Grand Rapids, Michigan is known to tourists as the Furniture City, but locally and colloquially, downtown GR is ‘Steepletown’. Type in ‘steepletown’ on Google and Grand Rapids pops up first. There are over a dozen Catholic churches that send spires heavenward to help decorate the Grand Rapids ‘steepletown’ landscape. And Google Maps hasn’t even got all the Catholic church steeples listed, there are that many. Come with me on a pilgrimage, if you will, of Catholic churches in downtown Grand Rapids Steepletown. If for nothing more than the architecture styles alone, the Catholic churches of Grand Rapids are a sight to behold. We begin our journey, coming into the downtown US 131 S-curves, south off from I-96 north. Bear in mind that this list touches only on the ‘steepled’ Catholic churches in Grand Rapids.
St. Alphonsus: Perched on Leonard Hill to the east is the red brick Romanesque Redemptorist parish of St. Alphonsus. St. Alphonsus boasts a magnificent Rose Window, mullioned windows and square towers. St. Alphonsus dates back to 1888.
Basilica of St. Adelbert: On the west side, on 4th Street we see the copper domes of the newly restored Basilica of St. Adelbert. Very few communities have the distinction of possessing a cathedral and a basilica (Greek: ‘royal’). Grand Rapids, Michigan is one. The high altar is set in the Apse and covered with a canopy called a ‘Baldachino’. St. Adelbert’s is a minor basilica and the basilica in Michigan and was founded in 1880. The basilica features Byzantine rite mass.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church: Right around the corner from the basilica is the German parish of St.Mary’s. The original structure was built in 1857 and the current Gothic steepled church in 1872. St. Mary’s is home to a Pieta statue, multiple stained glass windows and a magnificent pipe organ.
St. James: Near to but not overshadowed by is the Greek Revivalist steeple of St. James on Bridge Street.
St. Isidore’s: Set in the same hill as St. Alphonsus on Leonard, that runs along the Grand River, is St. Isidore on Diamond off from I-196, also called Gerald R. Ford Freeway, as it nears the I-96 Junction. St. Isidore is topped by squat red triange steeples and graceful curved archways, reminiscent of Spanish-style architecture. Across the street is St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Cathedral of St. Andrew: Located on Sheldon St. east of US 131, the Cathedral of St. Andrew is the bishopric of the Diocese of Grand Rapids. The original Cathedral of St. Andrew was built in 1850 out of limestone from the Grand River which flows through downtown Grand Rapids. When it was built, St. Andrew’s Cathedral was the tallest building in Grand Rapids.
Our Lady of Sorrows: Although not a ‘steepletown’ church in the strictest sense, Our Lady of Sorrows on Hall Street features a lower Italianate architecture. The large arched windowed church was built in 1889 for Italian speaking parishioners.
Sacred Heart of Jesus: This west side church on Valley Street dates back to 1904 and features two red brick Romanesque towers with Spanish and Italianate architecture.
Immaculate Heart of Mary: As we head out of the downtown Steepletown area, Immaculate Heart of Mary, built in 1966 offers a unique round out to our pilgrimage Catholic Churches. This ultra modern church features not a steeple but an upswept arch with a fishbone sloping roof. The curved arches are built on the same principle as the early medieval flying buttresses.
There are many other churches in the Steepletown area of Grand Rapids. These are the Catholic Churches that lend their spires to the landscape.