Many thousands of churches are being abandoned in North America as worship communities become geographically dissipated, often spread over large metropolitan areas. Some parishioners of St. Joseph Shrine, a historic Catholic Church just northeast of downtown Detroit, believe that outcome is not inevitable.

They have a vision to build an urban village on eight vacant blocks near the Eastern Market, a historic commercial district in Detroit. They hired Erik Bootsma, an architect based in Richmond, Virginia, who specializes in church-related projects, to do the master plan for St. Aubin Village. Bootsma recently received in Urban Guild Award for the project. “The intent is to offer homes for the members of its congregation who currently drive from far flung suburbs into Detroit to worship, thus transforming the existing commuter community of worshipers into a community every day of the week, not just on Sundays,” says Bootsma.

The 16.5-acre site would be divided into about 200 lots of varying sizes to provide a mix of housing types—from single family cottages to apartments and duplexes—enabling parishioners of varying ages and incomes to live in community. The urban plan retains the current blocks intact, with the exception of a central square carved out of two of the middle blocks. The proposal is very efficient from an infrastructure point of view, and yet creates a distinct village character.

The proposed development has a website that describes its vision: 

Saint Aubin Village is a proposed neighborhood development in Detroit near St. Joseph Shrine, a parish community under the care of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

The goal of Saint Aubin Village is to share in the Institute’s work of cultural renewal by building a beautiful neighborhood within view of St. Joseph Shrine’s 19th Century neo-Gothic spire.

The goal of Saint Aubin village is to build a God-fearing village within the City of Detroit, composed of long-lasting, quality homes where residents can call their friends and fellow parishioners “neighbor.” We hope for an increase in parish involvement at St. Joseph Shrine by improving parishioners’ proximity to their spiritual home by building residential homes.

Saint Aubin Village will also improve urban life in Detroit by adding local shopping, greenspace, and additional tax revenue for the city. Through the creation of beautiful buildings, Saint Aubin Village will contribute to the continuing cultural renewal of Detroit.

About St. Joseph Shrine:

St. Joseph Shrine, in Detroit’s Eastern Market district, is the only personal parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit that is currently devoted to caring for the faithful according to the 1962 Roman Missal, Archbishop Vigneron said. The parish has been under the care of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a religious community devoted to the Tridentine liturgy, since 2016.

Priests and deacons of the institute may continue to offer such celebrations “in St. Joseph Church and other churches, oratories, and private chapels in the Archdiocese of Detroit when caring for parishioners belonging to St. Joseph Shrine Parish,” [Detroit Archbishop] Vigneron said.

At first glance, this plan has echoes of Ave Maria, Florida and, more recently, the Veritatis Splendor community that was proposed for an area near Tyler, Texas and endorsed by Bishop Joseph Strickland.  (There hasn’t been much news about that initiative lately. But the website for that project declares: “Our first priority is to break ground and begin the development of the St. Joseph Oratory on the Veritatis Splendor property. In order to do that, we need to raise the necessary funds to begin that process. God-willing, we can begin by the fall of 2023.”)

Interestingly, the Saint Aubin village website — while promoting proximity to the shrine and a desire to build a “God-fearing  village within the city of Detroit” — includes this disclaimer:

The proposed Saint Aubin Village development is an independent initiative of Bindwood Ave Ventures and is not affiliated with St. Joseph Shrine Church or the Institute of Christ the King.