St. Paul on the Lake was the first Catholic parish in the Grosse Pointes. The origins of the parish date to the 1790s, when French Catholic priests were ministering to settlers in what was then a primarily agricultural area along Lake St. Clair. From 1819 to 1825, a chapel was in use in the home of Pierre Provencal, located near the Renaud family farm on Lake St. Clair just north of Vernier Road, which is now Grosse Pointe Shores. This house was later moved to its present site on Kercheval Avenue, where it serves as the headquarters for the Grosse Pointe Historical Society.
The first building specifically built for worship was a log church, located on the Renaud property and dedicated in 1825 by Father Francis Badin, an assistant to Father Gabriel Richard who had pastoral responsibility for the area. The parish was officially organized in 1835, and in 1848 the log church was replaced by a frame chapel located on the site of the current church.
The present church building was designed by Harry J. Rill and was completed in 1899 at a cost of just over $23,000. The older frame structure was used as the parish hall until it was dismantled in 1914. The rectory was added in 1911, and the original portions of the school and convent buildings, designed by Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, were built in 1927. Additions to the school were completed in 1951 and 1953. The former parish house, originally built around 1900 for former Detroit mayor Alexander Lewis, was purchased by the parish in 1959 but demolished in 2012.
The church building has been closed on five occasions: in 1918, during the influenza epidemic; in 1976, in the aftermath of a powerful ice storm; in 1978, due to a devastating fire; and in both 2000 and 2015, due to major renovations.
The Saint Paul Catholic Church Complex sits on a long, narrow plot of land between Lake Shore Road and Grosse Pointe Boulevard. The church is constructed of brick and stone, and is designed in the French Gothic Revival style. The stained glass windows were made by Fredericks & Wolfram Art Glass Company of Detroit (installed in 1901) and Franz Mayer & Company of Munich, Germany, (installed in 1924).
“A Church Where History Lingers” by Barbara Murphy (scroll to p. 18)
“St. Paul’s as Country Gothic” by Rosemary Bowditch (scroll to p. 21)