Detroit — People who make their way to the riverfront doors of the Cobo Center will be greeted by a larger-than-life depiction of Detroit’s “second founder.”
On a mural on the west wall by the riverfront entrance stands Fr. Gabriel Richard: immigrant, missionary, educator, statesman and patriot; showing all of his contributions to the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan.
The mural is the work of Sr. Jane Mary Sorosiak, OSF, of Sylvania, Ohio, who admits she knew very little about the famed French priest who literally put Detroit on the map.
“When I was first contacted, I didn’t know much about him, so I had to do research,” said Sr. Sorosiak, who has murals at churches and libraries in Garden City, Westland, Lincoln Park and Lansing. “At our own university (Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio) we have a book of Fr. Gabriel Richard. I read the book and took all kinds of notes. There were so many things about him you can say, but are hard to show visually.”
Some of those accomplishments include establishing schools from American Indians, bringing the first printing press to Michigan, establishing the University of Michigan in Detroit and serving as the Michigan Territory’s representative to Congress from 1823-25.
Sr. Sorosiak said she tried to tell a story of Fr. Richard’s life, from him coming to Michigan from France to his time as the pastor of Ste. Anne Parish and creating the Michigan Essay and the Impartial Observer, Michigan’s first newspapers.
“I put the mural pieces in historical phases, reading from left to right,” Sr. Sorosiak said. “He brought over the first piano and first organ to Detroit, and was getting ready to go back to France, but then the fire of 1805 happened, so he decided to stay.”
The center of the mural is the motto Fr. Richard penned for the city, Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, which translates to “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.”