Beloved Detroit crucifix saved from fire finds new parish home

A 100 year-old crucifix pulled from a devastating Detroit parish fire in the 1960s is being restored and sent to a new church home in Michigan.

“It's life size,” said Alton James from Detroit's Good Shepherd parish, where the 13-foot crucifix has been kept safe over the decades.

The cross was the only surviving artifact from a fire – believed but never proved to be set by arsonists – that destroyed Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church on the city's east side in 1963. Though no one was killed in the disaster, it grieved Detroit's Belgian Catholic community, which had been attending the parish since its establishment in 1884.

Parish member and 19th-century Belgian immigrant Joannes Emmanuel Verbiest donated the cross, which is made out of fir and a 5-foot plaster corpus, to his church in 1911.

Pastoral associate Alton James told CNA/EWTN News that the spared crucifix was transferred to a nearby parish after the fire, which merged with other parishes over the decades and eventually became Good Shepherd.

But it wasn't until recently that Mary Lou Schulte, great-granddaughter of Joannes Verbiest, started the effort to have the crucifix restored.

“This is an important piece of Detroit history and of Belgian history,” Schulte told the Detroit News. “It has to be preserved for generations to come. It's our obligation.”

After inquiries were made at several local parishes, Schulte found the artifact a new home at St. Gerald Catholic Church in Farmington.

With the help of two of her cousins, Schulte will share the cost of the restoration, estimated to be about $3,000. The restoration process is expected to take around two months.

Alton said that the parish council at Good Shepherd met and agreed to give the crucifix away, which was in storage because the church already had a wealth of other religious artifacts on display.

“Religious art is absolutely crucial,” Alton said, referencing the growing local media buzz on the crucifix restoration. “It always inspires us to prayer as well as enriching our faith experience.”

Alton praised older Church art like the Belgian crucifix, saying “it's a phenomenal inspiration” that helps us utilize our senses “in order to draw closer to God.”

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