In 1870, aided by Father Simon Wieczorek, the Poles took steps to organize their own parish. They organized the St. Stanislaus Kostka Society and, with the blessing of the current bishop, began to collect funds to build of a church. In 1871, St. Albertus Parish was organized with three hundred or so Polish families. That same year, the parish purchased a plot of land, 100 feet wide and 270 feet deep, on the western side of St. Aubin Avenue and what is now East Canfield Street. They hired architect John Wiesenhoffèr, and construction of a frame church began in 1872.
The church was dedicated to St. Wojciech; early pastors borrowed the erroneous Latin equivalent Adalbertus, which is St. Albertus or St. Albert in English. The establishment of St. Albertus led to an influx of Poles into the immediate neighborhood in order to be close to the church. This influx resulted in Detroit's first Polish neighborhood, known among Detroiters as "Poletown."
The church went through four pastors until, in 1882, the charismatic Father Dominic Hippolytus Kolasiñski became pastor of St. Albertus. Appealing to his parishoner's national pride, he urged the construction of a larger church. The parish contracted architect Henry Engelbert to design a church to seat 2500 people, and the Spitzely Brothers of Detroit to build it for a cost was $61,000. Construction began in 1883, and the church was dedicated on July 4, 1885. At the time, the St. Albertus was the largest Catholic chirch in Michigan, and was the first in the city of Detroit to feature steam heat and electrical lighting.
Unfortunately, Father Kolasiñski was a very controversial priest, and in November of 1885 the parish became factionalized; Father Kolasiñski was suspended as a result. Kolasiñski initially refused to leave his post, appealing his suspension to the bishop. However, pressure was brought to bear, and Kolasiñski eventually left Detroit for a pastorate in the Dakota Territory.
Kolasiñski's followers, however, remained estranged from the other St. Albertus congregants, and established their own church school. When a new bishop of Detroit was appointed in 1888, Father Kolasiñski returned to the Detroit and began the Parish of the Sweetest Heart of Mary outside the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. Although subsequent years in the parish have been less tumultuous, St. Albertus is teh mother church of more than 30 Polish Catholic churches, including Sweetest Heart of Mary, St. Josaphat, and St. Stanislaus.
A rectory building was constructed near the church in 1891. A school was built immediately behind the church in 1917, replacing two earlier school buildings. The parish was closed in 1990. In 1991, a group of parishioners formed The Polish American Historic Site Association (PAHSA) to maintain and preserve this St. Albertus. The church still hosts monthly masses in Polish and English, and is open for tours and weddings.
The son of Prussian Polish immigrants, Rev. John A. Lemke, born in Detroit in February 10, 1866, was the first native born Roman Catholic Priest to be ordained on America. He was Baptised at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church (1843), at the corner of St. Antoine and Croghan (Monroe), on February 18, 1866, attended St. Albertus for his primary education, and studied at Detroit College which is now the University of Detroit Mercy where he received a Bachelor's degree in 1884; then, after attending St. Mary's in Baltimore, he completed his theological studies at St. Francis Seminary in Monroe, Michigan, and he was ordained by the Bishop John Samuel Foley in 1889. His added confirmation name was Aloysius.
Contrasting with the plain brick of the exterior, the interior of St. Albertus has an ornalte medieval flair. The altars, baptismal font, and the wainscot is made of patterned terra-cotta. THe ceiling is ornately painted. Sixty-three pieces of painted plaster sculpture are within the church, and the windows are decorated with Medieval style stained glass.