When people left inner cities, many things followed. Newer, better schools were built in the suburbs. And strip malls and shopping centers sprang up. But back in cities, stores and restaurants shut down. Schools and churches also closed. Now, the Catholic church is encouraging people to work together to prevent more urban sprawl. Catholic clergy say they don’t want to close perfectly good churches and cathedrals only to build new ones farther and farther out into the suburbs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
When people left inner cities, many things followed. Newer, better schools were built in the
suburbs. And strip malls and shopping centers sprang up. But back in cities, stores and restaurants
shut down. Schools and churches also closed. Now, the Catholic church is encouraging people to
work together to prevent more urban sprawl. Catholic clergy say they don’t want to close perfectly
good churches and cathedrals only to build new ones farther and farther out into the suburbs. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Twenty-five years ago, Loraine Krajewski lost nearly everything. She lost her home and she lost
her church. Both were demolished when General Motors built a sprawling auto plant over
Poletown, a Polish-American neighborhood at the border of Detroit. Krajewski says it was the fight
of her life.
“I did things I never thought I would do. I picketed, I mean, in rain and snow. I wrote
letters, I mean, to Congressmen and to our council and everything. And I went to meetings
that would last until one, two o’clock in the morning at times, and I took time off from work
to go downtown to the council meetings.”
Krajewski was mad at the city of Detroit for letting it happen. And she was mad at the Catholic
Church in Detroit for not fighting the project. But not mad enough to leave the church. Krajewski
and others forced out of Poletown found a new parish in the city, called St. Josaphat.
Krajewski headed for the suburbs after Poletown disappeared. But she still returns to the city every
Sunday for Mass at St. Josaphat. It’s a 15-mile trip.
“We decided we are not going to let another Polish church go down the drain. And that’s
why I’ve been coming here. It’s just too bad that we don’t have a larger congregation.”
More parishioners would make Krajewski feel more sure that St. Josaphat would always be here,
that it was safe from closing down. But it’s not safe. Only a few dozen Catholics show up here
anymore for Mass on Sunday. And the church can hold 12-hundred people.
Father Mark Borkowski is the pastor at St. Josaphat. He says people like Krajewski, who are
coming from 10, 15 or 20 miles away, are the only ones keeping his church open. But just barely.
“If we were to live on Sunday collections alone, the parish would not be able to survive. So
with our monthly fundraising dinners, we can survive. But there’s a difference between
surviving and flourishing.”
People left the churches when they left the city for bigger plots of land and better schools. And the
Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit followed its people. Catholics built new churches in the suburbs.
But now, the Archdiocese is rethinking its role in urban sprawl.
Father Ken Kaucheck is on the Detroit Archdiocese urban sprawl committee. He says the church is
concerned about sprawl because it creates social and economic inequities between cities and
“It creates blight. It creates loss, it creates desolation and desecration. And it destroys not
only communities, but therefore, it destroys the lives of people.”
Kaucheck says the main tenet of the church’s anti-sprawl campaign is encouraging local
governments to work together on economic development. He says if communities are not trying to
one up each other to win new development projects, there would be less incentive for companies to
move farther into rural areas.
Kaucheck says the church wants its priests to talk about sprawl in their Sunday sermons. He calls it
“stirring the population” to affect social change.
“It’s government of the people, for the people and by the people. That’s what a democracy
is about. But somebody has to raise the question and you raise the question, faith-based,
through the scriptures. Is this what the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to? No, it doesn’t call
us to sprawl, it calls us to solidarity in community, and to looking at how service of one
another sometimes means dying to myself, that means maybe I’m going to have to give
It isn’t likely the church’s urban sprawl committee will be able do much to bring people back to
parishes in the city. Father Mark Borkowski at St. Josaphat prays about the problem to the
Madonna. Her picture is at the center of the church’s main altar.
“My personal reason for the novena is to say to the Blessed Virgin Mary, ‘I haven’t got a
clue as to what to do, so I’m turning the problem over to you. This is your shrine, if you
want to stay here Mary, do something to help us help you stay, and help us stay here. When
the problem is too big you have to turn it over to a higher power.'”
The Catholic Church now hopes to protect churches that could become the next victims of sprawl.
Those are in places that once served the early waves of Catholics leaving Detroit for the first
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.