of American Art]
·Church History [St. Aloysius Catholic Church]
·Detroit Mass Mob visits St. Aloysius downtown Sunday [Detroit Free Press]