History of the Archdiocese

The Archdiocese of Detroit is the administrative body that oversees all Roman Catholic parishes, schools and communities in southeast Michigan. The Detroit Archdiocese is also the seat of the Ecclesiastical Province of Detroit, which includes the six dioceses of Michigan.


The diocese of Detroit was established by Pope Gregory XVI in 1833, more than 100 years after French settlers built their first church here. At the time, the diocese included all of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and portions of the Dakotas, east of the Mississippi River.

The diocese predates even the state of Michigan, which did not join the union until 1837. At that time, the boundaries of the diocese were changed to fit into Michigan’s newly-established borders.

Ste. Anne de Detroit Church was the first church built by settlers in 1701. The church served as the diocese's first cathedral from 1833 to 1848.

In 1937, Detroit was elevated to an archdiocese and His Eminence Edward Mooney was named as our first archbishop. In the following decades the region’s population grew steadily, which required the expansion of many parishes under Mooney.

Today, the Archdiocese of Detroit comprises the six counties of southeast Michigan—Lapeer, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne.

Founding Dates

March 8, 1833 - Established as a diocese by His Holiness, Pope Gregory XVI

Aug, 3, 1937 - Elevated to an archdiocese by His Holiness, Pope Pius XI

Our Founding

1701: Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac leads French traders and priests to the banks of Detroit River, where they founded Ste. Anne, Detroit's first Catholic Church.

1817: Father Gabriel Richard—priest, pioneer and statesman— co-founds the University of Michigan.

1833: Detroit is formally established as a diocese on March 8. Frederic Résé is named the first bishop of the new diocese, and in the early years of his episcopacy, 11 priests serve the entire area.

1837: Michigan becomes a state and the diocese's boundaries are redrawn to coincide with the state's borders.

1841: Peter Paul Lefevere comes to Detroit as a coadjutor bishop to serve as diocesan administrator throughout the Civil War. While Lefevere never actually holds the post of Bishop of Detroit, his presence here is important. He oversees the construction of SS. Peter and Paul Church, currently the oldest existing church structure in the city of Detroit.

1869: Lefevere dies and is buried at SS. Peter and Paul Church. He is succeeded by Bishop Caspar Borgess who remains Detroit's bishop until 1887. During the 47-year stewardships of bishops Lefevere and Borgess, the diocese grows from 28 to 84 churches; from 12 to 60 schools; and the Catholic population increases from less than 75,000 to 116,200. Religious communities also begin forming in Detroit during this time, the first being the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1845.

1888: Bishop Samuel Foley heads the diocese. Immigration booms both from Europe and the American south due to the expanding automotive industry. Though small chapels for black Catholics existed in the late 1870s, Bishop Foley establishes the first black Catholic mission, St. Peter Claver, in 1914. Bishop Foley's 30-year episcopacy remains the longest in the history of the archdiocese.

1918: Michael Gallagher becomes bishop and leads successful fights against Michigan state constitutional amendments in 1920 and 1924 that would have required mandatory attendance in public schools for all children and would have destroyed a well-established Catholic school system. He establishes standards for Catholic educators and textbooks, as well a central office for the direction of the educational effort.

1937: Detroit is elevated to an archdiocese and Edward Aloysius Mooney is named its first archbishop. He is elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Pius XII in 1946. Cardinal Mooney holds leadership positions in the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the forerunner of the present United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, until his death in 1958, at which point he was awaiting the conclave that would elect Pope John XXIII.

1958: John Dearden is named Detroit's second archbishop. He attends meetings of the Second Vatican Council and plays a significant role in the development of conciliar documents. He is elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and he serves as the first president of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. He retires in 1980 and remains active in local and national church affairs until his death in 1988.

1981: The Archdiocese of Detroit installs Edmund Casimir Szoka as third archbishop on May 17. In 1988, he is elevated to the College of Cardinals. In January 1990, Cardinal Szoka is appointed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II as President of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Cardinal Szoka left the Detroit Archdiocese that June to assume his new responsibilities in Rome. He is appointed president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City in October 1997, and retires in 2006.

1990: Former Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin Adam Joseph Maida is installed as Detroit's fourth archbishop. Maida brings great expertise on civil and canon law to Detroit, and is elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1994. He retires in 2009.

2009: Pope Benedict XVI names Allen Vigneron fifth Archbishop of Detroit. Archbishop Vigneron was ordained in Detroit in 1996 and served in many leadership capacities before being named Bishop of Oakland, California in 2003. In 2009, he returns to Detroit to shepherd the Church in Southeast Michigan and examine her needs over the next century.

2016: Synod 16 is held in Detroit. Hundreds of clergy and lay faithful from across the diocese gather to discuss how to fully become a band of joyful missionary disciples. On Pentecost Vigil of 2017, Archbishop Vigneron releases his pastoral letter Unleash the Gospel, igniting the movement to become the Church on mission.

2020: Archbishop Vigneron announced that beginning on July 1, 2021, parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit will be grouped into pastoral units known as Families of Parishes. These groups of three to six parishes will share resources to advance the mission. Each family of parishes will be served by multiple priests and deacons.