St. Mary’s College
Detroit/Orchard Lake, Michigan
The Detroit Free Press covered school news. Ancestry.com has 1944, 1950, 1954, and 1956 Eagle yearbooks. “Orchard Lakes Schools” in Encyclopedia.com has a short history of the school. A good description of the campus can be found in Fifty Years at Orchard Lake 1909-1959, source for the seal (right). Michigan Polonia has numerous images from the school.
Polish Seminary was created in 1885 because of a shortage of priests and professionals to serve the growing Polish population of Detroit. The school featured a five-year classical program and a five-year theological program, so that it graduated doctors and lawyers as well as priests.
In 1886 Polish Seminary had 12 students. By 1898 that number had reached 160—split equally between classical and theology students. When the school moved to Orchard Lake in 1909, enrollment was between 300 and 400.
By the 1920’s the school divided into three components. The seminary was named SS. Cyril and Methodius, for the saints that brought Christianity to Poland. Both the four-year college and the college prep school were named St. Mary’s. Together the three schools became known as Orchard Lake Schools.
In 1959 Orchard Lake Schools enrolled 317 students—25 in the seminary, 99 in the college, and 193 in the prep school. A plurality of students at the college (38) came from Michigan. Sixteen came from New York followed by Ohio and Massachusetts (9 each), Pennsylvania (8) and New Jersey and Indiana (6 each). Lay students were first admitted to the college in 1965; women were admitted in 1970.
From the beginning music was a strong component of Polish Seminary. In 1892 the Free Press notes that the choir from the seminary would be part of Holy Week services. Michigan Polonia has an image of the 1906 orchestra. The 1944 Eagle lists a choir and an orchestra among college student organizations. To assist in the transmission of Polish culture, the college also sponsored a Polish Literary Society.
According to the National Catholic Register, in 2000 St. Mary’s College was taken over by Ave Maria University “to save it financially and to improve Catholic higher education by developing a curriculum in line with the vision of Pope John Paul II.” That relationship ended in 2003. St. Mary’s College then became a campus of Madonna University. SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary was reported closed in 2021.
Bricks and Mortar
In 1885 Polish Seminary laid the cornerstone for a new building, fronting on St. Aubin Avenue, between Garfield and Forest streets. The five-story Romanesque building measured 250 feet by 120 feet with a 152-foot tower. Besides offices, it contained a chapel on the first floor with classrooms and dormitory space in the upper floors.
Postcard view of Polish Seminary in 1890. https://twitter.com/detroitstreetvu The property later became a playground, since closed.
As the Polish population of Detroit increased driving up enrollment, the school began to look for a larger campus. When the Michigan Military Academy closed in 1908, their eight-building campus became available. So in 1909 Polish Seminary moved out to Orchard Lake 30 miles northwest of Detroit. In 1916 the campus added a new building to house the seminary.
The Orchard Lake archives, libraries, and museums today contain the largest collection of Polish literature, art and memorabilia in the United States.
Team name: Eagles
School Colors: Red and White
The Free Press shows baseball games and soccer matches in 1896 against local high school and independent teams. Among regular opponents were Detroit Athletic Club, Detroit College (later University), Assumption College, and Michigan Military Academy.
After the move to Orchard Lake, St. Mary’s College became a distinct division of the Orchard Lake schools. With space and facilities the Eagles took up basketball and football in addition to baseball. In 1930 the college became a member of the Michigan-Ontario collegiate Conference, along with Adrian, Assumption, Ferris State, Detroit Tech, DeSales, Lawrence Tech, and Defiance. In 1932 the Eagles compiles a 3-2-1 record, their best—and were co-champions of the conference. But overall they compiled an 11-50-5 record before dropping football in 1941. The 1944 Eagle shows a college basketball team. Later yearbooks show no collegiate sports.
An undated image of the Polish Seminary baseball team. The banner shows that the team is after the move to Orchard Lake. Image courtesy of Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library .