Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish has a rich history in the Grosse Pointe community and beyond, and continues to serve the needs of parishioners while encouraging them to serve the needs of others, spiritually and materially. Members have been urged through the years to remember that they don’t live on an island but belong to the worldwide Universal Church and locally to the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In addition to worshiping God and celebrating the Scriptures and Sacraments, parish life is generated by numerous volunteers who give of time, talent and treasure to produce a vibrant community featuring several programs and events that help parishioners to grow in faith and experience camaraderie. The parish also has an outstanding grade school, which since 1998 has been accredited as a School of Excellence by AdvancEd/North Central Association.
The parish was founded in 1954, with Fr. Ralph Barton serving as the first pastor. Masses were celebrated at Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods while the first church was being built on the corner of Fairford and Ballantyne. The church was dedicated in September of 1955, but Fr. Barton intended it to be a temporary building that some day could be converted into a gymnasium or parish hall. The rectory opened in 1955 and the convent in ’56.
Fr. Barton’s dream was to build a permanent church on the corner of Morningside and Fairford, but other matters took priority for parish funds and his dream was put on hold. An elementary school opened in 1955 for first and second graders only in a room adjoining the church, with the first teachers being Srs. Rose Marie and Thomas More from the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate of Mary (IHM). The school building opened in 1956 and underwent expansion in 1958 and ‘85. A girls’ high school welcomed its first class in 1959 under the direction of Sr. Immaculee Burns, IHM. When the high school closed in 1993, the upper grade school students moved into that section of the building.
The parish continued to flourish under the guidance of Fr. Barton. He retired in 1980 and has been followed by Fr. Robert Witkowski (1980-81), Fr. Ralph Kowalski (1981-87), Fr. John Child (1987-91), Fr. David West (1991-92), Msgr. Dennis Harrity (1992-2004), Fr. Kenneth Kaucheck (2004-08) and the current pastor, Msgr. Gary Smetanka.
It was under Msgr. Harrity’s leadership that Fr. Barton’s dream was realized, although in roundabout way. In the spring of 1995, the parish formed a committee, Star 2000, to develop a plan for renovating the existing church. However, it appeared that there were several drawbacks to renovation. For a reasonable increase in budget, a church could be built at the location intended by Fr. Barton. Construction began in 1998, and the new church was dedicated and blessed by Adam Cardinal Maida, Archbishop of Detroit, during a Mass on the Vigil of the First Sunday of Advent Saturday, November 27, 1999. The church, which seats 800, is a beautiful worship space that enhances liturgical and other celebrations and features statuary and stained-glass windows that foster devotion.
Of course, Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish is not bricks and mortar; it’s people of faith who continue to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through various means. In recent years, Fr. Kaucheck promoted an increase in Scripture study and youth ministry. Msgr. Smetanka has led parishioners to acquire an even greater understanding of what it means to be “Church” and has developed several programs and events that build community and reach out to others, and renovated parish facilities.
Now more than 60 years old, Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish is continuing a journey of faith that gives glory to God, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, and provides loving service to all.