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Divine Providence Lithuanian Catholic Parish

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Parish History

Catholic Church and Cultural Center - 25335 West Nine Mile Rd., Southfield, MI 48033

Parish History

  
 
The parish had its beginning in 1908 when an energetic priest, Kazimieras Valaitis (1864 – 1941) and the Lithuanian Society of St. George, built a wooden church at Westminster and Cardoni, in what is now considered the deep inner city of Detroit. Not surprisingly, it was named St. George’s Lithuanian Church.  Very soon the number of parishioners outgrew the facility, so in 1917 the parish built a new, brick St. George’s in the same vicinity.  The parish was the center for numerous organizations and activities of the Lithuanian community in Detroit.  It is interesting to note, that even in those days, many years before Vatican II, the parish had strong committees actively involved in building, fund raising and general governance.  The parish had the status of an ethnic parish, which has certain rights not granted territorial parishes.
 
By the mid -1940’s, the demographics in that part of Detroit were changing rapidly, and the Lithuanian parishioners were moving to newer parts of the city and to the suburbs.  In 1948, the parish obtained permission from the diocese and in 1949 built a new church at Schaefer and Grand River in Detroit.  Because the original St. George’s church was still active in the local community, the new one had to have a different name.  So, the name “Divine Providence Lithuanian Church” was chosen by the parishioners.
 
In February 1966, St. George’s was demolished to make way for the Chrysler Freeway.  The following year the Divine Providence Lithuanian Parish was informed that their church will be demolished to make way for the Jeffries Freeway.  The parish chose to relocate, rather than scatter its members to the four winds.  The Archdiocese wanted to relocate the parish to a site of its choosing, concurrently changing it to a territorial parish, as opposed to its long term status as an ethnic parish.  In December 1968, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton met with about 300 parishioners and after lengthy discussions conceded that Divine Providence Lithuanian Parish shall retain its ethnic parish status, whose membership will consist of Lithuanians and whose financial support will have to come from them.  In essence:  you have it, you support it; no recruiting of members or finances from surrounding territorial parishes.
 
Fundraising, building and membership committees were formed to make it happen.  A site at 9 Mile Road and Beech Daly was selected.  The existing church was demolished in November 1970, and the parishioners attended Lithuanian mass on Sundays at a gracious St. Beatrice Church in Southfield.  After a multitude of trials and tribulations, construction of the new rectory, church and cultural center began in August 1972.  The new complex was dedicated on September 8, 1973.  This was the direct result of tireless work and dedication of “prime movers” such as Tony Dainius, Ralph and Ann Valatka, Frank Zager, Joe Chaps, Algis Rugienius, Jonas Urbonas, Dr. V. Majauskas, Dr. A. Damusis and a multitude of parishioners as members of committees and generous financial donors.
 
Although the Archdiocese realistically predicted its demise in 20 – 25 years (33 out of 36 Polish ethnic parishes disintegrated), the Divine Providence Lithuanian Parish remains to this day a vibrant community. This success is due in no small part to competent and strong parish committees, later parish councils.  It is the home for a number of organizations such as - the Daughters of Lithuania, the Lithuanian – American Community of Detroit, Inc., Lithuanian Scouts, Lithuanian Catholic Youth Association “ Ateitis”, the Lithuanian school “Ziburys”,  Sports Club “Kovas”, Lithuanian Folk Dance Ensemble “Saltinis” and the “Sauliai”.
 
Presently, as the ranks of older parishioners inevitably diminish, they are slowly but surely being replaced by new immigrants from Lithuania.  The parish is alive and well!