Saint Patrick Catholic Parish, Brighton
Pleasant Valley’s first pioneers came to the area in ox-drawn wagons following a winding overgrown Indian trail. The pioneers were a kind and soulful people who settled among wigwams, who hunted with long-rifles and cleared forests to make farms. Robert Bingham of Belfast, likely a Catholic who emigrated to America in 1810, arrived at Brighton in 1834, two years after the village was founded. Cheerful and generous, Bingham is remembered as the owner of Brighton’s tavern and inn, Brighton House, where he lived.
Free-Will Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, and a denomination known simply as, “Christians”, were some of the devout who together built the community, its mill and the old millpond that survives to this day. Even before the arrival of ministers and building of churches, Brightoners kept the Sabbath until one Sunday when a bedraggled settler came in from the woods, pleading for the mill to open that grain be ground to feed his starving family. The old Brighton chronicle relates that the good miller labored this single Sabath day … as we are told, the starving man “went on his way, rejoicing.”
Brighton’s first one-room log schoolhouse was built by Brighton’s men in 1834. The township post office opened in 1837. Pioneer Elijah Marsh was the first postmaster. Soon, comfortable wood-frame houses with barns and prettily fenced paddocks populated the rolling hills of Brighton village and Pleasant Valley.
Father Gabriel Richard (rih-SHARD), French-American Catholic priest, United States Congressional Representative of the Michigan Territory, established the territory’s first chapel (1799, Mount Clemens), pastored to Protestants and Indians and to the Catholics of his church. After Detroit’s great fire (1805), Richard rebuilt Saint Anne’s Church (second oldest Catholic parish in the nation ) and established a school for native Americans, both of European and of tribal ascent, then went on to found the University of Michigan (1817) twenty years before Michigan statehood. The university’s founding document, the Catholepistemiad, is a model of Catholic, Classive education.
Composing this essay during the Feast of Corpus Christi (now known as Pride Month), should mention that Gabriel Richard arrived in Detroit 7 June 1798, 225 years ago, today. Father Gabriel died when serving victims of Detroit’s Cholera Epidemic, 1832. In 1833, the diocese of Detroit was established by Pope Gregory XVI. Soon, 11 traveling priests served pioneers and homesteaders. In 1856, Irish immigrants founded Brighton’s Saint Patrick Catholic Parish.
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The handsome, old Saint Patrick Catholic Parish church is mostly forgotten. The new, Saint Patrick Catholic Parish church was typical of its period, the 1960s. Folksy, architecturally artsy, it lent itself to abstract wall hangings and finger craftsy objects of that now artistically regrettable, almost forgotten 60s. If not for the dark, onerously heavy wood ceiling and the 60s surrogate for a beautiful Rose Window, the menacing Eye of Sauron window (truly, it seems that the architect was a Tolkien fan, most of the artsy types of that period were), the church might have been comely. But then, as in all Progressive church buildings, the human is inhumane, the divine is demoted, deteriorated, godless and soulless.
Yes, Vatican II did require slight variations in churches built or renovated since 1965; for instance, the switching round of the ontologically correct ad orientem (both away from the East and away from God). But more than this, Vatican II carelessly severed 1,900 years of Catholic architectural tradition, and the aesthetic chaos of the Modern world penetrated the Church, its communities, its habits, and its buildings. Since the Vatican caved to the Moderns nearly 60 years ago, She surrendered all that was aesthetically beautiful, good, and true, all the statuary, picturary, and devotional objects that lift the soul to God, that inspire the heart to devotion, that bring the mind to divine reason.
You have noticed the ugliness of Progressive Modernist churches, the rejection of statue and picture, the Progressive elimination of man; you have noticed that Modernist buildings exhibit painfully, abstractly distorted statues and pictures as though the Modernists hate and would punish man. Parishioners noticed, priests noticed, and both priests and parishioners have opposed Progressive Modernist architecture, have returned to Beauty, and have bravely accepted commitments of money and time that span years, and years.
Saint Patrick Catholic Parish, Brighton, is among the congregations that have turned away from ugliness and Progressive hate, have again turned to face beauty in the divine. Father Mathias Thelen, who earned his Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the architecturally magnificent Angelicum, Rome, led his congregation in a Classive renovation of the church, a manner of giving a God-like thing to God. In a sermon at the unveiling of the renovation plan (18 November 2021) he dilated on the spiritual and theological vision of the Mass, saying:
The Mass itself is a profound mystery that should be reflected in our architecture and art. All throughout the history of the Church there has been a beautiful display in churches to help reflect this mystery of the Mass. We see in the mystery of the Mass that the Sacrament of the Mass is both a sacrifice and a Eucharistic Banquet. We know that the Mass is the making present of the one sacrifice of Christ so that we can participate in that sacrifice, but it is also the heavenly liturgy made present on earth. We see that architecture and art are meant to reveal these invisible realities and to make them present in a mysterious way. We want to make certain that our worship of God is imbued with signs and symbols that point us to the reality and help lift our hearts to the reality of what we are actually experiencing at Mass. This helps us to pray the Mass, and when we pray the Mass, we receive more from God at the Mass…
When we enter the Mass we enter in a mystical way into Heaven. This is important for us to remember because sometimes when we are at Mass it can seem that we are just in a gathering that has a horizontal aspect, not a vertical aspect, a vertical dimension. We want to make sure that we are helping all of us to lift of our hearts and minds to God: We do that by means of art and architecture that gives a sense of the sacred to the church…
Unfortunately, for those who are old enough to remember, after the Second Vatican Council there was a great whitewashing that happened in churches; there was a getting away from the beautiful art, a getting rid of the statues, getting rid of the paintings and all the beautiful wood and marble, so that we not distract ourselves from Mass. As a result, the churches did not fulfill the purpose of lifting our hearts and minds to God. One of the things we want to remember: When art & architecture are done well, it has a power to it, a power that helps us not only encounter God but to participate in what He is doing in the Mass. Essentially, the power of Beauty evokes awe, it evokes wonder, it is the sense of mystery, the sense of the sacred.
Jesus himself is the Beautiful One. Everything that is beautiful participates in the Beauty of God. When there is Beauty our hearts are lifted up, our minds are lifted up to remind us that we are not simply made for this world. In the Mass we get a glimpse of the world to come that causes us to strive, to long for Heaven.
Father Mathias went on to say that when he showed the renovation designs the crowds were speechless, then “Wow!” then, “That’s Beautiful.” And Father said, “Art represents the signs and symbols of our religion, the signs and symbols of our faith, not only to teach us who we are but to remind us of where we are going.” There was more, especially for those who will come to the church or come to Christianity for the first time, “…they know that what we do here is different than in the world; what we do here is sacred.”
Concluding, Father Mathias quoted Pope Benedict: If the Church is to continue to transform and to humanize the world, how can she dispense with the beauty of her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection.
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During Lent of this year, I attended the opening of the renovated Saint Patrick Catholic Parish church, a Stations of the Cross in the pew-full, beautiful building. After the Stations, all was smiles when the congregation went on its way, each rejoicing in beauty, satisfaction and congratulations, as was expected. More remarkable: The week previous I attended a morning Mass held in Saint Patrick’s concrete block assembly hall, decorated as much as possible in the approximation of a church. Here I found a devout people, cheerful, generous, simply dressed; the men’s hands were rough and scarred as if from labor; the women wore care but little paint on their faces; the clothes were clean, simple and respectful; each smiled without pretense, each was as graceful as the pains of their bodies would admit. Yes, some 200 years yet these were the people who settled the place, flesh, soul, and will. Soon, Mass was concluded and I entered again the secular streets of progressing small town America.
Brighton’s Main Street features kind, eager shopkeepers, polite and busy villagers, both the humble plain and the proud in their purple hair, nose pins, studded tongues, tattooed cheeks, and tee-shirts that unasked insisted opinions. If the purple-hairs will come to church with the humble, or will come to Christianity for the first time, who can say? Certainly, when entering Saint Patrick Catholic Parish, the tattooed will know they have left the crooked, Progressive world. But will the proud come to know the sacred? The Christians hope they will.
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From the “Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter VII, Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings”:
122. Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.
Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, and for this purpose she has trained artists. In fact, the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.
From the Saint Patrick Catholic Parish “Vision of the Mass: Spiritual and Theological”
The Mass is both a Sacrifice and a Eucharistic Banquet where heaven meets earth. Beautiful church architecture reveals the invisible realities that happen at the Mass and help lift our hearts to God in prayer.
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Featured image, Saint Patrick Catholic Parish, Brighton, Father Mathias, center. credit: Luther Group Architecture
For more on the Houses of God, see The Beautiful Home: American Sacred Architecture
Saint Patrick Catholic Parish
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