A Brief History of St. Michael’s
From Farmland to Suburb
At the end of the 19th century, The Pointe – named for the point of land jutting out into Lake St. Clair – was farmland on the outskirts of Detroit, with summer cottages for wealthy Detroiters ranged along the lakeshore. Around the turn of the century, Detroit’s elite began to replace these humble cottages with “stately homes” while, at the same time, a boom in housing construction got underway inland. However, the Pointe’s transition from farmland to suburban bedroom community would take several decades. The Grosse Pointe Historical Society notes that as late as 1925 local law enforcement personnel were still chasing down wayward cows which occasionally intruded on the stately homes’ formal gardens!
After Prohibition was approved in 1918, The Pointe became a favored landing site for Canadian rumrunners. They sometimes off-loaded their “import goods” at the docks of the above noted stately homes. Speakeasies sprang up to satisfy local interest in banned spirits. Even Prohibition Era violence intruded on the community, most notably in a shootout in front of the local police station!
Commercial and housing development continued at a rapid pace during the 1920s and into the 1930s, despite the Great Depression. In 1921 five township schools combined to form a unified Grosse Pointe school district. In 1931 the Village of Lochmoor annexed adjacent land and, eight years later, changed its name to Grosse Pointe Woods. “The Woods” incorporated as a city in 1950.
Christ Church gives birth to St. Michael’s
The building moratorium during World War II set the stage for an impressive postwar building boom in what was now being called “the Pointes.” Local churches grew along with the community. Founded as a mission of Christ Church-Detroit, Christ Episcopal Church in Grosse Pointe Farms achieved parish status in 1947. That same year, responding to the influx of population, Christ Church founded its own mission chapel in “The Woods.” This became St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, with the parent congregation’s Assistant Rector, the Rev. Edgar H. Yeoman, as Vicar (the term vicar, borrowed from the Church of England, refers to the priest in charge of a mission church). St. Michael’s first service was held on Sunday, October 26, 1947, in the old caddy house of the Renmore Golf Club. The building had been converted into an attractive chapel which the mission congregation used for four years. This early association with golf may explain the deep affection so many of our members have for The Game!
Growth of the congregation brought rapid change. The property where St. Michael’s now stands was a gift from Christ Church. Ground was broken in October 1950 for the new church and a small wing. Further additions to the physical plant came in 1954 and 1960.
Rectors and Assisting Clergy
As noted above, in 1947 the Rev. Edgar H. Yeoman became first Vicar and, when St. Michael’s became a parish in 1952, first Rector (the term rector refers to the priest in charge of a parish). He served for 25 years, retiring in 1972, and is warmly remembered as a talented church builder and beloved pastor. Every priest has some quirk of character or pastoral technique. In Fr. Yeoman’s case, it was his habit of dropping by unannounced at parishioner homes, much to the inconvenience and occasional distress of his sheep-in-housecoats. This was one of the Rector’s many ways of keeping his finger on the pulse of the parish.
The Rev. James A. McLaren became St. Michael’s second Rector in September 1973. Fr. Jim’s true vocation was service with the sick, hungry, homeless, and unemployed. He regularly challenged St. Michael’s congregation to live out our Lord’s ministry with society’s most vulnerable persons. In May 1979 he resigned to become Director of Crossroads, an Episcopal social service agency in downtown Detroit. Today Crossroads is a thriving ecumenical organization, and stands as eloquent testimony to Fr. Jim’s commitment to those in need.
In March 1980 the Rev. Robert E. Neily came from southern California to become St. Michael’s third Rector, and served until his retirement in early 2006. Fr. Bob is a gifted preacher, educator and pastor. He often uses baseball stories to illustrate sermon points. At his retirement he was the senior active priest (by date of ordination) in the Episcopal Church USA. In Eastertide 2007 Fr. Bob was seated as an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, with a large group of St. Michael’s parishioners cheering him on.
The Rev. Dcn. Jack Trembath – considered by his peers to be the dean of Vocational Deacons in the Diocese of Michigan – has served at St. Michael’s since 1989. Deacon Jack, in keeping with the historic role of the deacon, has a highly respected ministry with the sick and those in need. Jack is also a diehard Tigers fan who each year organizes a migration of 100 or more St. Michael’s members to the ball park.
The Rev. Peter Groschner served as curate (curate refers to a newly ordained priest) at St. Michael’s from 1964-66, and became a priest-in-residence following his retirement from a career in hospital fund-raising.
In 1984 the Rev. Karen Evans became the first of three women priests who have served on the staff of St. Michael’s. She is now Rector of St. James-Marietta, GA.
The Rev. Susan Bock followed Pastor Karen, and is now Rector of St. Gabriel’s-Eastpointe, MI.
The Rev. Ruth Clausen also served as Associate Priest at St. Michael’s. She is now retired in Northern Michigan.
The Rev. Marianna Gronek became the fourth rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on April 1, 2008. Her election ends the congregation’s 13-month search for a new senior priest.
The Rev. Gronek served as associate rector of St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, and is the first woman called to serve as senior pastor of a major Grosse Pointe congregation. A Port Huron native, the Rev. Gronek earned a BFA degree from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in 1994, and did teacher training at Denver’s Regis Univ. in 1999. In 2005 she studied theology at Cambridge University in the U.K. She graduated with her MDiv from Seabury Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, in 2006 and was ordained that same year. Prior to attending seminary the Rev. Gronek worked as design director for a international firm, and as a carpenter/cabinetmaker on the staff of the Denver Art Museum. Her carpentry skills have been put to good use on Habitat for Humanity builds in both Denver and Ann Arbor. The latter build was an ecumenical project which brought together Muslims, Jews and Christians, a first for Habitat in Washtenaw Co. The Rev. Gronek’s joy-filled ministry has emphasized work with children and youth, the elderly, pastoral care and healing, spirituality, and fiscal management. “Finding Marianna Gronek is a great step for our church,” said Drew McSkimming, the parish’s senior lay officer. “Our search committee did a wonderful job. Now we look forward to Pastor Gronek’s leadership as we move into a new phase of our ministry.” The Rev. Gronek celebrated her first service at St. Michael’s on Sunday, April 6, 2008.