Blessing of vacant land begins major expansion of campus.

The holy water mingled with the rain drops. Still, despite the stormy weather, the formal blessing by Archbishop Allen Vigneron initiating Sacred Heart’s property expansion project went on as planned, on Thursday afternoon, April 20.

The blessing site was under a tent set up on Longfellow Street that cuts across a 2.5 acre city block. The seminary purchased the abandoned block from the City of Detroit last May to expand its campus, using a significant donation from a generous benefactor.

Graciously attending the property blessing ceremony were City of Detroit administrators Vicky Kovari and Arthur Jamison, representing Major Michael Duggan; Bishop Shedrick Clark and Elder Shedrick Clark Jr. from nearby Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple Church; and representatives from the Boston-Edison Historic District Association. Joining them were priests and deacons from throughout the archdiocese, along with seminarians, lay students, and Sacred Heart staff and faculty members, most of them under umbrellas.

The six plots of land that make up the purchase site are directly west of the seminary, bordered by Chicago Boulevard to the north, Detroit Public Schools property and Joy Road to the south, Lawton Street to the east, and Genesee Street to the west. The block had contained a long-vacant, three-building apartment complex built in the late 1930s—since demolished on April 26— and trees, weeds, and scrub grass growing helter-skelter.

By the end of June, however, the land will be cleared and the buildings’ debris hauled away. By the end of October, in place of the deserted streetscape, there will be a landscaped overflow parking area, with spaces for up to 400 vehicles, to accommodate the increasing number of visitors to Sacred Heart’s many events. The area will be integrated into the existing forty-acre campus.

Further, by October’s end, Lawton Street will be closed to through traffic, and the campus will be accessed from Chicago Boulevard and Lawton via a new secured main entrance. (The existing Linwood Avenue entrance will become a service entrance). Longer term, additional campus buildings could be built on the land.

At a reception following the property blessing, Msgr. Todd Lajiness, Sacred Heart’s rector, called the expansion project “a sign of hope for the neighborhood and the seminary.”

First of all, the expansion “will have a direct and positive impact on how we carry out our mission.” As the seminary’s programs continue to grow along with its growing collaboration with the archdiocese and the surrounding neighborhood, “the acquisition gives us the necessary space to increase our parking, enhance our green space, and allow our programs to flourish,” the rector said.

Second, the expansion signifies the seminary’s desire to be “good neighbors” to the surrounding community. “By clearing the property of derelict buildings,” said the rector, “we are enhancing the beauty of the neighborhood and its historic charm, while helping to stabilize local property values.” At the same time, the acquisition improves the security of the campus.

The property expansion also signifies Sacred Heart’s commitment to the city of Detroit, Monsignor Lajiness continued. He cited the presence of the famous “Black Jesus” statue at the corner of Linwood Avenue and Chicago Boulevard—its extremities have been kept painted black since the 1968 Detroit civil disturbance—as a “daily reminder of the great blessing the community is to us, and that we have become to the community.”

“We are here for the long haul,” said Monsignor. “There is no better place to form our future priests, deacons, and lay leaders than right here.”

Archbishop Vigneron at the blessing shared a little-know bit of seminary history. The property just purchased was once part of the larger seminary campus. Bishop Michael Gallagher, Sacred Heart’s founder, sold the 2.5 acres of campus during the Great Depression to buy food for the seminarians and to keep the seminary solvent. Thus, the “re”-purchase, so to speak, of the property is an example of “the great swing of history,” said the archbishop.

“Through all times, we have been proud to be here, proud to be a part of the growth and renewal of the city,” Archbishop Vigneron expressed at the blessing’s end.


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