Father Dominic Kolasinski, Father Joseph Dombrowski, and the Gangs of Old Detroit

So, back in 1871 the Polish community of Detroit had grown sufficiently to justify creating a new Catholic parish. In 1882 Father Dominic Hippolytus Kolasiñski was appointed to head the parish. From the sounds of it he was quite the spellbinder, as within a couple of years he'd gathered a substantial flock and was making headway on raising funds for construction of a new church. However, in 1885, the same year that his fundraising allowed St. Albertus Catholic Church to be dedicated, Kolasiñski was bounced from his post, much to the annoyance of a large number of his congregants. He left town, but his supporters refused to go along with the decision, and blocked the new priest, Father Joseph Dombrowski, from saying Christmas mass. This lead to a riot which resulted in the killing of a 24-year old.

By 1888 Kolasiñski's supporters decided to set up their own parish, without the sanction of the Bishop who fired him. Kolasiñski moved back to town, and by 1890 they'd begun construction of Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church. Tensions between supporters of Kolasiñski and Dombrowski were high, and riots were not unknown. By the early 1890s things had gotten bad enough that Kolasiñski was actually excommunicated for setting up an unauthorized parish, but by 1897 he'd worked his way back into the good graces of the local hierarchy and was reinstated.

The inimitable Detroitblog wrote up most of the details back in 2010 (thanks Archive.org!), with more of a focus on the modern outgrowths of the story, particularly the St. Albertus Catholic Church in Poletown. They also originated the "Gangs of Old Detroit" tag. Polish Detroit and the Kolasinski affair appears to be an authoritative source. Detroit 1701 has some information as well. A couple of other promising sources include

With luck it may also be possible to turn up some period newspaper stories about the riots.

Category: Stub