DEARBORN, Mich. – The Traveling Catholics Mass Mob is making a stop in Dearborn on Sunday for an 11 a.m. service at historic St. Alphonsus Church. Since April 2014, the Mass Mob movement's members have been on a mission throughout metro Detroit, visiting parishes and encouraging faithful to return to their roots.
St. Alphonsus Parish complex, recognized as a Michigan historic site, has undergone many changes in its 163 years in East Dearborn. The community around the parish has grown from simple forest and farmland to a short-lived aviation field and later, a subdivision.
Today, descendants of the earliest families who settled the land and started the Catholic school in the 1840s are still living within blocks of the church. Founders' headstones in the cemetery read as street signs – Esper, Horger, Ternes, Reuter, Schlaff, Neckel, Henn, Theisen, Korte, Schaefer. Even Henry Ford has family buried here, and the wrought iron fence lining the south end of the cemetery was donated by the auto mogul himself.
The church, dedicated by Bishop Gallagher in May 1930, was built for a capacity of 1,250 people. During the 1960s through late 1970s, it was commonly filled to standing room only for multiple masses a day on Sundays each week. In fact, overflow masses were held in the school's gym to handle the crowds. Services have not seen that kind of attendance in years, but the Mass Mob is determined to fill the church again for one special day.
St. Alphonsus School was established in 1846 by Peter Esper, who migrated with his family from Germany during the potato famine. The intent was to establish a school for his eight children and others in the community. In 1851, Esper donated 4 acres of his farmland to build the school, church and cemetery at what is now the corner of Warren Avenue and Schaefer Road.
Over the 150 years of operation, St. Alphonsus produced over 30,000 high school graduates and even more elementary school students before closing in 2005. Many of those alumni are expected to return for the Mass Mob event.
The community around the church continues to change and evolve. It is still a thriving, bustling neighborhood with a strong business district of community shops at the core. But where once lived large Catholic families of immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland, with 10 children or more, today live primarily immigrants of the Middle East who share a Muslim-based faith.
Beginning Oct. 1, the St. Alphonsus Parish will merge with nearby St. Clement Parish of Dearborn, as decreed by the Archdiocese of Detroit. These two communities in faith have been working together over the past year toward becoming one parish family, with the Rev. Linus Kinyua announced as the newly installed pastor.
For more information on the Traveling Catholics Mass Mob event at St. Alphonsus and how you can be a part of it, please visit this website.