Monsignor Charles Kosanke’s 2016 appointment as pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish and the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit was, in many ways, a homecoming. Born and raised in northeast Detroit, Kosanke hadn’t lived or worked in his native city since attending his ministry assignments as a student at St. John’s Provincial Seminary.
After his ordination in 1985, Kosanke served for 31 years in parishes across metro Detroit before his career came full circle. When the Archdiocese of Detroit named him pastor for Detroit’s two most historic churches, Kosanke found himself back where it all began. His new posts — both in Corktown, just a mile apart — sit across town from St. Raymond’s Parish, the church Kosanke attended growing up.
Most Holy Trinity was founded in 1834. Ste. Anne was founded in 1701, making it not only the oldest parish in the city, but also the second oldest continuously operating parish in the U.S. The parish was led for 30 years by one of the most significant religious figures in Detroit’s history, Father Gabriel Richard, who is known for co-founding the University of Michigan.
“To follow that legacy imparts a sense of joy and privilege, but also one of responsibility that can, at times, be overwhelming,” Kosanke says. What reassures him in the face of that pressure is the knowledge that he doesn’t shoulder it alone. “I’ve learned to rely on God and on others, because as a leader, you inspire and encourage, but you never do it alone.”
As if St. Anne’s historical significance didn’t evoke reverence enough, the parish was recognized in March by Pope Francis as a minor basilica. The designation, which is bestowed upon just 1 percent of the world’s churches, denotes distinguishing architectural beauty, historical significance, and/or liturgical renown.
Kosanke was excited and humbled by the news, but the celebration wouldn’t last. He spent six days in the hospital after contracting COVID-19 that month. He recovered without incident, but he would have an even closer brush with death just a few months later.
In August, Kosanke was cruising the Detroit River aboard the boat of parishioner Robert Chiles when a turn into a strong wake caused the craft to flip. While most of its 14 passengers were ejected, Kosanke, Chiles, and fellow priest, Father Stephen Rooney, capsized with the boat. Kosanke was rescued, but Chiles and Rooney perished. Kosanke believes God had a hand in his survival. “It wasn’t my time,” he says.
When Kosanke looks back on 2020, he sees beyond these hardships. He thinks of the community center he opened with Most Holy Trinity parish last fall; how dental health is being added to the services offered by the church’s free medical clinic; and how a $1 million pledge will be used to revamp its school. Changes are also brewing at Ste. Anne’s, where Kosanke is working to raise $26 million for a complete restoration of the 135-year-old Gothic Revival building. “I’m fortunate to be leading two churches that not only have historical significance, but also are doing so many good things for others,” he says. “We’re a congregation of faith, but we’re also a caring community — no matter who you are or what your need, we’re there for you.”