Confessions of a St. Lad’s crosstown parish rival

Henrietta Gnas and her husband Walter.


By Dave Uchalik
Special to The Review
If you had told pretty much anyone attending high school at Hamtramck’s St. Florian in the early 1970s that St. Ladislaus Church was closing, you would have been met with, at best, a smirk or a snide “too bad, so dad.”
Since I was at that high school at St. Florian, we were fierce rivals of St. Ladislaus.
However, having been informed of that fact a few weeks ago, I met the news with a far-different response.
You see, the intensity of high school rivalries tend to wane as one moves on in life; in this case, my actually having married an alum of that rival school, St. Lad’s, my soulmate Gail (as Uncle Rico in the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” would have referred to her).
Furthermore, we were also married at St. Lad’s Church, in 1986, where we had become parishioners a few years earlier.
Not only that, both of our daughters, Lauren and Mallory, were baptized there, and I’ve lectored there for over 25 years. Fr. Stan Ulman, pastor from 1982-2004, performed our wedding and daughters’ baptisms, though Fr. Andy Wesley, Fr. Miroslaw Frankowski, and current pastor Fr. Pietrzak, all served as worthy spiritual mentors as well.
My mother-in-law, the late Henrietta Gnas, had an even longer, richer storied history with the parish. She was baptized and married in the second St. Ladislaus Church, which later became St. Ladislaus High School (team mascots known as the Greyhounds) and grade schools.
(The school is now a charter school called Caniff Liberty Academy.)
The first St. Lad’s school was a wooden structure where my mother-in-law also attended. In later years, she was a main fixture in Operations at the St. Lad’s Soup Kitchen. Also, she, her husband Walter, and even my parents’ funeral Masses were celebrated there.
But then, there are countless other stories like hers and theirs; of individuals whose spiritual and educational lives revolved around this relatively small complex on Caniff.
There were Mardi Gras Festivals, and a variety of other celebrations there, bringing together parishioners, school alum, and anyone looking to just have fun in Hamtramck.
Time went on as it does, and the parish celebrated its 75th anniversary — then, before you knew it, the 90th anniversary in 2010 — the latter of which featured a celebratory banquet at which I had the humbling honor of having been a guest speaker.
Then, in 2014, St. Lad’s dodged the first of a couple bullets: while having ceased to exist as a parish on its own, in 2012, the new John Paul II Parish, consisting of St. Lad’s, Transfiguration, Our Lady Help of Christians, and St. Louis the King, made the decision to close St. Lad’s, though an organized coalition of former Lad’s parishioners would successfully lobby the Archdiocese not to go through with it, citing procedural irregularities.
Then came bullet number two: the parish, once again, decided to close St. Ladislaus Church, and this time it was then St. Florian pastor Fr. Miroslaw Frankowski who swooped in at the 23rd hour, offering to take on St. Ladislaus as a Chapel of St. Florian.
And, so it was.
The third time however, was not the charm.
After significant drop-offs in church attendance and contributions in the post-COVID pandemic era, the decision was finally made, by the Archdiocese, that the beautiful, modern, Romanesque-style St. Ladislaus Chapel, the brainchild of architect Arthur DesRosiers, would be remanded to secular use as of July 1, 2024.
In other words, closed.
So, not only did you not get a smirk or snide comment from this former rival of St. Lad’s on the church’s closure, but, on June 22, 2024 — as the last Mass I lectured drew to a close, one week before the last Mass ever to be celebrated there — I found myself unsuccessfully fighting back tears at the impending closure of that beautiful House of God.
(Dave Uchalik is a longtime Detroit-area musician, and founding member of the popular band The Polish Muslims.)
Posted June 28, 2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *