- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - In the Redford Township home where he grew up, attorney Mike Butler found yearbooks from his late father’s alma mater, old Detroit St. Theresa of Avila High School. From his mother’s side of the family were mementos from old St. Mary’s of Redford schools, including a photo of a cape-covered uncle as a member of the Drum and Bugle Corp.

From Butler’s connections as a student at Our Lady of Loretto elementary school in Redford Township, came school newspapers, photos of championship baseball teams and a pin-pricked athletic letter “L.”

Those schools may be closed now, but in those basement cellar boxes and attic photo albums, Butler found the genesis of a project and website to preserve Detroit-area Catholic school history, according to the Detroit Free Press ( http://on.freep.com/MrISAn ).

Butler, 60, of Livonia, founded in late 2011 the Detroit Catholic School Heritage Project and its website, www.bishopgallagher.org. Butler, a 1971 graduate of all-boys Detroit Catholic Central, is accumulating photos, scanning yearbooks and compiling history. The website has historical information and some 300 photos from long-gone, as well as still-thriving, Detroit-area Catholic schools.

With other volunteers and Catholic school alums, Butler is planning to establish a nonprofit and find a site to display the artifacts from an era when the six-county Archdiocese of Detroit boasted 360 Catholic schools, compared with 95 now. The website’s name honors Detroit Bishop Michael Gallagher, who presided over a Catholic school building boom in the 1920s and was the namesake for a high school in Harper Woods, which is now closed.

“It’s to preserve the memory of everybody who built this city. They built it from nothing with nothing. They went through Depressions and World War I and World II and through Catholic education made a better life for their kids,” Butler said. “It’s important to keep that memory alive.”

For Butler, every day in recent years is a celebration of the continuing legacy of a Catholic education.

“I just feel like I’m taken back to that era when values of sacrifice were important, to your city, to your church, to your community,” said Butler, whose wife, Gloria, attended now-closed St. Christopher and Rosary High School in Detroit, and whose two daughters graduated from Livonia Ladywood High and whose son also is a CC graduate.

Since he established the website in late 2011, Butler has received submissions from amateur historians much like him, such as Tom Wozniak, of Livonia, who has shared photos from old St. John Cantius and St. Casimir schools in Detroit; and from Tom Constance of Canton, who has gathered photos from old Detroit Guardian Angels elementary school life.

There are photos chronicling major sports rivalries, and when actress Patty Duke, a TV icon because of her 1960s namesake show, visited a Catholic Central pep rally in 1963. There’s also a photo of celebrated actor Boris Karloff visiting with Catholic Central drama students in the 1940s.

Butler has organized three annual dinners, held in the fall, so far to honor Catholic school distinguished alums - new Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Catholic Central ‘76, and U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain, Detroit St. Gregory ‘66; among them.

Butler has received an e-mail from a California woman who recognized her late mother in the website’s photo of the St. Theresa High School orchestra, circa 1935. Out of the blue, another donor packed up a box of memorabilia left by her late brother who died in 1957. Inside were school newspapers from Catholic Central circa the early 1940s, and a baseball signed by a CC graduate, Art Houtteman, who played for the Detroit Tigers in the 1945 World Series.

On his own, Butler has traveled the city taking photos of former Catholic schools and bought old yearbooks from closed schools such St. Anthony 1961 and 1969 Harper Woods Notre Dame, and a 1938 yearbook from thriving University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

The Archdiocese of Detroit currently counts 95 schools with an enrollment of 29,455. That includes 71 grade schools with a total of 19,126 students, and 24 high schools with a total of 10,329 students. It’s one less school than last year, with the closing of Our Lady of LaSalette Elementary School in Berkley.

It’s a fraction of the enrollment from Catholic schools’ baby boomer heyday, when 203,000 students were enrolled in about 360 Detroit-area schools in 1964-65. At that time, nearly every parish had a school.

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