The ‘queen’ of Our Lady Queen of Heaven

Maxine Hafeli, 95, is pictured in front of her lifelong parish church, Our Lady Queen of Heaven on Rolyat in northeast Detroit. Hafeli, whose husband’s family sold the farmland on which the parish was originally built in 1929, is affectionately known by parish members as the “queen of Queen of Heaven” for her lifelong involvement in the faith community. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

East-side parish a ‘family matter’ for 95-year-old Maxine Hafeli

DETROIT — Every Sunday, Maxine Hafeli and her family make the 13-mile drive down Groesbeck Highway from Clinton Charter Township to Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Detroit.

The journey takes about half an hour, which might seem like a lifetime compared to her previous commute to church — walking out the front door of her home, crossing Rolyat Street, and walking through the front door of the northeast Detroit church.

Maxine Hafeli stands with two of her children, Donna Trombly and Kenneth Hafeli, in front of the house on Roylat Street where Maxine’s husband, Edward, grew up, and where the family later lived. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

But for Hafeli, 95, there’s nowhere else she could go to Mass. It’s been the parish she’s attended her entire life after marrying into the “founding family” of the parish community, which merged last year with Good Shepherd Church to become Our Lady Queen of Heaven-Good Shepherd Parish.

“I lived a few blocks away, growing up at 15309 Cliff St., and my family went to church at Queen of Heaven,” Hafeli said. “My husband grew up in this area. My husband’s dad had a farm here, this was his farm.”

The Hafelis, descendants of Swiss immigrants, owned a 20-acre farm in northeast Detroit, bounded by Outer Drive, Van Dyke and what is now Lantz Street. In the 1920s, the ever-expanding Detroit was experiencing a population boom due in part to industrialization of the town with emergence of the city’s Big Three automakers.

Maxine Hafeli stands near the tabernacle inside the church, where she continues to attend Mass whenever possible, despite moving to Clinton Charter Township in 1991. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

With the influx of Polish immigrants seeking a better life in America, getting jobs in the booming automotive industry, the Archdiocese of Detroit purchased five acres of land from farmer John G. Hafeli for the establishment of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, with designs for the parish to minister to the first-generation Polish-American families.

“They started subdividing the farm in the 1920s,” said Maxine’s son, Kenneth Hafeli. “My grandfather started building houses, and then sold his five-acre lot to the archdiocese. By 1929, the parish was established.”

Maxine met Edward Hafeli through parish functions, primarily the drama club. Their first date was a Detroit Red Wings game at Olympia Arena, and in 1941, Maxine married the son of Our Lady Queen of Heaven’s “founding family.”

“My husband was a quiet type of guy, wasn’t much of a bragger or anything like that,” Maxine Hafeli said. “We went to a lot of Red Wings hockey games — we liked hockey — and I’m still a big Detroit Tigers fan.”

Ten different Hafeli families are listed in Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish’s 1937 annual report, including that of John G. Hafeli, the late husband of Maxine Hafeli, who still attends the east-side church. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

After Edward finished serving in the Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945, primarily serving in India, the newly married coupled moved into a house on Roylat, where the rest of the Hafeli family lived in what was affectionately known as the Hafeli subdivision or “Polish Grosse Pointe.”

Edward owned a gas station on the corner of Roylat and Van Dyke, and over the course of their marriage, Edward and Maxine lived on three houses on Roylat — a street named after John Hafeli’s friend Taylor, but spelled backward since there was already a Taylor Street in Detroit.

The two raised five children in the neighborhood, all of them being baptized and educated at Queen of Heaven, in what Kenneth described as a very Catholic neighborhood.

“Every house had three, four, five kids growing up,” Kenneth Hafeli said. “I used to deliver newspapers on this street. There were 57 houses on the street, 54 of them were Queen of Heaven parishioners.”

Kenneth described what it was like growing up across the street from the parish, watching the current church building — the fourth in the parish’s history — go up in the barren lawn where the children of the neighborhood played baseball and football.

“Growing up, it just seemed like every single day and night we were either outside or at a friend’s house, all on this street or somewhere in the neighborhood,” said Donna Trombly, Maxine’s third child. “As we grew up in this neighborhood, every house had three to six children, and just about everybody was Catholic. It was like we had our own small town in Detroit.”

As the family grew, Maxine and Edward moved around to different houses on Roylat, eventually moving into what used to be Edward’s parents’ home. In 1952, Edward sold his gas station and got a job with the government, working at the Army tank plant on the corner of 11 Mile and Van Dyke in Warren, working as an electrical engineering technician.

Maxine and Edward were very much involved with parish life, Edward as a member of the Ushers Club for close to 70 years and Maxine as the secretary of the St. Anne Sodality group of the parish.

“I just loved being involved in the parish; it’s such a beautiful church and it’s always been a part of my life,” Maxine Hafeli said. “We used to have a big festival every year, an outdoor festival with carnival rides and different game booths.”

Maxine Hafeli holds copies of commemorative books celebrating the 50th and 75th anniversaries of Our Lady Queen of Heaven Parish, which merged last year with nearby Good Shepherd to become Our Lady Queen of Heaven-Good Shepherd Parish. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

Sitting in the Our Lady Queen of Heaven rectory, Maxine Hafeli remembers all eight Queen of Heaven pastors; she was married by Fr. Albert Mrowka, the parish’s founding pastor, who also baptized her five children: Dennis, Alan, Donna, Kenneth and Marcia.

As the neighborhood started changing, with more families making for the suburbs, Maxine and Edward stayed put on Roylat until 1991, when they moved to Clinton Township.

“We just stayed here, because my husband and I just loved the church,” Maxine Hafeli said. “Even if I don’t get here from Clinton Township, because I don’t drive anymore, I still send my envelopes every month. I got so used to coming here, the only parish I’ve ever known, there’s just so much history.”

Touring the parish ground, Maxine relates stories of weddings, parish functions and children scrapping their knees on the sidewalk, her children rattling off the family names of the people who lived on the street many years ago.

Maxine turned 95 years old on March 7, and her family of five children, 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren met March 12 to celebrate Mass at Our Lady Queen of Heaven. Edward died in 2007, at age 91.

A parish is meant to be a second family, a community of faith where one can rely on fellow parishioners in times of need.

For Maxine Hafeli, and the rest of the Hafeli family, parish history and family history is almost one and the same, making every drive down Groesbeck, Eight Mile, Van Dyke and Roylat seem like another trip down memory lane.

“Even after moving to Clinton Township, I still love coming here every week,” Maxine Hafeli said. “The relatives come for Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful church, and the parish feels like a family matter. It’s home; and it’ll always be home.”