Ste. Anne Parish de Detroit in Mexicantown is one of the city’s most historic church.
Many local Catholics couldn’t believe the historic Notre Dame in Paris was burning. Ste. Anne’s program director Danielle Center watched the horror, but also started thinking about keeping Ste. Anne safe.
“I got chills when the steeple fell,” she says.
The church is the second oldest continuously operating Catholic parish in the country, almost as old as the city itself.
“Cadillac comes, lands off of Hart Plaza," Center says. "About two days after they land, they start construction on the first Ste. Anne building.”
That structure burnt down in a fire. The present church was built in 1886.
Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell explained, “I’ve fought church fires in my life, one of which was in a basement of a church not much different than this.”
The Detroit Fire Department works with churches through a vigorous inspection program. Fornell believes church fires can be challenging due to the high ceilings and because Ste. Anne, like many churches, has plaster on wood which could spread a fire quickly.
“They are very difficult fires to fight,” he explained. “We would be as aggressive in a house fire as somebody’s house as we would in a church like this.”
The only difference, if it is safe, firefighters will be trying to salvage historic items while battling the flames.
He added, “All these years of history, so when you come in here, you kind of feel a lot of that.”
Ste. Anne has many historic items that would be hard to salvage in the event of a fire, like the altar railing, artwork and stained glass windows. Some of their most treasured items are a statue of Ste. Anne and Mother Mary, and a relic of Ste Anne’s.
“Sacred objects from a previous era, so we have part of Ste. Anne’s bones,” Center said.
A former pastor of the church, Father Gabriel Richard wrote Detroit’s motto, which is fitting for Notre Dame’s future: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus,” which translates to “We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.”