Detroit Free Press:
In a sweeping reorganization of Catholic parish life that will hit the suburbs as well as landmark churches in Detroit's urban core, the Archdiocese of Detroit unveiled tentative proposals Wednesday night to cluster, close and merge some four dozen parishes in the next five years.
Several Detroit-area Catholic landmark churches are threatened with closure in the next several years, based on recommendations made by a layperson's panel to Archbishop Allen Vigneron.
The proposals mean nearly one in five Catholic churches in the archdiocese could be shuttered in the coming years. And unlike a previous round of church closings, which shuttered some 30 Detroit churches in 1989, this time the pain will be felt in parishes throughout Detroit's older suburbs.
Six of seven pastors in Farmington and Farmington Hills, now served by seven parishes, wrote 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 panel recommended those parishes figure out how to do just that.
The tentative proposal would result in 48 fewer parishes for the archdiocese, which now has 270 parishes. Under the proposal, within five years, nine parishes are proposed to close. And over the next several years, another 60 parishes are proposed to be consolidated to 21.
Some parishes agree with the recommendations, and others are likely to vociferously fight them.
Among parishes that are threatened:
• St. Florian parish, with steeples that define the skyline of the once primarily Polish enclave of Hamtramck, could close if the current religious order of priests that pastors the church, the Society of Christ, leaves.
• In Detroit, the Church of the Madonna, the small parish where Father William Cunningham and Eleanor Josaitis launched the social services and civil rights agency Focus: HOPE, may be in danger. The council's recommendation was that Madonna, St. Gregory and Blessed Sacrament Cathedral and St. Benedict in Highland Park should merge to two sites, with one of the sites being Blessed Sacrament.
• The majestic church of Assumption Grotto, on Gratiot at McNichols, is also recommended to merge or close if the current pastor leaves for any reason.
• One of three churches that dominate the near-downtown Detroit skyline along I-75 -- Sweetest Heart of Mary, St. Josaphat and St. Joseph near Eastern Market -- should plan to close.
• The four parishes of Nativity, St. Charles, Good Shepherd and SS. Augustine-Monica, all in Detroit, could eventually merge into one and build a new "green" church along the East Jefferson corridor.
• St. Leo, which for years was the home base of pacifist preacher Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, may have to be sold, the panel said, and merged with St. Cecilia. The panel suggested keeping a building at St. Leo's and naming it after Gumbleton for neighborhood outreach.
• In Oakland County, St. Dennis in Royal Oak, St. Vincent Ferrer in Madison Heights, and St. Mary Magdalen and St. Justin, both in Hazel Park, should consider merging eventually as their pastors retire or move on. A similar directive goes to Our Lady of LaSalette in Berkley, Our Lady of Fatima in Oak Park and St. James in Ferndale.
• In western Wayne County, the panel recommended clustering or merging Our Lady of Grace and St. Sabina in Dearborn Heights, and St. Hilary with St. Robert Bellarmine in Redford Township. In Westland, Divine Savior, St. Theodore and St. Damian should plan to merge. St. Cunegunda in west Detroit should consider merging with St. Barbara and St. Alphonsus in Dearborn.
• In Macomb County, St. Veronica and St. Basil in Eastpointe are urged to merge and Holy Innocents and St. Barnabas in Roseville, now merging, should vacate one of the churches by 2016. St. Louis in Harrison Township and St. Hubert in Harrison Township should cluster.
The archdiocese did not issue a summary of which parishes are threatened. Finding out about a particular parish required going to the archdiocese's website and clicking on each parish listed to read the report. But the site was busy late Wednesday night.
The changes are needed, the archdiocese says, because of the dwindling number of priests, changing demographics and strapped finances. The archbishop said he will decide in February what plans to implement as he considers the panel's recommendations, as well as those made by individual parishes.
"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 said in a statement.
The Archdiocese of Detroit now has 293 priests working in 270 parishes. Its leaders say they expect to have one-third fewer priests in the next 10 years.
Detroit was one of the first archdioceses to close churches when then-Cardinal Edmund Szoka ordered some 30 parishes in Detroit to close in 1989.
In the last 10 years alone, about 40 parishes have closed or merged because of the priest shortage and changing demographics in Detroit and its inner-ring suburbs, reducing the number of parishes diocese-wide from 310 to 270.