In The Beginning

In 1947 Harry S. Truman was president of the United States. The country was at peace, while recovering from the ravages of World War II. The returning soldiers came home to pick up the pieces of their lives, to reunite their families, to marry their sweethearts, to return to or seek new employment. The Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Chrysler Corporation made sure Detroit lived up to its name as the Automobile Capital of the world. Many factories like Great Lakes Steel, thrived because of the auto industry. The outlying suburbs, like Lincoln Park, had a lot of undeveloped land and a great potential for growth. In his wisdom Cardinal Mooney had a vision. He saw Lincoln Park as a vibrant, growing community, vitalized by the post-war boom. He knew he needed an energetic and charismatic leader to meet the needs of the people and establish a new parish. Thus on June 11, 1947 Cardinal Mooney issued a decree naming Fr. Joseph Michael Torzewski pastor of Christ the Good Shepherd.

The plot of land in the vicinity of Lafayette and Riverbank became the future site of Christ the Good Shepherd. A small house, with two adjoining lots, at 1526 Riverbank was purchased June 13, 1947 and became the parish rectory. Fr. Torzewski wasted no time visiting potential parishioners, and met with Dr. Owen Kean, the first registered parishioner, that same day. The Lincoln Park City Council gave its permission to use the Hoover School auditorium for services and by July 13th, 275 families gathered for the first celebration of the Mass. The very first Sunday collection brought in $211.90, at a time when many men worked for less than a dollar an hour. The little community came together every week for Mass. After church, helping dig each other’s cars out of muddy parking places became a frequent occurrence, and served as a means of people getting acquainted. The first parish organization, the Ushers Club, was established July 7, 1947. Also during that first year the Ladies Society and Holy Name Society were organized.

The parishioners were anxious to have a church of their own. On Sunday, October 5, 1947 ground was broken for a new church. The building took eight months to complete, and in the interim special services, like confessions, marriages, and baptisms took place at St. Henry’s parish in north Lincoln Park. The first children baptized were twin girls, Donna Suzanne and Lynda Louise Kovach on July 20, 1947. The first parishioner to enter into eternal rest was Donald Toth, whose funeral was held September 6, 1947. Wedding bells rang three times during 1947, on September 27th for Haskell Saunders and Ivy Gathercole, October 29th for Donald Jettie and Margie Magyar, and November 8th for Neil Mimnaugh and Joan Newman, couples that share their golden anniversaries with Good Shepherd. On May 9, 1948 Bishop Woznicki confirmed 55 parish children.

Finally the much anticipated church was completed. After sweeping up sawdust and setting up folding chairs, the church was ready for the first wedding. On June 12, 1948 Fr. Torzewski celebrated a mass joining Edwin Osinski and Iris Yoder in Holy Matrimony. The following day marked the first Sunday mass in the original church. One week later 28 children received their First Holy Communion. The official dedication of the church took place September 28, 1948 with Cardinal Mooney presiding.

Education has always been important at Good Shepherd. The first religious education was under the direction of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, who served through 1950. Seven sisters lived in a convent at 290 Arden Park in Detroit. The nuns, all called Sr. Catechist, taught 150 children. In order to prepare the First Communion class the sisters held a two week summer program for the children. Of those days at Good Shepherd, one of the nuns, Sr. Liska Monzano recalls, “I so much enjoyed the weekly ride from Detroit to Lincoln Park each Sunday. A beautiful group of children were always in attendance with catechisms in hand, homework one. The parents cooperated, attended Mass. Children were helped by their parents which made classes easier for us.” One of the “beautiful children” inspired by the Sr. Catechists is Sr. Rebecca Vonderhaor, the present Religious Education Director at Good Shepherd.

Just as the parish was anxious to have a church, it was just as anxious to have a school. Fr. Torzewski wrote in The Vigil from November 7, 1948, “The new school which we want and need as much will present many difficulties. But we can have it for a price of hard work, sacrifice, and prayer.” Construction for the school began in April of 1950. From their motherhouse in Garfield Heights, Ohio, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis agreed to come to Good Shepherd. By September 13, 1950, Sisters Irmina, Aquinata, Angeline, Perpetua, and Virgianne, Mrs. Phyllis Robin and Miss Jeanne Hurley, and 330 children were ready to start the school year. However neither the school nor convent were ready for them! The building delays did not dampen the enthusiastic spirits. The sisters stayed at local missions. Make-shift drapes sectioned off the upper and lower church into classes for grades one through seven. By April the school was ready and students and teachers moved eagerly to their new quarters.

The driving force behind the enthusiasm, the building, and the fellowship was, and always will be, the devotion to Our Lord and our Catholic faith. The familiar 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:30 am and 12:00 noon masses were celebrated each week in 1948, although the Mass schedule went through many changes over the years. Fr. Frank Zdrodowski helped out with the Sunday services. A mission for women was held during the week of March 6, 1948 with a mission for men held the following week. The first men’s retreat was held January 14-16, 1949. By September 16, 1950, with over 700 families to minister to, Fr. Arthur Fauser came to Good Shepherd as the first assistant pastor.

The young parish, like a young growing family, had to contend with the financial difficulties of providing for its members and needs. The first parish festival was held in June, 1948. One of the more creative endeavors to raise money was the Lady Lincoln Home project. In 1951 the parish had a home built and sold tickets, giving participants the chance to win a beautiful new home for the price of a raffle ticket. The parish saw a $56,000 profit, thus undertook Lady Lincoln II in 1953.

Leading the Way