Dad drove us by a tall, brick smokestack rising above a large, two-story building in Detroit. “There’s Gabriel Richard, girls, your new school,” Mom said to my sisters and me.
Six years old, I feared smokestacks, a word fallen from whispers with concentration camp. We didn’t have big schools and smokestacks in Kentucky.
We’d just moved to Joann Street south of Seven Mile Road, between Hoover and Schoenherr Roads. It took some thinking to remember, spell, and speak Schoenherr. We had one road in Peter Creek, and that’s what we called it.
Dad barbered on the corner of Seven Mile and Joann Street, which brought me great comfort. By his shop’s big window, Dad watched my sisters and me walk to school on the straight and flat sidewalk. Then he watched us walk back.
I didn’t know who Gabriel Richard was. I liked the name, even though I couldn’t understand why Richard was pronounced with “sh” instead of “ch” like the boy’s name.
By the time I completed the first half of third grade within Gabriel Richard’s long, bright halls, I’d learned my multiplication tables and how to write, spell and read.
I loved books.
The summer I was nine, Mom and Dad packed up our rented Joann house to settle our own new home on Wagner Street in Warren.
The name Gabriel Richard lay buried under decades of seasons until several years ago when a friend spoke of Father Gabriel Richard’s history.
“The priest helped found the University of Michigan in newborn Detroit,” she said.
“Yes, Father Gabriel Richard lived his short life as a pioneer priest establishing schools wherever his feet landed.”
Soon after, as the Holy Spirit answers the hidden desires of a seeker’s heart, during a tour of St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Detroit, the docent led my group to Father Gabriel Richard’s marble tomb encased in glass.
There, in a chapel dedicated to the French priest who escaped France’s Revolution and helped build one of St. Anne’s eight churches, I saw what contains the remains of a man who sacrificed his life to care for those dying of cholera.
I’ve since driven by Gabriel Richard, guarded by a chain link fence. The building now functions as Detroit Adult Education East.
At the Lappin Street entrance, above the priest’s name carved in stone, engraved eagles on the right and left spread their wings with eyes upon one another.
Embedded in the brick walls on both sides of slender windows, circular mosaics depict a woman draped in robes with an open book on her lap. She writes with a quill.
I fear this beautiful house of knowledge designed by George D. Mason will fall in ruin. Many of his Detroit creations no longer stand.
Dear Reader, at last I called the Principal of Detroit Adult Education East and requested a visit.
“I’ll be happy to give you a tour,” he said.
Meanwhile, I wait to walk the place where my affection for the written word firmly rooted.
A testament to the legacy of Father Gabriel Richard.
Email Iris at