A longtime community staple, St. Veronica’s, turns 85

By: Sara Kandel, | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 20, 2011

EASTPOINTE — It first opened without a name in a small structure on Gratiot Avenue, at Glander, in October 1926 after residents of what was then the Village of Halfway petitioned the bishop of Detroit for a new Catholic parish.

Little is known about St. Veronica’s early years, with the first written history of the church not appearing for almost 40 years after its conception, when, in 1965, a church parishioner named Robert Bruttell went about interviewing and recording data from surviving founders.

Bruttell wrote in his history that the church wasn’t named until late in 1927, and its namesake wasn’t actually St. Veronica, who used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus on his way to the cross. Rather he tells the story of another Veronica.

 St. Veronica’s Catholic Community moved locations from its original building on Gratiot to its current spot at Gratiot and Universal in 1928.

St. Veronica’s Catholic Community moved locations from its original building on Gratiot to its current spot at Gratiot and Universal in 1928.

Photo by Sara Kandel

Veronica Rose was just a young girl when her father was hired as the contractor for what would become a new, bigger home for St. Veronica’s Catholic Community not far from the original site. While Mr. Rose — no first name is recorded — was working on the building, the young Veronica fell ill.

She was diagnosed with “sleeping sickness,” a disease with no known cure or origin. Victims suffered endless tiredness in the daylight and insomnia at night, psychosis and anxiety, fever and headaches, and oftentimes became comatose.

Struggling with his young daughter’s suffering, Mr. Rose went to the priest at that time and offered him a proposition: He would build the rest of the church for free if the priest prayed for his daughter’s recovery or death.

Shortly after, Bruttell wrote, Veronica died and Father A. W. Soest named the church in memory of her. And to this day, parishioners still talk about the young girl, because some say, she’s still there.

“People have seen her,” says resident Sue Young. “My girlfriend’s son was married in the church, and when she got the photos developed, there is this little girl in them, and no one knows who she is.”

Young, an active member and longtime parishioner of the church, says she doesn’t know if it’s true, but she believes it could be — just like she believes a woman who claims she met Jesus at the church might be telling the truth, too.

Young has been doing video interviews for the church’s upcoming 85th anniversary dinner, recording the memories of old parishioners and families at the church.

“I asked one family for their memories, and they shared a few. Then, the daughter — she’s probably 40 — said she met Jesus there,” Young says. “She said she was walking by the church one evening when the door opened and she went inside, and she said she met Jesus in there.”

For Young, the tales about sightings of Veronica are fun to hear, but they bear no weight on why she’s been faithfully attending the church for 43 years and sent all six of her kids to St. Veronica’s through high school.

“Through the years, or at least when I look back at my years at St. Veronica’s, I realize you meet such good friends, such interesting and good people.”

It’s the people and the services, such as the food pantries the church has offered since the time it was built, that keep parishioners like Young and her good friend Nell Druzinski coming back week after week.

Druzinski and Young are a funny pair, and meeting them together you have to wonder if they would have become as close as they are if it weren’t for the bond they share through the church.

Young, at 61, is quite a bit younger, goes to bed early and wakes up early. She is soft spoken and has a caring nature and empathy for others that is omnipresent in her personality. Druzinski is 87; she is feisty and energetic. She stays up late, oftentimes until 4 a.m., and is kind beneath her tough exterior.

They are both helping out planning the church’s 85th anniversary dinner, and they’ve been friends for years. Druzinski has been a member of the St. Veronica’s parish even longer than Young has, attending services there for 55 years.

Young is in charge of candy at the dinner, and Druzinski is in charge of selling tickets. They meet to discuss the details. The dinner is being held at Eastpointe Manor on Oct. 22. They say there will be dinner, music and dancing, and of course, the video Young has been working on. While they talk about it, Druzinski shares one of her favorite memories.

She laughs recalling it, and Young eggs her on to keep going. She tells the story of a fundraising effort she once undertook.

“Years ago, it was bingo,” she starts. “I used to have a full house, and we used to give lingerie away, no money — anything: panties, slips, nighties. We used to make money, until finally someone got a hold of that we were doing it.”

Druzinski was raising money for the church and to help her late husband meet a goal of his. He was the president of the men’s club at the time, and before he retired from his position, he wanted to be able to donate a scoreboard for St. Veronica’s Vikings basketball team.

“We made enough money to buy that score card for basketball, too,” Druzinski. “My husband named that name, the Vikings, and they still use it, and that makes me happy.”

She doesn’t remember how long the lingerie bingo lasted, but she held it every Friday for months. The last night they had it before it was cancelled was the night they finally reached their goal and had enough money to buy the scoreboard.

Both Druzinski and Young have many stories from their years at St. Veronica’s, but they all have a common theme: helping each other and helping the community.

Over the years, the church has seen many changes, from opening an elementary school and expanding to a junior high and high school before closing the doors in 1991 to starting with a one-room building on Gratiot before settling into an elaborate complex just east of Gratiot on Universal — but one thing has remained the same: the church’s focus on God and the community.