A once-thriving Catholic church with its own girl’s high school now lies abandoned and slowly falling into picturesque ruins.
By the time St. Agnes was built, there were only a handful of houses in the area. Detroit had, however, grown rapidly in the early 20th century and when the construction was finished in 1924, the church was in the middle of a densely populated area. It took roughly two years to finish the gothic-inspired building, designed by the firm of Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough, and Reynolds.
The church and the community surrounding it thrived in the mid-20th century. By their 50th anniversary, the church had grown to three priests, 22 nuns, and 180 students enrolled in the Catholic girl’s school adjacent to the church. But things would take a turn for the worse for the community, and the parish.
A police raid on an after-hours drinking establishment in the area stirred tensions that grew to civil unrest, with most of the buildings along 12th Street being burned to the ground. St. Agnes Church did go relatively unharmed through these events, but the community never recovered, and people started moving from the area. In 1986 there were only 162 families still worshiping there and it was not enough to cover the high operating costs for such a large church.
The building was put up for sale by the Detroit Archdiocese but the congregation buying it never took possession, allowing the space to fall into ruin. It only took a few years for scavengers to steal the metal pipes from the organ and most of the decorations. After that, weather and vandalism had their turn.
Even though St. Agnes was not the most important or beautiful of Detroit’s churches, it was still, for some time, a big part of a thriving neighborhood. Unfortunately, the community never recovered from the 1967 rebellion and declined over the years. In the end it was no longer possible to keep the church running and it met, what might have been, its inevitable destiny.
Update: As of August 2019, fences have been erected around most of the property and there are many “no trespassing” signs.
Know Before You Go
The church and school are at the corner of LaSalle Gardens and Rosa Parks Blvd., a few blocks east of LaSalle Park.