Detroit may close, consolidate nearly 50 parishes

That’s according to recommendations presented to the bishop yesterday.


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.

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.

Read it all.

And you can read the recommendations at this link.

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27 responses to “Detroit may close, consolidate nearly 50 parishes”

  1. Wow Deacon G –
    I can’t believe you are reporting on such a non-issue like this when much more pressing concerns confront the sanctity of our church like holding hands during the Our Father.

  2. I stayed out of the “hand-holding” stream. It was incredibly boring but this one will keep my attention. Not only do I have family who are part of two parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit but when you consider how controversial the previous closing experience was for that archdiocese, this one should really be interesting!

  3. The diocese of Camden appears to have successfully merged 70 parishes from 124 parishes. (At least, that is how it looks on paper.) The parish merger process took about seven years.

  4. The closing of the Churches in Detroit is not the fault of the Diocese this time but the mass exodus of the tax paying population. Once the 1965 riots occurred, the people paying the bills moved out of the city to the suburbs. When Mayor Coleman took over, that was the end of the city. The city now has the same size population as it had in 1910 and there is no need for surplus churches.

    Detroit is a social and fiscal example of how to ruin an American city.

  5. I’m sure this is going to happen in NY sometime soon. We were all asked to fill out a survey on parish closings about a year ago. I offered one criterion: close the ugly modern churches. Shallow, yes, but it came from the heart.

  6. Unfortunately, the closings and mergers in the Archdiocese of Detroit will take place not only in the core city, but throughout the suburbs as well. There simply are not enough priests, and not enough practicing Catholics, to sustain the existing parishes.
    My husband was a part of the Together In Faith planning process, and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council accepted his group’s recommendations. After considering their resources, the recommendation is that our parish “cluster” with another, smaller parish in the same community.
    I regret that there seems to be no alternative to downsizing. It’s partly due to population shifts, the influx of Muslims in our Dearborn Heights community, and the drifting away of younger generations. I wish we could instead mount a successful evangelization campaign and bring more people to the faith. Archbishop Vigneron has, in fact, listed evangelization as one of his highest priorities, so perhaps in the future some of these boarded-up churches could reopen. We can pray.

  7. Not everyone agrees that modern churches are ugly. Older churches, and there are some beautiful ones, are sometimes in areas that have lost much of their Catholic population. My parents were married in a beautiful Catholic Church in Detroit, that served the Hungarian community, and that is now isolated. The area has been going downhill for well over 50 years.

  8. Admittedly, Dayton Ohio is no where near as big as Detroit Michigan — and obviously is not the see of an Archbishop (that is in nearby Cincinnati) but the employment base historically was very similar. In the early mid-1960’s, a wage-earner more than likely worked for General Motors (seven separate plants in that area); National Cash Register (over 20,000 folks on its assembly line at its peak); or the Federal Government (major facilities at the Veterans Administration Center, nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; the Defense Electronics Supply Center; and smaller facilities in both Springfield and Miamisburg.)

    Yes, over the years since then, private industries shrunk rapidly and thus parishes in residential areas were closed or merged. There were, however some fascinating and innovative approaches they used:

    The immediate downtown parishes of Saint Joseph, Emmanuel and Holy Trinity were made into non-territorial parishes and are now all thriving quite well. the downtown parish of Sacred Heart was first closed and then, a short time later, reopened by the archdiocese as the non-territorial parish for the Vietnamese; it is also thriving and attracts an interesting mixture of cultures on week-end liturgies.

    Besides, Holy Trinity has a famous celebrity who is a “son of the parish” and I have every reason to believe he supports the parish generously. Parishioners are careful to protect the privacy of — and their own loyal friendship to — Ramon Estevez (Martin Sheen).

  9. No idea of the details of the plan being cooked up for this. Ideally parishioners would make decisions given certain parameters from the archbishop. What do you suppose the reaction would be if parishes on the bubble were told that if they evangelized and had certain numbers of parishioners, had a plan for continuing evangelization, building maintenance, etc. they could keep a priest?

    Thirty tithing families could support a full-time priest and a small building. Of course, some of these churches have deferred maintenance for too long and simply cannot be maintained by small communities. These “closings” shouldn’t be as nearly controversial as they are. If only all sides would treat each other with respect and as adults.

  10. As a resident of the Detroit metro area, I think that this will be much more accepted than the 1989 closures. The Archbishop has asked for recommendations and input from the parishes themselves. He seems to have made a real effort to communicate since he came on board. The closures were accomplished by sudden fiat in 1989 and I think that caused a lot of the resistance and bitterness.

  11. Now that I’ve seen the list of planned mergers and closings (The Detroit News has a clear list), I see some difficulties.

    In the small suburb of Wyandotte, for instance, there have been five Catholic churches: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Stanislaus Kostka, both Polish churches, can merge successfully. But the other three– which may be merged into one in a two-step process– have very distinct personalities: St. Patrick’s is a large church which opened in 1857. St. Joseph’s, 140 years old, was established as a German parish. And St. Elizabeth’s, at least when I lived nearby, was home to a vibrant Catholic charismatic community.

    Divine Providence (Lithuanian) is down the street from my house, and will merge with St. Anthony (Lithuanian), some 20 miles away. St. Anthony will close.

    I sometimes attend Mass at a parish near my home which was formed by the union of three distinct parishes. Five years later I still see the growing pains, as the different congregations have, in my estimation, stopped short of fusing into a single Catholic community. Closures may be necessary, but they are always difficult and should be bathed in prayer.

  12. It’s always sad when they have to close churches. We have had a few closings around here, mostly country churches. They were pioneer era, a slice of history. Everyone can drive into town now. But it’s not easy for people to abandon the memories.
    Some of the large older churches such as you are speaking of in Detroit I’m sure are works of art. If they end up being demolished, hopefully some of the stained glass, and wood-work, and statues can be rescued and incorporated into the newer churches.
    Sometimes I listen to “Pipe Dreams” on NPR. One evening they featured an organization which rescues pipe organs from churches which are being closed and finds them a new home. It’s not quite such a sense of loss if bits of the past can live on in this way.

  13. Total Population of City of Detroit 837,711
    Total Black Population in City of Detroit 691,061 or 82%
    Total Black Catholic Population in City of Detroit 34,553 or 5%

    That is the real answer. Only 5% of the majority population goes to Catholic Church.

    Perhaps, instead of Catholic missions to Africa and Asia they should have a few in Detroit to recruit new Catholics.

    Source: 2009 The Department of Parish Life & Services / Pastoral Resources

  14. The first figure is a problem in itself: When I was growing up, there were more than a million people in Detroit. There is so much that is vacant now.

    The urban churches that have succeeded have specialized– offering Tridentine Masses, for example, or great classical music which draws Catholics from distant suburbs.

  15. I recently saw a comparison of Detroit in 1946 and one of Hiroshima in 1946 in the aftermath of an atomic bomb. Below this was a picture of Detroit now and one of Hiroshima now. That said about everything one needed to know about Detroit. Once a city on top of the world with the major car companies dominating the world. From that the city built up a ton of programs with the seemingly endless flow of funds. The unions drove benefits and salaraies and pensions up to levels which cannot be sustained in any competitive environment. At the same time, the unions protected ever increasing shoddy work. But it is not Detroit alone with these problems, it is many of the urban environments after the money fled, they were left with massive aging infrastructure. The Church would not be responsible to leve churches open in areas that are soon to be if not already major crime ridden eyesores. The post above on the population and makeup of that population shows that it would be almost impossible to sustain anything more than a missionary environment in these type of locations. These parishes in many cases were built on the backs of irish and german immigrants who came here to give everything they had to build a better America and who were willing to work very hard for very little to give to their children a better world. We have many problems in this country and finding solutions to the mess created in our urban centers is certainly one of them.

    Also, we have a protestant Church called Crossroads here which is a mega church and people come from miles around to their services. Retail small stores have closed across the country in favor of the super stores. Not sure why the Catholic Church believes it makes sense to keep all these small parishes anyway and the shortage of priests in some areas would also be better resolved if some folks travelled to consolidated parishes of larger size and with a more mixed group of parishoners.

  16. Mark:
    “Not sure why the Catholic Church believes it makes sense to keep all these small parishes anyway and the shortage of priests in some areas would also be better resolved if some folks travelled to consolidated parishes of larger size and with a more mixed group of parishoners”

    I thought I read that you were from Cincinnati? Doesn’t Immaculate Heart of Mary OR St. Maxmillian Kolbe qualify as “Mega-Churches”? I know that St. Peter’s Huber Heights and St. Christopher Vandalia meet that requirement. (BTW: Mega-Churches that are Roman Catholic are generally defined at 3,000 family units/ 10,000 headcount).

  17. The closings will be hard on those that live close to their church, as well as the older members.

  18. To show you the real decline in the Catholic church in Detroit, one has to look no further than Ste. Anne de Détroit, the second oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the United States. ‘Continued suburban flight pared the parish membership and the fleeing parishioners took commerce with them, seriously damaging the Ste. Anne neighborhood. Tts high school closed in 1959. In 1966 the historic church narrowly dodged the wrecking ball after a campaign raised $750,000 for repairs. A further blow to the church was the closing of the parish grade school in June 1971. The parish today has about 800 members. About seventy-five percent are Hispanic and the other twenty-five percent is largely blacks and whites. and some 40 percent of the residents live at the poverty level or below.’

    No new Catholics and a historic church in decline for decades.

  19. Parishes with a few folks at the masses are not viable. Simple facts of life. Maybe now that we are starting to see seminaries producing more orthodox trained priests and getting the liturgy corrected, we will see an influx on new and returning Catholics. Then Cardinal Ratzinger seemed to believe we would see the Church grow smaller, but those remaining would be solid orthodox believing Catholics and from that the Church would be revitalized and renewed.

    I was over at a convent this morning for a religious group that once dominated the midwest with hundreds if not thousands of nuns. Now they are down to less than 50 and all are over 65. They lost their mission, their vision, their habits, and focus. Why would anyone want to be part of this order of religious. They just built a new chapel a short time ago with donations and it is a picutre of dissent from Church teaching.

  20. But this is absolutely not the case with Assumption Grotto. While nearly everyone who belongs to this parish is a commuter from the ‘burbs, it is an extremly vibrant, active, and very productive parish when it comes to vocations (can the St. Suburbia parishes say that?). Grotto has very full Masses every weekend, and holy days of obligation are always very full. From an attendance and parish life perspective, Grotto makes no sense being on that list aside from some remaining debt. To close or merge this parish – which is extremely unique in the Detroit area (or in the country for that matter) would be devastating to the families who make the choice to drive outside their home areas to belong there. Grotto is a very Traditional parish. All Masses (TLM and NO) are said in Latin. Women cover their heads at Mass and adoration. We observe 40 hours devotion every year. We have weekly Benediction and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after every noon Mass. Every year for the Feast of the Assumption, thousands of pilgrims come to Grotto for the entirely liturgical based events (no feriswheels or elephant ears here). We have a large homeschool group…….I could go on and on!!!! NO WHERE else in the entire state of Michigan do you find this type of parish. It will be a travesty if we were to close or even cluster.

    And – I really have to wonder what purpose was served in releasing such “recommendations” publicly? It only stirs the pot and gets people upset. Now perhaps that was the intent to see who screamed loudest – but it sure is a very painful way to find out from people what really matters to them.

    We already know that there are many in the chancery of the AoD that despise anything traditional. Putting a parish like Grotto on the list, while shocking, is not surprising in the least. It is so very sad, nonetheless.

  21. From the Detroit News:

    “Retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who served as pastor of St. Leo Parish, decried the changes. ‘As a Catholic church, we’re almost moving outside the city, away from the city of Detroit when at one time we literally had hundreds of Catholic schools,’ he said.
    “‘The Catholic Church has a mission, and that mission should include the whole of Detroit,’ Gumbleton said.”

  22. Detroit is a dying city, its been lingering there for decades now. New Orleans has never really recovered from Katrina. The comparison of Hiroshima and Detroit given by another person above is very indicative. Looks at cities in Asia like Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and others, they are all booming, growing and have incredible urban landscape and new technology. Our cities are broke and our infrastructure fried. We are rather more like Rome in the fifth century than anything else. Yet the Church managed to survive the fall of Rome.

  23. Mark
    “. . . and it is a picutre of dissent from Church teaching.”

    This idea simply is inaccurate. Nothing in Roman Catholic Dogma or Christian Doctrine (those areas of universal teaching which require positive assent) says anything about art/architecture. There is no mandated architectural style, period.

    Yes, there are certain architectural styles that predominate in America but mostly for those congregations which were made up of European immigrants — and thus are also the facilities of the various parishes now being closed.

    Churches and chapels that were built after World War II — both in Europe and here in the US — generally do not follow those traditional styles. Nor do they have to.

    Ultimately, however, architecture of all newly designed/built Roman Catholic churches and chapels are approved by the local bishop/archbishop. I would bet that the local ordinary personally approved the design of that chapel you have problems with. Why not complain directly to him.

  24. The difference is that those people have a strong work ethic and don’t look to the government for cradle to grave benefits. Now that the tax base is gone, Detroit can no longer afford them.

    Our cities are broken due to the leadership. The infrastructure is broken because money that should have been used to fix it was diverted to people unwilling to work, learn, or produce.

  25. Way up in the front end of this stream, I talked about Dayton. Ohio. In the 1960’s, two major industries controlled the economy of that city. Both of those industries, together, had just slightly under 100,000 people on their assembly lines. Those were hard working highly skilled folks in every imaginable color and nationality and culture. They produced their products according to the specifications of their company and their companies produced them according to the demands of the consumer market.

    –General Motors truly collapsed. In the Dayton area alone, they went from seven factories in 1960 to none by 2010. Cultural historians will argue for decades who was at fault: some will certainly say that it was bone-headed engineers and marketing folks who failed to recognize that the market had drastically changed; others might point out that the power of the unions is what really broke General Motors.

    –National Cash Register was a totally different issue. Over 20k folks in one assembly complex making different models of one product — the mechanical cash register. When NCR wanted to move into electronic cash registers and point-of-sales equipment, they did not convert the mechanical line — they designed and built a totally different factory some 100 or so miles away — far too distant for their employees in Dayton to commute.

    Bad luck for that city to depend upon two big firms? Maybe, but the collapse of those two firms had nothing to do with the lack of training and motivation of the local labor pool in Dayton — and that may also be true for Detroit. Their collapse had far more to do with corporate greed. I suspect the same is true for Detroit only there one might add Ford and Chrysler to the mix as well.

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