Historic parish celebrates Archdiocese of Detroit's spiritual blessings with nine days of prayer to honor city's patroness

DETROIT — Starting Wednesday, Detroit's oldest Catholic parish will begin a time-honored tradition.

For more than a century, parishioners have gathered at Ste. Anne Parish near the Ambassador Bridge in late July for nine days of prayer and thanksgiving for their city and faith, culminating in the feast day of Detroit's patroness, whom French explorers celebrated in gratitude for their safe landing on the banks “by the straits.”

From July 17 to July 25, Ste. Anne Parish will celebrate its annual novena to Ste. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, leading up to her feast day on July 26. 

For Ste. Anne pastor Msgr. Charles Kosanke, the yearly tradition is a reminder of the heavenly help that's ever-present for faithful Detroiters. 

“A novena is a nine-day devotion to a particular saint, done by people who are seeking that saint’s intercession for an intention,” Msgr. Kosanke told Detroit Catholic. “Ste. Anne is the patroness of many causes: infertile couples, people looking for a spouse, patroness of healing, and patroness of the archdiocese. Many people who have come to the novena of Ste. Anne for the nine days, or the feast day on July 26, come with a particular intention they want Ste. Anne to intercede for them.”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron carries the relics of Ste. Anne during a process in 2016. Catholics can receive a blessing with the relics during the feast of Ste. Anne on July 26. (Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

The celebration will culminate with the feast of Ste. Anne, who was named patroness of the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2011, on July 26 — 318 years after Antoine Laumet de la mothe Cadillac and his men celebrated the first Mass in Detroit, two days after the city's establishment.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron will celebrate the feast day Mass this year at Ste. Anne, at 7 p.m. The night before, the archbishop will join Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Nicholas and Msgr. Timothy Hogan for a prayer vigil at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament (also at 7 p.m.) with a special blessing for grandparents. 

Healings attributed to Jesus' grandmother

Devotions to Ste. Anne began in the sixth century and later spread throughout Europe. In August 1623, a French peasant named Yves Nicolazic reported seeing an apparition of Ste. Anne, who told Nicolazic that she was Anne, mother of Mary, mother of God, and asked Nicolazic to rebuild a chapel that was once dedicated to her. 

French missionaries brought the devotion to Quebec in the 17th century, and eventually, to Detroit.

When the current Ste. Anne Church was built in Detroit in 1886, it included a shrine to Ste. Anne on the southeast side of the church. To this day, old crutches and medical supplies are seen next to the shrine, left by believers who experienced St. Anne’s healing grace.

Since Archbishop Vigneron established the parish as the official archdiocesan shrine to Ste. Anne in April 2017, a healing service has been held following Mass on St. Anne’s feast day.

The novena dates back to the building of the current Ste. Anne Church in 1886, but Detroit's devotion to Jesus' grandmother goes back to the founding of the city itself in 1701. (Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

“We’ve had healings happen over prayers following the feast day,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “The most common we hear are couples with no hope of having children becoming pregnant. One year, the archbishop blessed a couple, and they ended up having twins. So now we have a joke for the novena: if you want twins, go to the archbishop’s line. If you want just one, go to my line.”

Leading up the feast day, the parish will host nine days of prayer and Masses, with each day of the novena celebrating a unique aspect of Detroit Catholic spirituality, including Hispanic, Irish, Asian, a traditional Latin Mass, French, Chaldean, Albanian, Italian and Polish culture. Masses will begin at 7 p.m. and incorporate various aspects of worship special to these communities.

“For each night, we encourage people to dress in native clothes and celebrate with native music,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “The idea is to make it an enjoyable celebration, an inspirational celebration of how the Church has grown over the years to represent these rich and diverse cultures.”

After Mass, the congregation will have the opportunity to venerate the relics of Ste. Anne, given to the parish by the Basilica of Ste. Anne in Paris more than 100 years ago. 

A place to 'be inspired'

The parish has celebrated the novena since 1886, when the current church was built. 

A man reverences the altar at Ste. Anne Parish while wearing traditional Native American dress during a special novena Mass in 2015. (Jonathan Francis | Archdiocese of Detroit file photo)

But while many of the traditions at the parish date to the building of the current edifice, signs of the parish's earlier history can be seen everywhere. Elements of the earlier, 1818-built church on Larned and Bates — where the famed Fr. Gabriel Richard was pastor — include the Communion rail, the grey-colored stained-glass windows, the sanctuary lamp, the Beaubien Bell in the east bell tower and the altar in the chapel where Fr. Richard is entombed.

“When Ste. Anne’s was built in the 18th century, it was built to inspire, to overwhelm people with beauty of the stained-glass windows, to lift people’s spirits up to heaven,” Msgr. Kosanke said.

“The church is an instrument of bringing people closer to God, so my desire is whether you are an active Catholic or seeking God, that you come and be inspired by the beauty of Ste. Anne’s,” Msgr. Kosanke continued. “A novena is an occasion to experience God’s presence, whether that is an answered prayer or being part of a beautiful worship experience.”

In addition to spiritual food, the parish will offer a meal after every Mass, a chance to build community among fellow Catholics who are visiting the archdiocese’s “spiritual home.”

Parishioners carry a statue of Ste. Anne in procession during the feast day celebration in 2016. (Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

“The archbishop compares Ste. Anne’s to the cathedral,” Msgr. Kosanke said. “The cathedral is a parish, but it's the mother parish of the archdiocese. Ste. Anne is the first and the oldest parish (in the archdiocese), but more than a parish, we’re an apostolic center, a place for pilgrimage, devotions, evangelization, and a place to bring young and old to be inspired.

“You could say we have the additional role of being a host,” Msgr. Kosanke added. “In that sense, we seek not only to serve our own parishioners, but everyone in the archdiocese, as a spiritual home.”

Novena to St. Anne schedule 

(All Masses are at 7 p.m., at Ste. Anne de Detroit Parish, 1000 Ste. Anne St., Detroit. For more information, visit ste-anne.org)

Wednesday, July 17 (Celebration of Hispanic Culture)
Celebrant: Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon
Homilist: Fr. Jacob Van Assche
Featuring: Ste. Anne Hispanic Choir, Latino Children’s Choir

Thursday, July 18 (Celebration of Celtic Culture)
Celebrant: Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby
Homilist: Fr. Grayson Heenan
Featuring: Bagpiper Brendan O’Leary, National Shrine of the Little Flower Children’s Choir

Friday, July 19 (Celebration of Asian Culture)
Celebrant: Fr. Hoang Lam
Homilist: Fr. Phil Ching
Featuring: KKPM Filipino Community Choir

Saturday, July 20 (Traditional Latin Mass)
Celebrant: Msgr. Ronald Browne
Homilist: Canon Michael Stein, ICRSS
Featuring: Gabriel Richard Schola

Sunday, July 21 (Celebration of French Culture and Alumni)
Celebrant: Fr. Maurice Restivo, CSB
Featuring: Voice, Violin, and Harp from the French Community

Monday, July 22 (Celebration of Chaldean Culture)
Celebrant: Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat

Tuesday, July 23 (Celebration of Albanian Culture)
Celebrant: Fr. Fred Kalaj
Homilist: Fr. Marko Djonovic
Featuring: Voices of the Albanian Religious Sisters, Divine Child Choir

Wednesday, July 24 (Celebration of Italian Culture)
Celebrant: Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda
Homilist: Fr. Paul Snyder
Featuring: Accordian

Thursday, July 25 (Celebration of Polish Culture)
Celebrant: Auxiliary Bishop Robert Fisher
Homilist: Fr. Walter Ptak

Friday, July 26 (Celebration of the Feast of Ste. Anne)
Celebrant: Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron
Featuring: Ste. Anne Shrine Festival Choir and Brass with the Archdiocese of Detroit Cathedral Choir Academy