History of Our Region

Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Museum

The geographic area now covered by the Diocese of Michigan was originally the home of Anishinaabe peoples whose communities were sustained by the lakes, plains, wetlands, and deciduous woods for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans. The French arrived first and established trading relations with the indigenous peoples; British settlers came afterward, encroaching on the Anishinaabe territory. In the mid-nineteenth century, the United States removed the remaining native peoples to reservations.

After the Civil War, the area joined the industrial revolution, aided by its location along what became the St. Lawrence Seaway, which allowed international commercial traffic between western Lake Superior and the port at Montreal. The twentieth century saw the automotive revolution, with the area becoming the world capital of automobile design and production. During World War II, the B-24 Liberator was produced by the Ford Motor Company and other war-related industries made their home here. As manufacturing became central to the area, so did the labor movement.

Courtesy of The Henry Ford

Drawn by its automobile production and its history as a point of transit in the Underground Railroad, many African-Americans arrived in the city from the South during the Great Migration of the 1920s and 1930s. War in Europe, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the possibility of a prosperous living also prompted waves of immigration from the Middle East and Eastern Europe over the first half of the twentieth century. Southeast Michigan’s story of immigration has continued to the present day, as we continue to welcome people from Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and Central America, and Africa.  Several of our communities have Hindu temples, Sikh Gurdwaras, and a variety of Islamic houses of worship. The largest mosque in the United States is located in Dearborn.


Downtown Detroit, MI

The story of this part of Michigan is inextricably tied to its most populous region, metropolitan Detroit. Following Detroit’s founding by the French in 1701, first the Industrial Revolution and then the automotive industry brought prosperity, and the area has maintained a rich artistic and cultural legacy. But the region has also suffered many lows, notably fraught race relations and economic woes, particularly in the city itself. At present, Detroit is beginning another recovery, especially in Downtown and Midtown; but Detroit and the surrounding region also see a high level of poverty, and Metro Detroit remains one of the most racially and economically segregated areas in the nation. Read more about Detroit here.

The diocese is located in the third largest economic region in the Midwest and the fourteenth largest in the U.S. It includes Lansing, the state capital, the cities of Pontiac, Ann Arbor, and Jackson, and many smaller cities, towns and municipalities. The region boasts a host of world class museums such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing on the campus of Michigan State University. Other cultural assets include the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Michigan Opera Theatre, the Detroit Jazz Festival, the Purple Rose Theatre, the Motown Museum, The Henry Ford, and the Cranbrook Educational Community.

The region is home to the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and Oakland University, in addition to a host of smaller colleges and universities. Sports fans root for their favorite college teams, as well as for minor- and major-league teams including the Tigers, Pistons, Red Wings, and Lions.

Michigan is also renowned as a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Fishing and hunting, hiking and cycling, kayaking and canoeing, sailing and windsurfing, skiing and snowmobiling, and other sports provide recreation for Michiganders and attract tourists from all over the country and the world. Read more about rural areas here.

Southeast Michigan remains a geographically and ecologically unique place with a rich and storied past whose diverse and resilient people look forward with hope to a future full of new challenges and opportunities.


 ← About Our Process | History of Our Diocese