Her book, Our Lady of Victory, the Saga of an African-American Catholic Community, has won the RRBC Seal of Excellence. It tells the story of how one act set in motion a chain of events that threatened one Catholic community’s ability to thrive. Taking place between 1945 and 1946, the books begins at at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Detroit in the Chancellor’s office, where Msgr. John C. Ryan has called an emergency meeting with the cardinal, thus setting the stage for years of turmoil and the subsequent demise of this once vibrant church.
Shirley Harris-Slaughter gives the reader an intimate look of her church, the township she grew up in and its historical significance to World War II, Henry Ford’s auto plant, migration from the south, and the housing crisis that was unfolding, bringing to life the West Eight Mile Community through the story of one little church.
Today, she is sharing an introduction to Fr. Alvin Deem:
Here’s a little introduction into the persona of Fr. Alvin Deem, a Franciscan Friar. I am told he was quite a character, making himself at home at each place he visited. He loved wine and loved having a good conversation. Now that’s my kind of priest. But apparently he rubbed the diocese the wrong way because he was suddenly removed from his assignment at OLV.
During most of 1945, Fr. Alvin spent his time imploring the diocese to give him more space as he was bulging at the seams in the storefront church. The parishioners had painted and repaired the storefront. Their numbers soon outgrew the limited space that was cramped with a makeshift altar and seats that were provided for the members.
There were 300 children receiving religious education at that time. This was more than enough to justify building a school. He wrote to Msgr. John C. Ryan on March 12, 16 and June 25, 1945—three separate occasions—trying to get church and school. The tone of those letters may have been a source of irritation for the Archdiocese. They started taking a closer look at who had authority over Our Lady of Victory Mission. Was it the Franciscans or the Archdiocese? The Rev. Ryan wrote to His Eminence Edward Cardinal Mooney addressing his concerns over the fact that nowhere was it mentioned, that the Franciscan Order acknowledges the diocese’s authority over the mission church and that the matter had to be corrected.
In the meantime, Fr. Alvin, unaware of what was coming, was happily corresponding with the Rev. Ryan his preparations and anticipation of moving to the newly built church. He describes the items he had obtained such as candlesticks, altar, tabernacle, vases, founts, statues, drapes and a donated Kilgen organ. All the items needed to furnish a new church. The letter clearly shows Fr. Alvin’s excitement and anticipation of the big move to the new church and the extent to which he was preparing to make it happen. After all, he had worked real hard to make this day possible. This was his project. He had no idea what was about to happen.
Msgr. Ryan wrote to the Very Rev. Romauld Mollaun, O.F.M. at the direction of His Eminence, Cardinal Mooney, stating that the Archdiocese now has a priest to take over OLV Mission. This act was certainly unprecedented given the history of the Archdiocese in not assigning its personnel to black churches. The fact that it happened this time was not to bode well for Our Lady of Victory.
Rev. Herbert Klosterkemper, O.F.M. wrote to the Rev. Edward Hickey that effective October 22, 1946, Fr. Alvin had been instructed to leave his assignment at OLV. The chancellor’s office seemed very concerned about Fr. Alvin’s feelings in this turn of events and expressed it to Rev. Klosterkemper:
I am grateful for the very courteous and prompt action you have taken in recalling Father Alvin Deem from Our Lady of Victory Mission, Detroit. I sincerely hope that this action does not have the effect of seriously discouraging Father Alvin, because I believe he was deeply interested, enthusiastic and zealous in his devotion to the work among the colored.
However, what the Chancellor failed to realize was that the parishioners were deeply affected by this move, so much so that a number of them left the mission.
The parishioners always wondered what had happened and why Fr. Alvin left so quickly. He was doing so many wonderful things for the community. I really don’t like dredging up wrongdoing but when you are looking to preserve your history that’s when you stumble into things you were not supposed to find. Good or bad that’s what history is about. It’s about learning what it takes to start a Catholic Community.
I am just glad to learn the whole story. Not knowing what happened means you don’t discover who you are and that has been the case for far too long. The trick has been getting everybody to accept it because believe it or not some folks don’t want to know the truth. I had the hardest time trying to get the old-timers to open up. There was one family whom I really tried to talk to but had no real success. The silence was deafening. So I didn’t push that hard. Something told me to pull back. Sometimes the snooping gets you into trouble. But I had some successes. It’s too bad I had failures because there is more to this story.
Who is Shirley Harris-Slaughter?
Shirley Harris-Slaughter is a Michigan native. She is a community activist having been a school board trustee in the Oak Park School District and mentored four freshmen girls in the Winning Futures Program. Shirley loves trains, vintage clothes, and old buildings with historic significance. So it was a natural that she would write about growing up in historic Royal Oak Twp. and keep alive a catholic community that was about to lose its history and identity. It seems that everything she loved closed down and she was not about to let any of it be forgotten. Shirley joined Rave Reviews Book Club because she recognized the need to support fellow authors in order to move forward in her own endeavors. She already had a thriving relationship with like twitter followers that lead her here. “We all had the same goals so it was a natural fit.”
Question: Did knowing that what you are doing is not fully embraced make you more or less inclined to keep digging for information?
Genre: Biography; Narrative History
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