Sacred Heart Seminary has dominated the intersection of Linwood Avenue and West Chicago Boulevard since 1924. The "collegiate Gothic" seminary and its campus of athletic fields and secluded walkways was centerpiece of the building boom occurring in the Catholic Diocese of Detroit under Bishop Michael Gallagher in the 1920s (Tentler 306). Until 1988, Sacred Heart was a "minor" seminary, consisting of a high school--which closed in 1970--and a liberal arts college. Candidates for the priesthood underwent four more years of preparation at a "major" seminary, usually St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth. When St. John's closed in 1988, Sacred Heart took on the complete higher education of aspiring priests, deacons, and lay ministers.
The seminary's statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus standing at the corner of West Chicago and Linwood became an important symbol when participants in the 1967 rebellion painted its face black. Within a few weeks, someone had painted it white again. Sacred Heart's rector at the time, Monsignor Francis X. Canfield, directed some of the seminarians to paint the face black again, and black it has remained ever since. The late William X. Kienzle tells a version of this story in his 1996 novel, Requiem for Moses, in which the seminary serves as the setting for a high-profile news conference (153-154).
Philip Levine writes of living in the early fifties in a small apartment on Lawton across the street from the seminary. After getting off the streetcar at Linwood and Clairmount, the speaker of one Levine poem walks past the seminary grounds, noticing "black-robed men walking / in silence beneath the elms." Standing outside, he envies the seminarians who have
the quiet, the massive iron gates that kept the city out, the thick-leafed trees that caught what faint light there was and gave it back to the night.
Unlike the seminary students, Levine's speaker says, he does "not know who to thank" for his existence. And yet, the poem makes clear, that twenty-five years later, he is grateful for his life, for the simple pleasures of food and music, for the jazz "created by men / becoming myths," and for "being whole / in a country at war" ("And That Night Clifford Died" 12-13).
One of the "dark-robed men" Levine saw walking on the seminary campus could have been the future mystery novelist, William Kienzle, who, like Levine, was born in Detroit in 1928. Kienzle graduated from Sacred Heart in 1950 and was ordained a priest in 1954. He worked as editor of the Michigan Catholic for twelve years and left the priesthood in 1974, beginning a career as a writer of mysteries a few years later. Kienzle's plots involve the crime-solving of Father Robert Koesler, an amateur detective, but the author usually weaves in plenty of commentary about theology and church politics. In No Greater Love (in which Sacred Heart is called St. Joseph's) and The Gathering, Sacred Heart Seminary serves as the academic center of conflicts between Catholic progressives and conservatives. Some seminary professors, like Father Leo Ward, appear undisguised in Kienzle's work (No 42); others, like Father Paul Berg, are very thinly disguised (No 87-90).
Although not on the faculty, Kienzle lived at Sacred Heart while working as editor of the Michigan Catholic. For relaxation, he would play Gershwin on the baby grand piano in his second-floor suite overlooking the eastern courtyard. One evening as he played a solo-piano version of Rhapsody in Blue, a dozen seminarians gathered outside his closed door. As he finished with a flourish, they erupted in applause that continued until the soloist finally opened the door and sheepishly bowed.
The seminary's theatre-auditorium occupies the building's northeast wing. Here, generations of players exhausted the limited theatrical repertoire of works without women. (A short-lived 1960s experiment in using high school freshmen in the women's roles of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado ended when voices changed one week before the performance.) For many years, the annual Lenten drama was a medieval passion play. This changed in the "liberal" sixties when dramas with religious themes-like T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons-and a spate of military theatrical works-Saul Levitt's The Andersonville Trial, Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court Marshall, and Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski's Stalag 17-took the seminary stage.
Marygrove College English Professor Frank D. Rashid attended Sacred Heart Seminary High School and College from 1964 until 1970.
Photos by Anna Fedor.
Kienzle, William X. The Gathering. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 2002.
---. No Greater Love. New York: Fawcett, 1999.
---. Requiem for Moses. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1996.
Levine, Philip. The Mercy. New York: Knopf, 2000.
Tentler, Leslie Woodcock. Seasons of Grace: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1990.