St. Columba Episcopal Church

In 1913 Christ Church established a mission on the east side of the city, building a small frame chapel on Manistique near Jefferson Avenue. The church was named for a Celtic missionary, Columba, the patron saint of the city of Derry in Northern Ireland. Dr. William Maxon, rector of Christ Church had visited the monastery of St. Columba off the coast of Scotland in 1890 and came away so impressed that he decided to name a church after the saint if he ever had the chance.

Fifty people attended the first service of St. Columba Mission, which grew as the neighborhood around it flourished. St. Columba was elevated to a parish in 1917. A parish house on Jefferson, built in 1922 further cemented the role of the church in the surrounding community by offering a gymnasium, meeting hall, and dining facilities.

Having outgrown the small chapel, the congregation began raising funds for a larger church starting in 1926. On October 16th, 1927, the cornerstone for the present-day sanctuary was laid. The new church building was dedicated on December 2nd, 1928, the 15th anniversary of the churches founding. The gothic style building, featuring Plymouth granite and Bedford limestone was designed by Lancelot Sukert and cost $160,000.

During the construction of the parish house and sanctuary the church had incurred significant debts, leading to financial problems in the wake of the Great Depression. A committee to pay down the debts was established in 1938, and by 1948 the church was debt-free.

Like many other churches in Detroit, St. Columba experienced a decline in membership and its congregation moved to the suburbs. By 2000 the neighborhood had one of the highest percentages of abandoned properties in the city, leading to what has been described as an “urban prairie” of vacant, overgrown lots. Attempts by the church to buy the vacant land to create a green space ran headlong into the messy bureaucracy of local government.

Ultimately the Episcopal diocese decided to close St. Columba in 2003. For several years the church was used by Detroit Faith Center but has been vacant since at least 2015.

The church’s pipe organ, an extremely rare E.M. Skinner model was dismantled and removed from the building in March of 2009. It was donated to St. Michael’s Episcopal, who planned to restore and install it in their sanctuary located in Grosse Pointe Woods.