Detroit archdiocese grapples with declining numbers
BY RACHEL ZYNEL
OU News Bureau
It’s Sunday afternoon, and Monsignor Mike’s weekend is just beginning.
He’s already said multiple masses at multiple churches. He’s fellowshipped with his parishioners. Depending on the week, he might have presided over a baptism or two.
Monsignor Mike Bugarin is the pastor at St. Joan of Arc and administrator for St. Isaac Jogues, both in St. Clair Shores. He also is the vicar for the SERF Vicariate, a regional jurisdiction used by the Catholic Church.
“I’ve been helping out at St. Isaac’s for two months,” Bugarin said, explaining the parish is without a regular priest. “I’ve got 3,800 families here and 2,000 at St. Isaac’s, but it all works out. Everyone is willing to help where help is needed.”
With the priesthood’s declining numbers, Bugarin, like many, has had a full plate. According to the Archdiocese of Detroit, there were more than 400 priests serving metro Detroit in 2000. These numbers have steadily fallen to 281 — and are projected to keep dropping.
“The hardest part is people’s expectations,” Bugarin said. “They’re used to having four or five priests on staff at a parish. I think we’ve all had to learn in a positive way how to delegate.”
This shortage of priests, along with declining number of parishioners and a demographic shift in population, led Allen Vigneron, archbishop of Detroit, to reassess the status of many parishes.
Vigneron announced in mid-February his plans for the vicariate, which spans six counties. This plan, which will affect 270 parishes, included the closing of at least two and the merger or clustering of others. By the end of the year, 214 parishes will submit their plans for realignment.
A cluster parish is one in which one pastor is assigned to multiple campuses. Each campus has its own finance system and parish council. In a merged parish, multiple parishes join into one, sharing finances, councils and location.
“Our work in the months ahead will determine how this alignment of parishes will support progress on the seven mission priorities,” Vigneron announced.
These seven criteria help decide whether to keep a church open. The diocese evaluates a parish’s Christian service, education, worship and stewardship commissions, vocations and evangelization committees, and considers the sacramental life of the parish.
Vigneron’s plan is a process involving 1,500 lay volunteers. According to Bugarin, this process benefits the people of the church because it’s from the parishioners and represents them.
“A real big benefit is the amount of people talking with one another … working together to make stronger parishes,” he said. “What most people have to realize is that these decisions don’t just come from the archbishop as a top down type thing — they really were all grassroots. We spent the last year and half talking about plans. And he was basically approving or modifying the plans we submitted to him.”
Up for sale
Our Lady Queen of Peace in Harper Woods is one of the parishes scheduled to close. The property will go on sale in July. Father William Herman said he would keep celebrating mass there until the property sells.
His parish operates under what he calls a “skeleton” crew, with no full-time employees other than himself. Priests aren’t the only ones double-booked — employees are part time or shared between multiple parishes.
Herman described the archdiocese of Detroit as having core parishes in Detroit; first ring parishes in such adjacent cities as Harper Woods and Grosse Pointe; and second ring parishes in such suburbs as Shelby Township and Rochester.
Detroit’s once-brimming Catholic population filled the core parishes, Herman explained. As people moved out to the first ring and then second rings, it depleted the core.
In 1960, there were about 1.3 million Catholics just in the core. Today, there are roughly 89,000 practicing Catholics in the city, with an additional 7,000 commuting to Detroit. Overall, the archdiocese reports 1.4 million Catholics, a 6 percent decrease from 2000.
“The archbishop doesn’t close churches,” Herman said. “The people do when they stop going to the parishes, stop supporting them. It cannot function.”
“It’s the socio-economic reality of closing our churches,” he continued. “We are trying to help the churches survive as best we can by clustering, collaboration. It’s not abandonment without a plan or goal. I don’t give up; I work for Jesus. The first purpose of the church is to worship, that’s number one.”
Since 2000, more than 60 churches have closed or merged in Metro Detroit. Still, Bugarin said he is optimistic.
“If this process gets us closer to God, which I believe it will, and gives people a better experience of faith, talk about giving it an Oscar,” he said.
For a slideshow of St. Joan of Arc in St. Clair Shores and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Harper Woods, please click here.
Short URL: http://www.ounewsbureau.com/?p=2048