SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN…
written by Ms. Evelyn Phillips Mantz
When Father Hasslinger assumed the pastoral duties at St. Mary’s in 1850, he brought the School sisters of Notre Dame to the parish to serve as teachers and as caretakers of parish orphans. At first, they lived in a frame house on Macomb Street between St. Antione and Hastings. In another frame building, this one on the northeast corner of Larned and St. Antione, lived the Christian Brothers who were teaching at St. Anne’s School. When Father Albert Schaeffer was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s in 1851, he entered into negotiations with them in an effort to gain their services for the children of St. Mary’s.
In September of 1852, the Christian Brothers opened two classes with 180 pupils at St. Mary’s. At the same time, the School Sisters of Notre Dame took charge of the girls and the smaller boys. The Brothers opened a third class in 1853 and a fourth one in 1854.
A fourth plague had started this year, a phenomenon that some of these youngsters had outlived before. Now so many children were left parentless that the parish turned its school into an orphanage. Parish records show that in one eight-week period in 1854 there were 300 funerals from St. Mary’s Church. Over 400 parishioners were buried during that year.
When the people of St. Mary’s erected a four-story brick school building on St. Antione, they did not guess that a new lot of orphans would be housed there in the 1860s, due to losses suffered in the Civil War. Nor could they have guessed the multitude of uses it would serve over the years, as kaleidoscopic as the city of Detroit or the parish of St. Mary itself. When it was first constructed, it held an orphanage, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and St. Mary’s School. There were then 500 children in the parish’s school buildings and almost 4,000 parishioners.