St. Agnes Church was built in 1922 at 7601 12th Street/Rosa Parks Boulevard, at the corner of LaSalle Gardens South. St. Agnes Church came to join property that already had St. Agnes School and a parish house that were both built in 1916. There was a temporary St. Agnes Church before the permanent church was built in 1922. St. Agnes Church was designed in Gothic architectural style. St. Agnes had extraordinary stone detail throughout the building and the stone-vaulted ceilings were massive in size. The stone walls and columns were decorated with Detroit’s own Pewabic Pottery tiles. St. Agnes also had a large sanctuary big enough to hold around 1,500 worshipers.
St. Agnes Church did very well through the years, but took a huge hit after the infamous 1967 Detroit riots. The riots took place right down the street from St. Agnes Church. It all happened when the Detroit police raided an after-hours drinking establishment, led to a confrontation between officers and residents that quickly grew into one of the worst outbursts of civil unrest the country would ever see. Though St. Agnes was relatively untouched by the 1967 riots, most of the buildings around it along 12th Street were burned to the ground. The neighborhood never recovered, and attendance numbers started to drop.
In 1986, there were just a handful of people that were still worshiping at St. Agnes Church, not nearly enough to cover the operating cost of such a large church. As part of a wave of citywide Catholic Church closings and consolidations, St. Agnes merged with nearby St. Theresa Avila in 1989, forming a new parish that would continue on in the St. Agnes building. Reflecting the racial makeup of the neighborhood, the Archdiocese renamed the parish “Martyrs of Uganda,” in honor of African missionaries who had been executed in 1887 for refusing to renounce their faith. Unfortunately, Martyrs of Uganda didn’t last very long. The church was getting old and too expensive to maintain. At this time, there were only a handful of parishioners were left. Martyrs of Uganda closed in 2006.
By 2010, metal thieves had broken into the former St. Agnes Church and severely damaged the interior of the building. The scrappers stole the custom organ pipes and chiseled out many of the Pewabic Pottery tiles. The church has also been heavily “tagged” in obnoxious spray paint and terrible looking graffiti.
As of 2015, the former St. Agnes Church still sits abandoned. There have been recent efforts to secure the church, school, and parish house.
St. Agnes Church in 2008: