St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church

St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, located on the east side of Detroit, rose and fell with the fortunes of the city.

The parish was part of a push by Bishop Michael Gallagher to expand the Detroit Archdiocese into outlying areas of the city that had yet to be developed, in anticipation that they would soon fill with people. When Father John Koelzer was called to establish a church in the area of Warren Avenue and McClellan in the summer of 1920, he made a trip there on foot, finding only a few scattered houses along wooden sidewalks that disappeared into mud.

St. Margaret Mary was founded in June of 1920, with its first service held in a doctor's office on Bewick Avenue on Detroit's east side. Any doubts he may have had about the viability of the parish were quickly wiped away, as the congregation grew quickly, and began construction of a church building on the corner of Warren Avenue and Lemay Street in late July. Within seven weeks the construction of the church was far enough along that services could be held in it, and was finished by December. Just six months had passed from founding to finishing.

Dedication of the church took place on December 12th, 1920, in a service led by Bishop Gallagher and Father Koelzer. The next day's issue of the Detroit Free Press described the structure as "An artistic frame building, capable of accommodating more than 400 persons. It is 36 by 104 feet, and cost $15,000, outside of the voluntary work done by members of the congregation." The parish counted 14 different nationalities among its members, including Belgians, Hungarians, Italians, and Slavs.

In 1923 a school was built next to the church. St. Margaret Mary School grew along with the church, adding on new wings in 1924 and 1927. By then the parish had outgrown the old sanctuary as well, which was razed and rebuilt in 1930. The new sanctuary, designed by the firm of Donaldson & Meier was dedicated in June of 1931. Father John Koelzer led the church from its founding until 1938, when Monsignor Ferdinand DeCneudt was called. A native of Ghent, Belgium, the appointment of DeCneudt in 1939 is a testament to the large number of Belgians and Italians that had settled in the area, and would continue to support the church for decades to come.

By the 1970's though, the east side of Detroit was in decline. Hit hard by the loss of factories and industrial jobs, the mostly white Catholic neighborhoods transitioned to mainly black Protestant. The Catholic Church was losing members to the suburbs at a rapid rate, while Baptist congregations were thriving. One of these was Hill of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1980 by Reverend Alvin L. Porties just a few blocks away from St. Margaret Mary on Warren Avenue.

In 1982, the Detroit Archdiocese closed St. Margaret Mary Church, which was only averaging about 50 to 65 parishioners on Sundays. The aging church building needed significant repairs, the cost of which could only be born by a larger congregation. Two years later, the church, parish house and the school (which had closed in 1970) were sold to Hill of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, which moved in 1984.

As recently as October of 2011 Hill of Calvary was still holding services in the church building. There were tentative plans to reopen the school as a community center, but the shrinking congregation was struggling to maintain and repair the sanctuary, which had fallen into disrepair. Sometime in late 2011 or early 2012 services were moved into the basement of the parish house in between the church and school. In August of 2012, the parish house and old sanctuary are broken into and badly vandalized. Musical instruments were stolen, and the perpetrators tried to set the church on fire. Police were called but weren't able to make the scene, suggesting to the church that they file a report online. The parish house was boarded up a few days later, and has not been active since.