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Cover Story


St. Francis Club

Standing under the newly dedicated picture of St Francis, Gene Merkert, president of the St. Francis Club, serves his fellow members. (As captioned in the 1950 Tower yearbook)

The Saint Francis Club, a home away from home

The Saint Francis Club, founded in 1940, once began as a small fraternal grouping of out-of-towners looking for a place to get a good meal and put up their feet. As it turned out, it ended up being many University of Detroit students’ home away from home. The nearly six decades in which this fraternal organization existed (1940-1985) brought many changes. Having once begun in the basement of what was then the Hathaway House, the Saint Francis Club ultimately occupied a space opposite the U of D Science Building on Livernois Avenue. Although the final Club site later became the location for the former Polymer Institute, the area will be remembered by many as The Saint Francis Club.

The Club’s main purpose was to give students a place to get a good, home-cooked meal. It was also a place to find fellowship and to socialize—from hosting events to playing games. And last, but certainly not least, it was a place to learn the value of community participation and hard work within a cooperative, ultimately making the members’ weekly “board fee” extremely low-priced.

According to Joe Saline ’63, a former member now residing in California, the Saint Francis Club members had to be engaged in “helping with the cooking and the cleaning.” This shouldn’t have been too difficult, as “everyone participated” in the work. Saline also fondly recounted his experience of the kind women who cooked for the Club as “wonderful people” and that the Club gave one “the family feeling”—easier to come by when everyone has a job to do— just like at home.

Events hosted by the Saint Francis Club, such as their annual St. Patrick’s Day “Tug-of-War,” where a mock “battle” told of a rich history between the Irish and German factions of the Club, made weekends quite lively. The Club also sponsored homecoming events with parades and floats and socializing was at a premium. The Saint Francis Club closed its doors due to lack of funds for the upkeep of the building. Nevertheless, the tradition carries on in many respects. A number of loosely knit groups of Saint Francis Club members exist as well. On May 11, Saline is traveling back to Michigan, not only to celebrate the class of 1963’s 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee, but also to meet with some Saint Francis Club members the evening prior to enjoy a night of camaraderie that most likely won’t be forgotten.