Detroit: Servite Catholic High School

In the 1920’s, the East side of Detroit was flourishing, and the Belgian immigrants of the Conner Creek neighborhood didn’t want to keep holding their church services in a machine shop on Mack Avenue.  They appealed for volunteers to help them construct an actual church, and within a week, the St. John Berchmans congregation had a small, single-room structure in which to hold their services and classes for eight grades (simultaneously) for the coming year at Mack and Chalmers, pictured below.

Historic image via

A year later, construction began on a new building for St. John Berchmans at Warren and Lakeview to accommodate the growing congregation, which ended up fraught with debt after only a few years, urging Bishop Gallagher to turn the parish over to the Servite order.  After weathering those financial bumps in the road, the student population continued to grow well into the 1940’s after its conversion.

Servite High School opened in 1949.
Historic image via

Between 1967 and 1970, the school underwent a massive renovation, but its peak and eventual decline began shortly after.  Servite Catholic closed in 1986 after a steady decline through the ’70s, left vacant for a few years before reopening in 1996 as the Colin Powell Academy, a charter school run by Central Michigan University.  Its namesake, General Colin Powell, addressed students at the new school, outlining the strict guidelines by which they were to abide.

Compared to nearby public schools, the Powell Academy seemed to be performing well for a few years.  But eventually, despite higher test scores, the mounting costs of repair and maintenance of the old building as well as an incredibly high turnover rate in the school’s administration outpaced the Academy’s usefulness to the university.  In 2010, CMU announced it would be closing the school, leaving it behind entirely that July.

The sanctuary in 2012
The sanctuary in 2016

Since my first visit, the building has been ravaged by scrappers and fire, neglected entirely by its owners and the city.


7 thoughts on “Detroit: Servite Catholic High School

    1. Thank you! We do have a long way to go with recovery efforts in every neighborhood outside of downtown/midtown/other higher rent areas, but things are slowly moving forward and investments are being made. I’m planning an “unpeeling walls” post about all of the happy stuff happening here too, because while I enjoy learning about historic places in every city, I truly love living here and there’s a lot to be proud of (for reasons beyond my photo project!)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. After the riots in 67 all the whites fled the city because they were so afraid. The same is happened to almost all the great American cities. It’s called chicken white flight. If people would stay it would still be a great town. But a lot of people have no courage .

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Some fantastic photos,but I’m also very sad as to what has happened to a beautiful church and grade and high school… people of the parish gave a lot in money to build it and to See it now is heartbreaking!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Catholic Church had millions of dollars to support discrimination in marriage against Michigan’s gay and lesbian citizens—but hadn’t a penny to support this parish or its high school. It’s fairly obvious where the Church’s priorities lie.


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