Garfield Park-Alger Heights-Grandville Ave

Rumsey Street: Leaving behind a history of sacred space

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Veronica Quintino-Aranda grew up on Grandville Avenue and has attended St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church her entire life. As the building is demolished to make room for new development--Quintino-Aranda wants future generations to remember the space with reverence and respect.

“This is where I had my first communion, confirmation, and my quinceañera. Near the entrance of the church is where I first met my husband and later inside is where we got engaged and where I said goodbye to my brother Abel,” says Veronica Quintino-Aranda, parishioner of St. Joseph The Worker Catholic Church.

Building where St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church used to stand.

To the newcomer, the inside of 333 Rumsey Street looks like a vacant building; on the front the paint has started to chip, and the dust can be seen collecting up along the window sills. Inside the building, very few remnants are left of the pews that lined the crowded space, but the spirit of the people that once filled the space with laughter and care for one another is still a part of the Grandville Avenue today.

The building on 333 Rumsey Street did not always stand alone the way it does today. In the early 1900s, the Rumsey block was occupied by the rector, the Church, and the Sister’s house. For Quintino-Aranda, the church building on 333 Rumsey Street is where the divine and the human meet. Her voice quivers and her eyes fill up with tears as she says in a hushed whisper, “this space is sacred.”

In the next couple of months, the church building will be torn down to make room for housing units, a new high school, expanded health care facilities, and outdoor community space as outlined in the Plaza Roosevelt plan. Plaza Roosevelt is a $40 million dollar neighborhood development plan developed to enhance housing, economic, health and educational opportunities for those living along Grandville Avenue. Plaza Roosevelt was underway before the Grandville Area Specific Plan was solidified, but the plan did make recommendations about traffic calming and beautification of Grandville and Franklin with the understanding that new uses were planned. To read more about the Area Specific Plan click here.

Quintino-Aranda grew up going to San Jose Obrero (St. Joseph The Worker Catholic Church), with her family, who lived down the street from the church on Cordelia Street. Her parents, who were farm workers in Florida and Michigan before they settled on Grandville Avenue, chose to move to the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood in the early ‘80s because of the vibrant community in the neighborhood.

Veronica Quintino-Aranda stands with her father Abel Quintino and her husband Jose Aranda outside of the her childhood home on Cordelia Street off of Grandville Avenue.

“The place was made up of mostly Texan and Puerto Rican families, and we felt at home living here,” shares Quintino-Aranda.

When the Quintino family first moved to Grandville Avenue, they quickly found a home within the family of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church. The hospitality and welcoming spirit of every church member made it very easy for their family to build community.

Quintino-Aranda explains that the name of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic church comes from the Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and carpenter, and is an exemplar of the kind of the parishioners who attend the church today.

A few of the parishioners of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church inside the current building in 3138 Birchwood Avenue SW, in the the city of Wyoming, Michigan.

“We are a very humble and hardworking parish. Many of us are working-class immigrants,” shares Quintino-Aranda.

The church was first established in 1888 at 333 Rumsey Street as the only Dutch Catholic Church in Grand Rapids by Father Henry Freken, according to “I remember...Grandville Avenue,” a historical compilation by Mary Angelo. In 1943, the church caught on fire, but the congregation worked hard to rebuild the church.

What started as a predominantly Dutch community eventually became one of the largest Latinx parishes in the city of Grand Rapids. The church stayed on Rumsey Street until November 2007, when they relocated to 225 32nd St. SW. in Wyoming, Michigan.

“We outgrew our building. People had to stand outside just to be able to hear Sunday mass,” says Quintino-Aranda.

The original plan, according to current pastor Reverend Steven Cron, was to raise enough money to be able to add onto the space next to the church, but the opportunity to purchase the building on the 32nd street came first and it was more affordable.

Veronica Quintino-Aranda inside the current building of St. Joseph the Woker Catholic Church.

Quintino-Aranda calls San Jose Obrero home, as this was the first place where God called her to be in youth ministry when she was just 17 years old.

“This place allows me to do what I love—to work in the community and to find my ministry.”

Quintino-Aranda remembers the Friday evening when the church held its last mass on Rumsey Street. The building was packed with grieving church members who were saddened to leave their home community of over 30 years on Grandville Avenue. As a celebration of the church’s history on Rumsey Street, the parish marched by foot from the old building to the new one.

“It was a way to grieve and to welcome a new season for our church,” shares Quintino-Aranda.

After St. Joseph the Worker moved from the old building on Rumsey Street, they sold it to Ministerios del Reino Internacional, a Spanish-speaking protestant church that is now located in Burton Heights. The protestant church occupied the space until 2013 when they sold it to Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. For the majority of the time the space has remained vacant. In 2015, Art Prize and Site:Lab utilized the space  to exhibit the work of several artists. 

Quintino-Aranda remembers what it felt like when she went back to the old church building for Art Prize in 2015.

“I felt like Juan Diego,” she says, explaining that St. Juan Diego was an indigenous of Cuauhtlatoatzin who became the first Veronica Quintino-ArandaRoman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. Quintino-Aranda shares that according to Catholic tradition, Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego on the Tepeyac Hill, a site of a former Aztec temple, urging him to build a chapel on the site in her honor.

“The Bishop Juan de Zumarraga did not believe that the Virgin of Guadalupe would appear to a ‘simple man’ like Juan Diego,” says Quintino-Aranda.

It was December 11, in the middle of winter, and the Virgin of Guadalupe told Juan Diego to cut the roses on the hill and to store these inside his as proof for the Bishop.

Juan Diego did as he was told, and when he presented the roses to the Bishop on the cloak he was wearing an imprint of the Virgin of Guadalupe could be seen.

“When I first walked into the old building I felt like Juan Diego, did, as if I didn’t matter. Stripped of my culture, language, and religion in the same way the Spaniards stripped Juan Diego of his indigenous traditions,” shares Quintino-Aranda.

Quintino-Aranda explains that she didn’t initially feel welcomed and appreciated on the site. For her, the history of everything she lived inside the church felt like it had been forgotten and ignored.

"Ofrenda" inside the church, displaying memorabilia and photographs from past community events, and Willie Bolden's Golden Ark, an homage to his golden memories of the time he spent living across the street in houses now gone. Courtesy of Cultura Collective.

“It was not until this year that I felt like justice had been done to the space,” says Quintino-Aranda. This year, the area where the church used to stand on Rumsey Street was the host for Cultura Collective, a group of local artists formed in late 2015, community organizers, and activists working together to start dialogue about race and identity, many of whom also work and live on Grandville Avenue. In 2016, the Collective participated in ArtPrize 8 with an installation at 912 Grandville that received the juried Installation Award from Deana Haggag, and shared the honor of Outstanding Venue.

“I would have liked to see from the very beginning artists like Reyna Garcia, Jose Torres, Nancy Quero, and Roli Mancera—all artists who understand the history of the church and of the Grandville Avenue community. All three years I would have liked to see that space belong to our community,” says Quintino-Aranda.

Intimate video installation from community members about the changes they are witnessing along Grandville Avenue. Courtesy of Cultura Collective.

This year, the exhibit highlighted artists from the community like Reyna Garcia, Nancy Quero, and Roli Mancera, as well as Noemi Gonzales. The work was possible thanks to Cultural Collective.

Cultura Collective approached the space with the goal of recording and remembering the communities, people and cultures that occupy and have occupied these transitioning spaces. Steffanie Rosalez, one of the members of the collective and program director for the Cook Arts Center explains, "crucial to the fabric of any neighborhood is how to honor and maintain elements — both cultural and historic — of who they are during major change."

Although the buildings on Rumsey Street will soon be demolished to make room for the new development, Quintino-Aranda hopes that in some way the memory of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church is remembered. “That as the space changes and serves a different purpose for the residents of the community, I would like others to remember the kind of sacred space this is.”

Quintino-Aranda prays the rosary inside St. Joseph Catholic Church.Today, Quintino-Aranda is engaged with the communities along Grandville Avenue as a social worker by doing home-visits with her clients and understanding the barriers and realities they face and teaching them to advocate for themselves and their families.

On The Ground GR

On The Ground GR is a Rapid Growth series. This series will highlight and celebrate the communities found touching along the Grandville Avenue of Grand Rapids.

Over the next few months, On The Ground GR journalists will be knocking on doors and getting to know the neighbors and community members. We will dive deeper into topics concerning this neighborhood's residents and stakeholders while celebrating the diversity and strength found in this area. We are on the ground listening and want to celebrate the community's unifying spirit of positivity and vibrancy.

You can follow On The Ground GR's work via Twitter (#OnTheGroundGR @rapidgrowthmedia), Facebook and Instagram. To connect with On The Ground GR's editor, Michelle Jokisch Polo (read more about Michelle here), you can email her at [email protected] and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

On The Ground GR is made possible by The Frey Foundation, The Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Steelcase Foundation organizations working to guarantee all communities thrive.

Photography by Dreams by Bella.

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