Monsignor John Gilmary Cook – #3

The Church that John Cook Built

St. Mary's Church in 2013
St. Mary’s Church in 2013

St. Mary’s of Redford Parish was founded in 1843 when John Blindbury, a Protestant sold a 1.5 acre triangular piece of land to Bishop Paul Lafevre for $25. The original wood church was built in 1857 and burned in 1859. The next year,  the parish rebuilt with a red brick church.  Parish growth, stagnation, and struggle marked St. Mary’s parish during the latter 1800’s; the church briefly closed from 1866-1868.

A New Full Time Pastor

Father Dooling arrived in 1898 and consequently St. Mary’s received a new breath of life. With his energy and hard work, the parish consistently grew; building and grounds were also upgraded. Dooling became a beloved part of St. Mary’s and his sudden death saddened parishioners. Through death, came the legacy of John Gilmary Cook.

Moving St. Mary’s Into the Future

Without hestitation, Monsignor Cook began his stewardship of St. Mary’s parish in 1919. He immediately masterminded a plan for opening a Catholic elementary school to service the surrounding area. The school began using the two story ‘Salley’ barn as classroom space within his first year as Pastor. A new schoolhouse opened in 1920.

Cook could not rest. As the congregation and mass schedule expanded, he saw the need for a new church and convent to meet future demand. He used innovative techniques to raise funds for expansion and invited Albert Kahn to assist with the design of the new church. Kahn declined, yet recommended the experienced Ralph Adams Cram of Boston. Groundbreaking for a new church began in 1925, five short years after Cook came to the parish. The new church was completed and in use by October 1927. By the end of the 1920’s, St. Mary’s school expanded to include a middle and high school so that no child would be turned away from an education.

The Great Depression and the onset of World War II delayed the completion of all of Cook’s plans including a new convent.  By the 1950’s school enrollment was at an all-time high and eventually the convent was finished. Cook’s ability to deliver his vision for the future of St. Mary’s of Redford gave it premier status within the Archdiocese of Detroit. Monsignor Cook passed away in 1951 at his summer cottage on Harsen’s Island.

St. Mary’s Parish continues on today with masses and an elementary school that services approximately 100 Detroit youth. The playground dedicated in his name is located a few blocks north of the church on Fenkell and St. Mary’s Street. It was dedicated by the Dad’s Club of St. Mary’s in 1953.Cook Playground
Copyright 2013. © Andrea Gallucci All rights reserved.