There is not a lot of fan fare; no big announcements. But many Catholic parishes are slowly fading away. In my archdiocese, Sunday, November 25th, witnessed St. Dennis parish and school in Royal Oak (Michigan) close its doors. When the final mass was held at 3:00 PM, the church was sealed and shuttered and the archdiocese merged the parish with neighboring St. Vincent Ferrer in Madison Heights. Today, it seems that merger is a nice word as neither parish is destined to last very long.
Not far away from St. Dennis is Guardian Angels Parish. Guardian Angels has a grade school at present but with a declining enrollment of 298 students in 8 grades or an average of about 37 students per grade, the future is not looking all that bright. Guardian Angels along with St. Dennis were at one time feeder parishes for the Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights. Now, Bishop Foley with only 327 students in the entire high school is in much the same boat at Guardian Angels. How do you keep a school open with rising costs and a declining enrollment? Not easy.
Last Fall I attended one of the final masses at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Harper Woods. It was especially sad for me as I had attended grade school at Our Lady Queen of Peace. From Our Lady Queen of Peace, I enrolled in Notre Dame High School on Kelly Road in Harper Woods. Notre Dame lasted a lot longer than a lot of people expected, starting in 1954, but finally closing its doors in June of 2007 with an enrollment of 298 students.
It seems like just yesterday that I remember our Cardinal announcing that St. John Berchmans and St. Juliana Parish in Detroit would close. Yesterday, I am not so sure. I think it was in June of 2004. I guess we have gotten used to parish closings. It seems like a way of life. We hear all the standards reasons: no religious orders to staff the schools, no priests, heavily in debt to the diocese, no parishioners, etc. But down deep, we know that our Catholic history in metropolitan Detroit is fading away.
My father and his father before him sacrificed time and money to build and support these great churches and schools. My father was proud of the number of plaques displaying his name that were in Catholic churches in Detroit. He supported St. Ambrose Church in Grosse Pointe Park, moved to St. Raymond Parish in Detroit and then to St. Peters in Harper Woods. Each time he moved, the church seemed to have a “building drive” and each time he gave as much as he could to see either an addition to the church or an addition to the school be built with his donated money. But now my fate is to see these same great churches close and slowly disappear.
It is sad as the reality of the situation is that no new churches are scheduled to be built to replace them. At least, I am not aware of any plans. Sad too as I see the congregations graying and funerals now seem to outnumber the weddings and baptisms. When will it ever change? I am not sure what the future holds but I do not look forward to the day that our local parish will close. We have one priest who says three masses every weekend. I pray that he stays healthy. I also pray that something will change the course that seems destined for the Catholic Church today. I always think of a mission church as existing in Zimbabwe not Sterling Heights, Michigan.