St. Joseph Oratory is a landmark center of Catholic faith, culture, and community in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market district. St. Joseph Church is a magnificent Victorian Gothic edifice completed in 1873 and noted as of national architectural significance. Since October 2016, the Canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest have served and led the local faithful. The Institute has brought to St. Joseph daily Traditional Latin Masses, regular devotions, liturgical instruction, and an active parish life. As a result, the parish community at St. Joseph Oratory continues to grow enriching both younger and older individuals and families from all backgrounds and neighborhoods.
In July 2013, the Archdiocese of Detroit merged St. Joseph with two nearby parishes. Then in October 2016, St. Joseph became its own parish under the spiritual and pastoral care of the Institute of Christ the King.
Francis G. Himpler designed St. Joseph Church in Detroit’s German community laying its cornerstone in 1870 and completing the building in 1873. The Church is noted as one of the finest remaining Victorian Gothic churches, renowned for its original ornate stained glass windows, intricate woodwork, and high altar. It is the only church in Detroit listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of “national significance.”
Particular to St. Joseph as well is its near-perfect acoustic design, sound engineers marvel at the enclosure’s ability to sustain pitch without degradation. Throughout the Church’s life, this unique feature has been put to good use for the glory of God and the edification of the faithful through beautiful liturgical music. Sacred music has been an integral part of the liturgical life at St. Joseph since its establishment. That heritage is brought to life today at the Oratory through the work of the Schola, devoted to providing elevating Gregorian chant; the mixed-voice Cappella, specializing in polyphony; and Cantatio, a large men’s four-part chorus. This sacred music is enhanced by regular use of the Church’s magnificent original tracker organ and frequent orchestral performances.
In February 2016, the exterior of the 200-foot steeple suffered significant storm damage, and its slate cladding, 144 years old, was removed as a safety precaution. Though structurally sound, the steeple remains in a temporary protective membrane awaiting the donation of funds sufficient to install new slate. Since October 2016, the Canons, assisted by the parish’s lay leadership, have worked to identify additional structural and aesthetic needs of the building, and have worked with the Archdiocese of Detroit to develop a plan to make the building sound and beautiful for the next 144 years and beyond.
We are planning to raise $2.5 million over the next three years for needed capital improvements. Our first priority will be to restore the steeple. The cost for the steeple restoration alone will most likely exceed $600,000. Concurrent with the steeple repairs, other immediate repairs to the Church’s stonework are needed. Major projects by year depending on available funding are as follows:
Year 1. $1,000,000
- Steeple restoration
- Begin Church stonework
- Parking lot lighting
- Rectory basement waterproofing
- Replace Caretaker’s House roof
Year 2. $750,000
- Replace entire East parking lot
- Install security gate and new fencing
- Continue with Church stonework
- Replace entire Church electrical system
Year 3. $750,000
- Replace entire Rectory roof
- Complete Church stonework
Meet the Institute
Founded in 1990 within the Roman Catholic Church, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is a society of priests, sisters, and oblate brothers whose aim is to bring the truth in charity of Christ the King to every sphere of human life. Currently serving in eleven countries around the world and in thirteen dioceses across the United States, the Institute is devoted to the sanctification of souls through the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite with Gregorian chant and through the spirituality of its holy patrons: St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Benedict, as well as St. Therese of the Child Jesus.
At the invitation of Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the Institute arrived in 2016 to re-vivify the newly-unmerged parish, and to minister to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit through a full sacramental life formed and nurtured by the Traditional Latin Mass. Sacred music, generous service of the poor, and cultural enlivenment have all flowered and continue to grow in the beautiful St. Joseph’s Church in Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, an active and rapidly
re-developing urban hub.
St. Joseph Legacy & Renewal
St. Joseph Legacy
In addition to its well-known architecturally significant design and structure, St. Joseph is also known for its devotion to sacred music and to community outreach. In 1873, at the Church’s consecration, the St. Cecilia Society which was devoted to preservation of sacred music, was influential in establishing St. Joseph as a center for sacred music. In 1895, the Society performed a then nationally acclaimed gala at St. Joseph to further the awareness of sacred music. In 1914, the St. Joseph Ephpheta Society established the first ministry for the Deaf Community in Detroit. In 1867,
St. Joseph Elementary School was formed and later the St. Joseph Commercial College and High School.
St. Joseph Oratory (from October 16, 2016)
Since its inaugural Mass, St. Joseph Oratory has built strong relationships with the local community and continued the legacy of sacred music and community outreach. These relationships include the Eastern Market District, The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and the Detroit Historical Society. In the past year, numerous church tours have been organized for schools, historical societies and even families. The initial influence of the St. Cecilia Society continues today with the St. Joseph Cappella, music programs and concerts. The Parish has expanded its traditional “St. Joseph Day” to include greater meal service to the community. The parish also works with the St. Vincent de Paul Society for the operation of the Food Pantry now serving over one hundred individuals.
After Three Years – What is Next?
Most of the interior walls of the Church are in need of complete restoration due largely to water damage and other related weather issues over the years. The greatest damage to date has taken place in the two upper Sacristies. However, before any extensive interior restoration can take place the entire Church building envelope will need to be completely secured. After the Steeple and Church stonework is done and all the electrical systems replaced, the entire Church roof will need to be replaced. It is hopeful that the extensive repair work completed on the church roof, in March of 2017, will last until the roof can be replaced. Additionally, the Church’s boiler and heating system is expected to last at least three more years. The current plan is to completely replace the existing heating system which will include central air conditioning and humidity control. With a secure Church building and a controlled interior environment, the interior restoration can be started.
Other Longer-Term Projects
The restoration of the Church’s interior may take place over several years and be completed in phases. Other projects that the Parish may likely need to undertake include the following:
1. Expand the Social Hall
2. Renovate the Caretaker’s House
3. Replace the furnace in the Rectory
4. Expand main parking lot and resurface