We are the second oldest church in Detroit and privileged to have a little bit of Lourdes in the oldest outdoor Marian shrine in Michigan. This parish, over 160 years old, is a special place, the spiritual home of many who have left as well as those who have stayed. People find solace and comfort here, enlightenment, discipline and a community of belief. Many years ago, "Little Church in the Woods," as it was first known, kept the ancient fire of religion alive as the pioneer families carved their livelihoods out of the thick woods and stubborn fields. Today, the Church continues to be a beacon of hope to those who struggle equally hard in the face of modern adversities.
The church you see today is the fourth building. The first church, built of logs, was built around 1832. The brick and frame structure which replaced the log chapel was gutted by fire on January 1, 1907. Its successor was razed to make room for the present church in 1929.
Back in the 1800's, however, America was mission land. Reverend Amandus
Vandendriessche, a native of Belgium, came to America in response to a missionary
call; and in 1852, was the first resident Pastor. Father Vandendriessche
was a talented, energetic man with boundless faith and imagination.
In 1876, he visited Lourdes to make his devotions to Our Lady and he was so inspired that he resolved to build a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes behind the church so that his fellow Americans could worship at an outdoor shrine. Despite many obstacles, the Grotto was formally dedicated on May 29, 1881. On April 30, 1882, Pope Leo XIII signed a proclamation authorizing the shrine for devotions and granted partial and plenary indulgences for all who visited the Grotto and prayed for the propagation of the faith. This privilege remains. For a visit to the cemetery, there is granted, under the New Code and the New Norms for Indulgences, a partial indulgence at every visit, and a plenary indulgence from the 1st to the 8th of November.
Most of the shrine is made of imported limestone. The huge boulders around the shrine and in the cemetery were carried in by farmers from all parts of Michigan. Some of the stones and much of the limestone were inscribed with names and dedications that today provide us with a treasure of parish history. In the front of the Grotto was a fountain inscribed with the words, "Glory to the One Triune God, Now and Forever." As a result of the shrine's fame, the Church of the Assumption began to be known as Assumption Grotto. On the last Sunday in May and on August 15, crowds of people visited and attended services. People would even come on foot from the city just as in Europe. There are also some parishioners who can remember seeing people walk in their stocking feet and even on their knees down the cinder path which led to the shrine. As a matter of fact, this was still done into the 1970's. As in Lourdes, the faith and devotions of the pilgrims were rewarded by God with cures and conversions. People who are in their seventies and eighties today remember seeing crutches and braces in the shrine in those days. Only a few, however, remain and are housed in a reliquary in the Shrine Gift Shop.
It is our hope and prayer that you will come back with us to a more quiet, humble time when faith enabled the lame to walk and the blind to see. The face of this troubled world can only be renewed by the fire of God's love; and this fire can only be fueled by prayers, sacrifices and devotions. What better place to start than at the feet of our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Mother of God.
Come, let us pray ...