The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit made known the proposals of a lay committee to shutter at least 48 parishes in the metropolitan region. Neither the urban core of Detroit or outlying suburbs are spared by the recommendation unveiled on November 30 that would touch upon four dozen parishes within the next five years. Landmark churches, some of which were built by the various immigrant communities that were attracted to the Motor City’s once-thriving automobile industry, are also in the mix. Among them are the parish of St. Florian – a mainstay of Detroit’s Polish-American community that is staffed by Polish priests and has a Polish school. The church of St. Florian is more than 100 years old.

The lay person panel, making the recommendations, reported to Archbishop Allen Vigneron. The archdiocese has closed down at least 30 churches in Detroit since 1939 but will now hit suburbs such as Hamtramck and Farmington Hills. Seven pastors of suburban parishes in Farmington Hills noted in the report that "if three of the seven parishes were to close within the next 10 years, we would have more than enough parishes to accommodate the present and future Catholic population." 

The proposal would reduce the number of parishes in archdiocese, which now number 270. The proposal recommends shuttering nine parishes within the next five years. Then, another  60 parishes are proposed to be consolidated to 21 over the following years. The recommendations will certainly generate plenty of debate among Detroit’s Catholics, who are now facing the sort of drastic cuts and vociferous protests already endured by the Archdiocese of Boston in Massachusetts.

Here is a list of the threatened parishes:

• St. Florian parish, with steeples that define the skyline of the once primarily Polish enclave of Hamtramck, could close if the Polish order of priests serving the parish should leave.

• Detroit’s Church of the Madonna, where the social services and civil rights agency Focus: HOPE was founded, would be merged. Madonna, St. Gregory and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral and St. Benedict in Highland Park will merge into two parishes.  The Italian parishes of San Francesco and Holy Family will merge.

• Detroit’s beautiful  Assumption Grotto  is slated for closing.

•  Sweetest Heart of Mary, St. Josaphat and St. Joseph would be closed. These form a significant part of the Detroit skyline.

• Nativity, St. Charles, Good Shepherd and SS. Augustine-Monica parishes of Detroit would fold into one.

• St. Leo’s, once the home of anti-war Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, will be sold and merged into St. Cecilia’s. The committee suggested retaining a building at the current site and naming for the once controversial cleric.

• St. Dennis , St. Vincent Ferrer , St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Justin of Oakland County would merge. The recommendations also calls for the merger of Our Lady of LaSalette, Our Lady of Fatima St. James.

• In Wayne County, Our Lady of Grace and St. Sabina would be merged. While St. Hilary would merge with St. Robert Bellarmine. In addition, Divine Savior, St. Theodore and St. Damian would merge. St. Cunegunda of Detroit  would merge with St. Barbara and St. Alphonsus in Wayne County.

• In Macomb County, St. Veronica and St. Basil would merge and Holy Innocents and St. Barnabas in Roseville, now merging, would vacate one of the locations by 2016. St. Louis and St. Hubert would “cluster.”

"The recommendations are not in themselves the final plans for the future of the Archdiocese of Detroit, although they are serious and well-researched proposals," the archdiocese stated. It currently administers 293 priests working in 270 parishes. The diocese expects to have one-third fewer priests in the next 10 years.

The Detroit archdiocese already has a history of parish closings. Cardinal Edmund Szoka ordered some 30 parishes in Detroit to close in 1989. In addition, about 40 parishes have closed or merged over the last ten years. Detroit first experienced out-migration following the riots of the 1960s, while the economic downturn hastened the departure of Michiganders to more friendly climes. The changing demographics of Detroit and environs brought about a reduction in the number of Catholic parishes from 310 to the current 270.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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