It wasn’t exactly like discovering buried treasure, but it certainly was years of enrichment that were brought back to life.
Back in October as parishioners and alumni of St. Alphonsus-St. Clement Parish in Dearborn, Michigan, were clearing out items in preparation for adjacent school buildings to be demolished, a small storage room near an empty gymnasium was located.
Upon opening a door to that room, a roomful of boxes was discovered, said David Katona, vice president of the St. Alphonsus Alumni Association.
Inside those boxes were thousands of books that were moved there from an empty school library.
The room contained more than 9,000 books in 200 boxes, and at that point, the big question for the parish was obvious: What do we do with all these books?
St. Alphonsus has a rich history of educating generations of students, but unfortunately, it’s all in the past now.
The first school was established in 1846 by farmers who first settled in the area. In 1922, a new building was constructed to house the grade school and high school, with the first graduating class being in 1926. A new grade school building was constructed in 1953, an activities center in 1955, and additional classrooms and a library in 1966.
The buildings housed grade and high schools until the high school closed in 2003 and the grade school closed in 2005.
The buildings were then leased to a charter school until 2007, but were vacant after that, essentially ending more than 160 years educating students in those buildings.
Katona said that in July 2022, the parish decided to demolish school buildings after efforts to sell or repurpose them were unsuccessful.
When the decision was made to demolish the buildings in order to create a green space with memorial gardens, and also additional parking, inspectors frequented the buildings.
The library that was housed to a side of the high school building was initially found to be empty, so parishioners assumed the charter school removed the books.
A short time later, the storage room with the books was discovered.
A win-win solution
When the books were located, Katona said they had to be moved about a block away to a hall in the parish due to the impending demolition.
So volunteers gathered, and thanks to three pickup trucks and a small trailer making five round trips each, the boxes were moved.
Local schools and organizations were initially contacted about taking the books, but the parish got no interest.
Then, a priest from the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit who helps the church with Sunday masses suggested to get in touch with Fr. Anthony Kote-Witah, a priest from the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.
Fr. Kote-Witah is from Nigeria and is in the process of trying to build an orphanage and library for underprivileged for kids in his homeland.
When Fr. Kote-Witah got word of all the books, he agreed to take them all and name the library at the orphanage the “St. Alphonsus Library” in honor of the donation.
The hard part
With Fr. Kote-Witah agreeing to take the books, now came the hard part of trying to get them shipped overseas.
“The plan was to ship them from Chicago through an associate of Fr. Anthony at an overseas shipping company,” Katona said. “Over the next several months, volunteers assisted in preparing the boxes. Some of the damaged boxes had to be repacked. Each box was wrapped in plastic wrap to protect from water damage.”
On July 28, a truck was rented and volunteers packed it with boxes of books to be taken to Chicago. The only problem was that only half of the boxes fit in the truck, so a second truck had to be rented on Aug. 13 to take the rest of the books to Chicago.
The books are currently being loaded into a shipping container for the trek to Nigerian orphanage.
“I want to restore dignity to those children left behind,” Fr. Kote-Witah said to Detroit Catholic. “This orphanage can be a window of grace. It has a broad awareness of hope for the people.”