This is a story about a church, a school and the community around it. It is a story about how one of the richest parishes in the diocese went to one of the most financially challenged. And it is a story about how a school that perhaps could have closed long ago is still around despite the odds.
The church is Gesu Detroit Catholic Church. The school is, not surprisingly, Gesu School Detroit. It is a preK-grade 8 Catholic school located in the University District. It is celebrating is 90th anniversary this month with a Gala dinner, dance and auction.
The Oct. 27 event is both a time to remember the glorious past and to ponder the sometimes difficult future, said Holly Bennetts, one of the school’s biggest supporters. She and I caught up this week to talk about what makes Gesu special to its parents, resident and parishioners. And it all comes down to this: Without faith that there would be a tomorrow, there would be no Gesu.
“It’s a great time for celebration,” Bennetts said, because many of those attending will be from the church, school alumni and current families. Did I mention yet that the event is open to the public? Because it is, and your support is definitely needed.
“It’s a moment to come together and for people to learn about what we’re doing here,” Bennett said. Because if you’re familiar with Gesu, you’re probably also familiar with its Community Green and Garden. I’d argue that it’s one of the coolest spots in Detroit. Here, students plan an annual garden, neighbors meet and greet, families enjoy picnics and the like. Everyone knows the Green, and they all take ownership of it, Bennetts said.
A little history: Gesu Catholic School, found on Oak Drive at the edge of Detroit’s University District, began with 200 students in 1925 as a ministry of the newly founded Gesu Catholic Parish. The school grew rapidly in its largely Roman Catholic neighborhood. At its peak in 1968, Gesu had 1,660 children in two buildings.
These days, Gesu School is a smaller affair, serving about 180 students. The majority are not Catholic. Rather, they are neighborhood residents who want a safe space to learn. All of the proceeds from the Gesu auction during the Gala will go toward financial aid for the school – and it will not cover what it truly needed.
“This year, we gave out $100,000 in need-based aid, and it wasn’t enough. There were families that couldn’t go to Gesu because of money,” Bennetts said.
Here’s how the night will go. You are invited to attend the 5 p.m. mass at Gesu Catholic Church. This is not necessary, obviously. But it certainly will put you in the right mood – plus, who doesn’t like to kick back after having your sins forgiven? But I digress.
At 6 p.m., there will be Gesu School tours for those interested. If you want to check out this fine educational institutions, meet us at the gymnasium doors on Quincy Drive. You can see where the magic happens – reading, writing and arithmetic, as the kids would say. Tickets are not needed for either of these events (church or the school tour).
The big bash begins at 7 p.m. at the University of Detroit Mercy Student Center Ballroom. The cocktail reception will be lovely, I am sure. Then, dinner is served at 7:30. Afterward, there will be dancing thanks to live music from a local band – we hear it will be The Rhythm Kings – until all hours (or at least midnight. They’re not saying you have to go home. But you cannot stay there…).
Tickets are $40 per person, which is affordable and offers a wealth of entertainment for a relatively decent price. “We didn’t want to make it out of reach for anyone,” Bennetts said.