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part iv.


33 Saint Florian, Roman Catholic 2626 Poland Avenue, Hamtramck dedicated October 21, 1928 architect Ralph Adams Cram of Cram and Ferguson


part iv. 1920–1950


s more and more Polish Catholics immigrated to the Detroit area in search of economic security at the new Dodge, Ford, and Packard auto plants, there was a growing need for a Catholic church in Hamtramck. It was a major inconvenience and a hazard for people to cross the railroad tracks to attend existing churches in Detroit. This working-class neighborhood grew very rapidly as indicated by Detroit Archdiocese records; there were 500 church families in 1912. A school was built in 1913 for approximately 750 children, and by 1915 1,400 church families had 1,200 students in the school. By 1918 there were 2,000 church families with 1,593 baptisms, 184 marriages, and 374 deaths, 283 of which were children, most of whom likely died as a result of the nationwide influenza epidemic. It is unclear why Saint Florian was chosen as the namesake of the church, other than he was already a favored Polish saint who, as a Roman soldier born near Vienna around ad 280, was martyred for his faith in the early fourth century. In 1138 Pope Lucius III gave some of the saint’s relics to King Casmir of Poland and to the Bishop of Krakow, and since that time Saint Florian has been regarded as the patron saint of Poland. He is also considered the patron saint of firemen worldwide after being credited with saving Krakow from a fire. The first building in 1908–9 was a brick two-story combination church and school. That building still stands and has served continuously as a school, although it has been altered by the addition of more classrooms. By 1920, and with the population of Hamtramck at forty-five thousand, a separate church was needed. At that time all debts connected with the first building were paid off, a remarkable feat given the great personal and financial sacrifices suffered by many parishioners during a time of lockout and strikes at the various auto plants.

The parishioners had a very large basement built and covered with a roof; this below-ground structure was the church for several years. When all the debts connected with this venture were paid off, an architect was selected to design a new church, using this basement as the foundation. Ralph Adams Cram of Cram and Ferguson in Boston had designed a nearby church, the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul on Woodward Avenue. It is possible the general style appealed to Father John Bonkowski and his parishioners. Like many of Cram’s churches, Saint Florian is in the Gothic Revival style, a modification of early English cathedrals. Cram received an award for the church in 1929 from American Architect magazine. The red-brown brick church sits high on the gray limestone basement foundation, with sixteen steps leading from the sidewalk to the front doors. The gabled nave has two transepts and is topped at the crossing with an ornamental pinnacled spire. The front of the building is quite imposing, with each of the twin towers containing niches with statues. The most impressive aspect of the church is the large, recessed Gothic arch that forms a portal over the great rose window. Also, this entry area contains a carved stone lunette of Christ on the cross with two angels over the massive wood doors. There are shorter attached towers, with gables on each side of the front facade, making the building look much wider than it really is. Several bands of gray limestone encircle the church, one at the beltline and others at various locations on the front facade and the sides. Another prominent feature is the checkerboard effect of brick and limestone high up on the exterior of the church. The interior is as striking as the exterior. There is a main center aisle with two side aisles and a transverse aisle at the rear of the crossing. The newly painted blue ceiling is vaulted with several Gothic arches

Interior looking up center aisle toward altar

saint florian, roman catholic


spanning the interior space and angels painted in the area above the chancel. The ribs of the vaulting are accentuated with gilding. Each side aisle has a lowered vaulted ceiling. There are four large pillars from front to back on both sides, each with faux stone painting to resemble large blocks of limestone. The transepts are rather shallow—two small chapels are in the right transept; the left transept has one. Both transepts also hold confessionals, and the walls have large decorative blocks of gilded ornamentation. Carved in Florence, Italy, the reredos are stunning; they are polychrome carved wood depicting six scenes in the life of Christ. Faux painting also appears on the altar walls flanking the reredos. The chancel is rounded, with a floor of large black and white marble squares. There is a small chapel in each of the front towers, adjacent to the entry. The stained glass windows are from three different studios: Mayer of Munich, the J. M. Kase Glass Company of Reading, Pennsylvania (active 1909–34), and the Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee (now New Berlin), Wisconsin. Kase is reported to have designed and fabricated the altar windows, which represent five Polish saints: Saint Casmir, Saint Stanislaus, Saint Hedwig, Saint Hyacinth, and Saint Florian. These large figures are surrounded by light-colored foliate glass, allowing significant light to enter the sanctuary. However, the nave and the rose window are much darker (deep blue, red, and green) and were designed by the Conrad Schmitt Studios. Located in the balcony, underneath the rose window, is the organ. The top of the organ framework is slightly concave so that it does not obscure the stained glass. The Austin Organ Company built the organ in 1928.

Large wall mural of Saint Florian, patron saint of firemen


part iv. 1920–1950

Large wall mural of modern Saint M. M. Kolbe

It has forty ranks, three manuals, 2,528 speaking pipes, and a full facade of non-speaking pipes graded in size. The organ was renovated in 1982 by the White Organ Company, and a four-rank mixture of 244 pipes was added. Saint Florian has recently been redecorated. Large wall murals located just below and between the clerestory windows depict the liturgical symbols for the four evangelists: a winged angel represents Matthew; a winged lion for Mark; a winged ox for Luke; and a winged eagle for John. On the rear wall, flanking the organ, are two larger-than-life murals, one of Saint Florian and the other of Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe (1894–1941). M. M. Kolbe was ordained in 1911 in Poland and began publishing newspapers and other periodicals to teach Catholicism. During World War II Kolbe offered himself in exchange for a Polish sergeant forced to enter a starvation chamber. Pope John Paul II made him a saint on October 10, 1982. Several of the early priests at Saint Florian were actually first-generation Polish Detroiters, educated at University of Detroit High School and then Saint Mary’s College/Seminary in Orchard Lake, a northern suburb in Oakland County. In September 1969 Cardinal Karal Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), as Archbishop of Krakow, visited the Orchard Lake campus and Saint Florian church, a highlight in the church’s history. In 2008 for the 100th anniversary of the parish, a Centennial Committee planned many events during the year, including a gathering of all couples married at Saint Florian, a special mass for firefighters, the opening of the cornerstone placed one hundred years ago, and a presentation about the architect Ralph Adams Cram. ■

saint florian, roman catholic


Close-up of Italian carved polychromed wood reredos

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part iv. 1920–1950

saint florian, roman catholic


Detroit's Historic Places of Worship (Excerpt 2)