St. Martin of Tours Church

St. Martin of Tours, also known as St. Martin On-The-Lake or just plain St. Martin, is a sometimes-overlooked Catholic church on the southeast side of Detroit. Some websites note that St. Martin was started as a mission church in 1912, but information to confirm this is lacking. The church was formally established as a parish in 1923, with the first services held in a hall on Jefferson Avenue before moving to a temporary frame building on the current site.

While construction of an elementary school was underway in 1924, over 400 students signed up for classes. Despite the school lacking a roof, stairways, and doors, nuns herded students between classrooms in various states of completion until 1925. High school classes were started in 1926, and in 1927 the church moved its services into the school building. Additions on to the school building were completed in 1932 and 1938.

In 1949 work on a long-planned permanent church finally began. The cornerstone was laid in 1950, and by 1953 the new church was open.

At its peak in the 1960’s, the parish had over 3,000 households attending mass every week. But a combination of changing demographics and declining population led to the high school closing in 1970, followed by the elementary school a year later. The school and a convent next door were later demolished sometime in the 1980’s or 90’s.

In 1989, the Archdiocese of Detroit closed 30 parishes in Detroit, including St. Martin. Among the factors cited were that only 80 families regularly attended services in a church. Unlike other churches, however, St. Martin would be mothballed, in anticipation of reopening if plans to redevelop the neighborhood were successful.

The last mass was held on April 9th, 1989. A week later the congregation made a symbolic march from St. Martin to St. Ambrose in Grosse Pointe, their new home.

The archdiocese would go on to close many more churches in the decades to come. With each parish that closed, religious icons and items considered holy or blessed were removed and offered to other nearby churches. The sanctuary of St. Martin became a warehouse for such items, filling with crates of dismantled confessionals and altars.

While the neighborhood around St. Martin has started to recover, there are no signs that anything will be done with the church, which has been boarded up.