Nativity marks 100 years

Detroit — Nativity of Our Lord Parish observed its 100th anniversary Oct. 9, and many former parishioners returned to the historic eastside church to share in the occasion.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron delivers the homily at Nativity of Our Lord Church Oct. 9.

The eastside church was filled to capacity for the occasion, as Archbishop Allen Vigneron celebrated the centenary Mass.

Noting in his homily that the Greek origins of the word “liturgy” include the concept of work, Archbishop Vigneron said, “When God, through the Holy Spirit, brings us together, He has a task for us.”

And the archbishop said the people of Nativity have been engaged in that work now for 100 years, adding that some of those present probably know some of the founding members of the parish, while some person in the congregation that day was the newest member to join in that tradition.

“Jesus continues to be at work, saving His people, preparing us to be raised from the dead,” he continued.

After the Mass, Fr. Jerome Singer, Nativity’s pastor, said the parish will “continue to serve the neighborhood, witness to God’s love to the community, and be a sign of hope to the poor.”

Nativity of Our Lord Parish

5900 McClellan, between Shoemaker and Carney, just south of Gratiot
(313) 922-0033
Current pastor:
Fr. Jerome Singer
Founding pastor:
Fr. Fredrick L. Heidenreich

Ministries and area involvement: Food pantry; Christian Service, community center, and parish works closely with Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance on building new housing and rehabilitating old housing, as well as other community programs.

And while the area around Nativity has, along with most of the city’s east side, suffered considerable population loss and deterioration of the housing stock, Fr. Singer was able to stand on the church steps and point to some of the new houses on McClellan that have been built through the efforts of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance.

“Through DCPA we’re working with the people of this neighborhood to build it back up,” he said.

Nativity of Our Lord Parish was established in 1911 at the request of Catholics in what was then the unincorporated village of Leesville for a church of their own, instead of having to travel south to St. Anthony Church or north to Assumption Grotto.

Founding pastor Fr. Frederick Heidenreich celebrated Mass initially in a school building at Gratiot and Harper until the fledgling parish built its own school on McClellan Avenuea few years later. The parish school building provided worship space for the parish until it could build its church.

By the time construction began on the church in 1924, the area had been annexed by the City of Detroit and Nativity’s membership had grown enough to justify construction of the large edifice that still serves the parish today.

Fr. Heidenreich died in 1928 before the church was completed, and his successor, Msgr. John S. Mies, oversaw the completion of the interior. Bishop Michael Gallagher dedicated the church in 1929.

Nativity’s pastor, Fr. Jerome Singer, speaks about the parish’s storied past and bright future.

Fr. Bernard Geller succeeded to the pastorate in 1934, and served the parish for nearly 30 years. Fr. Bernard LaBelle was pastor 1963-69, after which Nativity had a pastor and then an administrator in the span of two years. Fr. Singer became pastor in 1971, so the parish has only had five pastors during all but two years of its century of existence.

Sharon Mudloff, who lives across the street and has been a parishioner for all of her 67 years, said Nativity has been a great parish to belong to: “It’s a true Christian family – we all love each other and care for each other.”

Bert McAlister, who joined Nativity after his former parish closed eight years ago, agreed about the parish, adding that it has “the best pastor, in Fr. Singer, and one of the most beautiful churches in the archdiocese.”

Peter Iwu Sr. said the people of Nativity had been “very welcoming” to those such as McAlister and himself had joined it after the closing of St. John Berchmans/St. Juliana Parish.