History of St. Anne's

The history of St. Anne's goes all the way to the earliest days of the Society of Saint Pius X in the United States - it was through the present-day St. Anne’s in fact, that the SSPX established in the United States through successive years its first North American mission, school, seminary and sisters’ novitiate, all in the Detroit area.

As elsewhere throughout the country, the many facets of the Church’s modernist crisis began to be keenly felt by Detroit area Catholics just after the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. A combination of jarring liturgical innovations nand the liberalization of the catechetical education of the youth disturbed many conservative-minded Catholics and led them to seek out parishes where the traditional Roman Mass was still being offered by a small number of priests in the Detroit archdiocese. Across the metropolitan area, groups of laity would get together to discuss what was occurring in their parishes and to pray the rosary.

Between 1966 and 1967, many of these concerned Catholics joined the local study group of the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation2 which met at the famous Sicilian-Italian parish of Holy Family Church in downtown Detroit. Serviced at that time by the Sylvestrine Benedictines, the pastor, Fr. Bonfilio Bottazo (more commonly known as “Fr. Bonfil,”) offered the Sunday High Mass according to the Tridentine form which further attracted Roman Catholics from all over the metropolitan area. From this base in 1967, a natural organizer, Mr. Robert Bartnik, having met many like-minded conservative Catholics with his wife, Virginia, established a loosely organized group called the Committee of Concerned Catholics (CCC). Unbeknownst at the time, the CCC would become a watershed of Catholic Tradition in the Detroit area, eventually leading to the foundation of the most important elements of the SSPX’s apostolate in the United States.

The CCC functioned at its peak between 1967 and 1971 with Mr. Bartnik as the main director. He organized a board, consisting of members who each came to represent the local groups that were spread throughout the Detroit metropolitan area. Meeting regularly at the Bartnik’s house on Sycamore Road in Royal Oak, Mr. Bartnik would read from various conservative Catholic news sources and discuss the topics, while discussions about happenings at the parishes would naturally crop up; general meetings for the public would also be organized. Eventually, the question arose amongst the members about holding catechism classes to ensure that their children would receive orthodox Catholic instruction.

The CCC decided to organize catechism courses which were held on Wednesday evenings. Eventually the large number of children that were enrolled required the classes (taught by parents) to be divided amongst four homes within a several block radius in Royal Oak. Fr. Bonfil was supportive of these efforts and even visited the classes a few times. Throughout this period though, Archbishop John Dearden oddly ignored the CCC, and the local parishes remained virtually silent about its members and activities.

In the Summer of 1971, a radical shift occurred in the Detroit area for those attached to the traditional Mass. Fr. Bonfil decided to leave Holy Family Church and went to live with the Bartniks, nicknaming their house on Sycamore Road his “rectory.” The family installed a small Mass center in their basement which they called the Ave Maria Chapel and once again, by word of mouth the location of the chapel became known throughout the Detroit area. For the next three months, members of the CCC would crowd into a space that could fit only 30 people and when necessary (the group would sometimes peak at 75), line the stairs and pour out into the connecting breezeway.

During this time, Fr. Bonfil was in doubt as to how he should proceed with his little group. Mr. Bartnik had already provided him with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s contact information. In September 1971, Fr. Bonfil decided to travel to Italy. There he met up with Mr. Renato Vanari, who strongly persuaded Fr. Bonfil to meet with Archbishop Lefebvre. During this providential meeting, Fr. Bonfil requested the Archbishop to place his Detroit group under the wing of the SSPX. Though the Archbishop stated that it was not his intention to form parishes at this juncture, nevertheless, he willingly agreed to Fr. Bonfil’s request, making the Detroit group the first SSPX mission in the United States, and one of the first Society Mass centers in the world.

Returning to the States in November 1971, Fr. Bonfil went to live in Troy with Jess and Lucile Alread who were renting the home of CCC member, Mr. William Redding. There he again established a basement chapel for the CCC members, but now loosely under the SSPX’s auspices. Within a couple of months into 1972 the group had once again outgrown its location; the matter was decided however when the local fire marshal ordered the basement chapel to close down.

The Mass center (which was simply referred to as the “Society of St. Pius X,” the religious congregation that serviced it) was then moved to the VFW hall on 11 Mile Road in Madison Heights. In a scenario familiar to many old-timers at the various SSPX chapels in the United States, the “chapel” had to be set up and broken down for every Sunday Mass, while several of the faithful would make, purchase and store the necessary sanctuary items at their homes.

On March 30, 1973, the Detroit groups’ relationship with the SSPX was formalized when the legal corporation of the “Michigan Friends of the Sacerdotal International Fraternity of St. Pius X, Inc.” was established to raise funds within the United States for the religious congregation. The chief officers and board of directors of this corporation were some of the CCC’s main members, though the committee itself had gradually dissolved, since its primary goals had been firmly established (regular Sunday Mass and catechism classes).

In late July 1973, newly-ordained American SSPX priest, Fr. Anthony Ward arrived from the Econe, Switzerland to visit the Detroit mission as part of his summer apostolate. Accompanying him was Detroit-native seminarian (and future Fr.) Daniel Dolan, who acted as the subdeacon during the Solemn Mass celebrated on July 22nd at the VFW hall, while Fr. Bonfil assisted as deacon. The visit was supposed to be just a scouting trip for an American seminary residence, but then Fr. Bonfil decided rather abruptly to leave the mission. However, Fr. Ward had to return to Econe to finish his priestly training, so another recently ordained American, Fr. Gregory Post, was sent from Econe to replace Fr. Bonfil.

In September 1973, the Michigan Friends of the SSPX rented a house in Royal Oak for the future forthcoming American seminary of the SSPX. In November 1973, Fr. Ward returned with a single seminarian and established the St. Joseph House of Studies. It was the first Society seminary established outside of Switzerland and by the end of the year another three seminarians had also joined the community.

On May 28, 1974, the Michigan Friends of the SSPX purchased a house they found in Armada formerly belonging to the PIME missionaries, and situated about an hour’s drive north of Detroit. The seminary left its rented house in Royal Oak in September 1974 and the new Armada property was blessed by Fr. Ward in December of that same year. For many years after, the pastor of the SSPX’s Detroit mission would come from the seminary to offer the weekend Masses, while on Wednesday evenings, seminarians would travel to the mission to assist with the ongoing catechism classes. One first-year seminarian who assisted with this important apostolate was the future Fr. Stephen Delallo.

In 1975, the Detroit group had grown so large that the Mass center was moved to the gymnasium of Jane Adams Elementary School in Royal Oak, which could accommodate the entire group at a single Mass. Comprising the SSPX’s first school of sorts, the classrooms were packed with nearly 400 catechism students who included future SSPX priests, Frs. Edward MacDonald and Daniel Cooper. Other religious vocations contributed to the SSPX by the Detroit chapel were Fr. James Doran, Fr. Patrick Summers and Sister Mary of the Cross.

In mentioning St. Anne’s vocational legacy, we cannot neglect to mention the late, Miss Margaret Haf, who according to the aforementioned Fr. Cooper, exercised an influential role through her continual spiritual and financial support of seminarians. Never married, Miss Haf devoted herself to the Catholic Church by starting the Soul-A-Month Club in August of 1951, an apostolate she continued till her death on March 3, 2003. Her hospitality was well-known amongst the native Detroit clergy of the Society, as she had a small chapel filled with about 100 relics in her apartment where vacationing Society priests could offer Mass when visiting relatives in the area.

In early 1976, Fr. Anthony Ward left the SSPX and was replaced as the seminary rector by recently-ordained, Fr. Donald Sanborn, who also became the new pastor of the Detroit mission. The construction of the seminary’s St. Joseph’s Chapel (now the parish church) in 1977 allowed those who lived nearer to Armada to permanently attend Mass there, thereby decreasing attendance at the Royal Oak mission. The attendance at the Detroit Mission had been further decreased when some families decided to attend Sunday Mass at Holy Family Church or St. Vartan’s Armenian Catholic Church, both in downtown Detroit. So, the Detroit Mass center was moved to the Community Center in Ferndale which though smaller, actually had a more conducive facility for the celebration of Mass.  During this time, since the Detroit area no longer had a resident SSPX priest, a PIME missionary, Fr. James Bergolia, would offer weekday Masses at the Bartnik’s basement chapel or sometimes at Miss Haf’s “reliquary chapel” regularly attended by about two dozen faithful. He would continue offering the True Mass at the Bartnik’s until the 1988 Episcopal Consecrations, when his superiors forced him to quit.  Two other noteworthy non-SSPX priests who serviced the Detroit mission from the Armada seminary (where they taught) were the Australian Msgr. Hodgson and Fr. Oscar LaPlante, an elderly, but “fearless” Jesuit priest.

On October 18, 1978, the SSPX purchased a church for the Detroit mission on Joy Road in nearby Redford. Purchased from a Mormon group, the modest brick building built in 1956 had been located and its purchased encouraged by Mr. Jerome Cooper, father of Fr. Daniel Cooper. Now that a suitable building had been obtained, the Detroit mission was finally given the formal title of “St. Pius X Church.” After some months of remodeling for Catholic use the mission moved into its new building and began having Mass there for a short time. On June 14, 1979, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre blessed the new chapel, followed by a Solemn Mass and an impressive outdoor Eucharistic procession that drew the neighborhood’s attention. Held on a beautiful day, these events with the renowned Standard Bearer of Catholic Tradition were a fitting apex for the SSPX’s first American mission.

During the Fall of 1979, the seminary moved from Armada to Ridgefield, CT and the St. Joseph House of Studies became known as St. Joseph’s Shrine, while the patronage of the Angelic Doctor was bestowed upon the new Ridgefield seminary. For the next few years, various priests would sally forth from this northeast location to service the Armada and Detroit missions. In 1986, the SSPX Sisters would move into the Armada complex, establishing their first novitiate in the United States. Accompanying them was their Belgium native chaplain of the Society, Fr. Dominique Devriendt, who also took care of the two missions.

In April 1983, the infamous Split occurred resulting in the expulsion of “The Nine” priests who formed the Society of St. Pius V and took control of the Detroit chapel. Amidst the confusion prevalent amongst some of the faithful, Mr. Cooper led the way for the SSPX’s cause by telephoning the faithful and encouraging them to “stay with the Archbishop, no matter what.” About half of the original Redford group remained loyal to what Archbishop Lefebvre stood for and these returned to having Mass celebrated at the Ferndale Community Center.

Just after the Split, in the Summer of 1983, the SSPX’s Superior General, Fr. Franz Schmidberger had come with the United States District Superior, Fr. Richard Williamson, to visit the Detroit mission at Ferndale. In an ironic twist, the chapel’s name (the Society’s patron) had been usurped by the SSPV priests when they took over the church, thus requiring the SSPX to change the title of its own namesake mission! Fr. Cooper recalled how as a young seminarian home on vacation, he was seated on the front passenger side while his father drove the Fathers to the Ferndale mission and the topic of renaming the chapel came up between the two priests in the backseat: 

During the conversation Fr. Williamson lean up to me and asked, “Who is the patron saint of Detroit?” I replied “St. Anne.” Frs. Schmidberger and Williamson looked at each other and said “That’s perfect! None of our chapels have that name.” 

While exiled at the Ferndale Community Center, the beginnings of the parish bookstore and library were established in 1984, when upon the suggestion of Mr. Cooper, Mr. Pat Frost approached Fr. Devriendt with a TAN Books catalog and asked if he could purchase some books to loan as well as to sell. The modest bookstore eventually expanded to include holy cards, pictures, rosaries and medals which Mr. Frost continued to manage until 2008, when he retired as both the chapel coordinator and the bookstore manager.

In Spring 1989, Fr. Stephen Delallo was assigned to the Armada priory, however he was unable to transfer right away. So Benedictine Fr. Cyprian temporarily filled in, staying at the priory and servicing the Detroit mission (numbering nearly 100 faithful at this time) until Fr. Delallo arrived to take over his assignment in September 1989.

The year of 1989 also saw another change; a very welcomed one indeed! The SSPX had successfully won its lawsuit and legally regained its church in Redford from the SSPV on January 19th. So nearly six years after the tragic Split, the faithful loyal to the Society of St. Pius X were finally able to reoccupy their church in October 1989 which continued to be called St. Anne’s.

While a succession of pastors were assigned to St. Anne’s over the years, in 1990, St. Anne’s opened a full-fledged parochial school in the church basement. The first principal, Mr. John Skurnowicz, described one of the difficulties the school experienced while in the basement which doubled as the parish hall. A parish coffee and donuts was held every Sunday which necessitated the disassembly of the “classroom” partitions and storing of the school furniture before the weekend, then reassembling these on Sunday for the week. Though starting with just the elementary grades of Kindergarten through 6th, the school has gradually grown to 15 students and to the 8th grade, which had a single graduate that year. Assisting faithfully for many years at the school was Sister Charles Christine, an Adrian Dominican.

About 2003, an attempt was made to expand the school, but it was discovered that there was insufficient space to add classrooms, so the pastor, Fr. Steven Soos, determined that a new location had to be obtained to allow for expansion. In the interim, a school was leased to obtain the needed additional space.
After searching for several years, during which Fr. Jaime Pazat became the pastor, a church complex resting on 3.5 acres was found in Fall 2008 and purchased on December 29, 2008. Bought from the Church of the Savior of the Reformed Church of America, the complex had originally been constructed in two phases, the first was a small chapel and meeting hall in 1966 and the second was the present chapel, a large kitchen and small meeting hall in 1988. The church currently has a seating capacity of 180 (the parish is currently at 210 faithful) and the school area consists of three classrooms and a small library.
After the new complex underwent a two month remodeling period, Fr. Pazat celebrated the last Masses at the old Redford church on Sunday, May 10th, 2009. On Saturday, May 16th, having administered a house blessing to the new church, Fr. Pazat offered the first Mass at the Livonia location.

Continuing a proud legacy of the first American chapel of the SSPX, on July 29th 2009, the pastor, Fr. Jaime Pazat, assisted by Frs. Stephen McDonald and Michael Goldade (at that time all residing at the priory of St. Joseph’s in Armada), solemnly blessed the new church and school of St. Anne’s, then offered a Solemn Mass, which was followed by a potluck luncheon attended by a midweek crowd of 90 faithful.

May St. Anne’s Church continue to flourish and persist in passing on the Catholic Faith throughout the greater Detroit area as it has faithfully done for nearly four decades.

(To read the original article in the Regina Coeli Report, complete with pictures, please click here)