FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

www.franciscan.org

December 21, 2017

‘A tiny gesture of hope’

Friars are welcomed by a neighborhood that needs them

BY TONI CASHNELLI

PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLIAbove, Alex, Maynard and Louie at one of the friary signs; top, the next street over.There are four signs on the building announcing the presence of friars.

“One thing I learned working in evangelization,” says Alex Kratz, “is to let people know where you are.”  So every few yards, there’s a sign marking the site of the newest Franciscan friary in Detroit: St. Moses the Black. The last time anyone lived in this former rectory on Oakman Boulevard was 20 years ago. Since October it’s been home to Alex and fellow SJB friars Louie Zant and Maynard Tetreault.

In a city rebounding from its past, the friars are part of a neighborhood that’s been left behind. Next door is a food pantry that sees brisk traffic. On the street in back, eight houses are boarded up or so structurally unsound they’re caving inward. With windows broken or shuttered, nearby factories are lifeless and desolate.

A few blocks away is another sign, this one marking the boundary of Highland Park. It not only has the highest crime rate in Detroit – 46 crimes per 1,000 residents – but one of the highest in America. Here, your chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime is one in 22.  If poverty has a Ground Zero, this is the place.

For Maynard, Alex and Louie, the natural question is, “Why here?” And just as important, “Why now?”

Abandonment

The “now” part seems like divine providence. “This is the 50th anniversary of the riots in Detroit,” says Maynard, referring to a tsunami of violence that Top, stained glass at St. Moses the Black;  above, its patron saint swept the city in 1967, leaving 43 people dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed. For Alex, race and inequity converged in recent, deadly confrontations between African-Americans and police officers. “All of this came crashing into my prayers,” he says.

In March he suggested the friars expand their Detroit-area presence into an underserved neighborhood that was predominantly black. “I’ve been here [in Detroit] since 1999,” serving as Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese for eight of those years. “Whenever I drive, I take the highway. I bypass miles and miles of this,” he says, waving an inclusive hand. “I felt a bit conflicted that I kind of avoided this whole area,” including the adjacent city of Highland Park, “which is even poorer than Detroit.”

A quote from a class at St. Bonaventure – “Faith must have social consequences” – nudged Alex forward. “My studies kept echoing in my head,” he says. “Social location is part of our Franciscan charism. When we’re in a location where the poor are, it changes your witness.”

Mark Soehner, former pastor of St. Aloysius in Detroit, knew the area well. During his time as Director of Postulants, “He also worked in this cluster and taught RCIA,” Alex says. “We talked a lot in general” about problems and  A room refurbished for worship in the former rectory possibilities. “We say Detroit has suffered ‘demolition by neglect’. We only have a few Catholic parishes in the city. There’s a feeling of abandonment among Catholics in Detroit. Institutionally, the Church has pulled out.”

Spirit at work

A pastoral letter called “Unleash the Gospel,” released in June by Archbishop Allen Vigneron, was a call to evangelization. “His plan is to have the religious evangelize the city,” Alex says. At St. Moses the Black, “I’d say we’re on the cutting edge of evangelization.” As friars, “It’s right down our alley.”

After the Provincial Council endorsed his plan, “It took some looking and searching” to find the right place. “If I was going to invite friars in, I didn’t want to be in a structurally dangerous building with a slumlord.” That eliminated a number of prospects. Finally, “The Holy Spirit guided me to this,”  Top, Louie at the food pantry; above, pantry helper Ron Nunn with Pauline Ford and Damita Brooks a rectory attached to St. Moses the Black Church.

The pastor, J.J. Mech, also serves as rector of the nearby Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary. His associate in all three locations, Patrick Gonyeau, is also Central Regional Coordinator of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Detroit. The very busy Patrick speaks for the community when he says, “There’s such an excitement about the Franciscans being here.”

Indeed, “People have been very welcoming,” says Louie, a regular at morning Mass.

“The parish is older, but there are kids in catechism class,” according to Maynard. “There’s always hospitality after Mass. They have a lively liturgy and a great choir.” Now, “All they need is people.”

For Detroit-born Maynard, this was a homecoming. “Our parish [Visitation] was a mile from here. These were my old haunts.” He remembers Oakman Boulevard as “a nice, middle-class neighborhood,” more upscale than his own.

This summer his ministry in Galveston, Texas, ended when the province returned Holy Family Parish to the diocese. “This [Detroit proposal] didn’t really come about until April. I heard about the potential of this place. I think our presence among marginated people is important. I think it is a tiny gesture of hope.”

Cleaning up

 Top, a neighbor stops by; center, the metal door that rolled shut for safety; above, Alex with helpers at the food pantry clothing outlet Formed by the merger of three parishes, St. Moses the Black spans most of a block on the boulevard. It’s a fortress of a building, with arched doorways and a vaulted atrium that serves as a vestibule and meeting space. Near the main door is an imposing painting of the church’s patron saint, the 4th-century slave who gave up a life of banditry to become a desert monk and an apostle for nonviolence.

Up the steps and off to the right is the friary, which until recently served as the hub and storage facility for St. Moses the Black Food Pantry. Now the pantry is housed in the former school next door, where Louie is a volunteer.

He visited the future friary after returning from missionary service in Jamaica. “I was just interested in going someplace where I could be useful,” he says, like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. “Alex asked me if I might be interested in coming to Detroit, interacting with people in neighborhood projects.” Louie recalls his first visit.

To enter the building, “We came through a rolling metal door” that blocked homeless people from sleeping on the steps, turning the rectory into a bunker. Inside, “There were boxes all around. The first floor was used as storage” for the parish food pantry. “It needed some cleaning up,” he says. Despite the clutter, “We saw the possibilities” in the 92-year-old rectory.

“This place hadn’t been lived in in 20 years,” says Maynard, whose eagle eye as Provincial Building Coordinator does not miss much. “When we did the walk-through and saw plaster coming down, we knew it needed some care.” The parish fixed the plumbing and replaced the roof. Electrical work is an ongoing project. Most of the 17 doors would not close, a typical issue as old buildings settle. All of them needed sanding and/or lock repairs.

Looking, listening

By the time he moved here Oct. 2, Louie says, “Things were very liveable.” The furnishings, most donated, have the plain but serviceable look of bygone friaries. The addition of Internet was a must, but TV screens are absent by design.

Morning Mass at St. Moses the BlackSlowly but surely, Maynard and Local Minister Louie have whittled the to-do list to a manageable size. Now they’re assessing the needs of their neighbors and quietly making their presence known.

Around here, “People carry a lot of burdens,” Alex says. “Some of them live on their own.  One of the things I’ve been thinking of doing is asking people waiting at the food pantry if they’d like to be prayed with.”

As for Maynard, “I’m not putting out my shingle” for sacramental ministry just yet. His goal for this first year, he says, is “to listen”, learn what people need “and what the bishop wants.”

Alex came into this juggling another project, the restoration of St. Joseph  Across Oakman Boulevard: The friary is to the right Chapel and the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pontiac. It’s also the home of Terra Sancta Pilgrimages, which he co-founded and leads.

At St. Moses the Black, “I think being visible and being in the neighborhood is important,” he says. One day at 6 a.m., “I was praying the rosary on the sidewalk” while wearing his habit. “A young guy was catching a bus for his job at a potato chip factory. He did a double take and said, ‘You’re medieval’. I explained to him what friars are about.”

Maynard is encouraged by what he’s seen. “I was happy to hear about us going into the city. A lot of people are working on a comeback for Detroit,” including a mayor [Mike Duggan] “who has promised to do more for neighborhoods. There are many hopeful signs.”

Four of those signs, lettered in brown, are attached to this building.

NRVC colleagues sent condolences on the death of Don Miller, who served their national board from 2013-2017.The letter from Dominican Sr. Patricia Twohill was typical of the outpouring of sympathy following the death of Don Miller on Dec. 12. “Father Don’s legacy will live far into the future, since he was so instrumental in sharing his knowledge and experience to promote vocations,” she wrote from Columbus in a letter to the friars of SJB Province. “He touched the lives of many men and women who were discerning God’s call for them….”

Carmelite Sisters at St. Margaret Hall and Glenmary Missioners are among a number offering Masses in Don’s memory. Many who knew Don from his work with the National Religious Vocation Conference shared similar stories of his impact on their work and their lives:

Paul Schloemer, OFM Conv, San Antonio: “Don was always an amazing help to me in my own vocation ministry. I wish I could be there to grieve with you.”

Sr. Michele Vincent Fisher, CSFN, Des Plaines, Ill.: “I served on the NRVC Board with Don since 2013. He was a true treasure and will be greatly missed.”

Sr. Sharon Dillon, SSJ-TOSF, Executive Director, National Religious Vocation Conference, Chicago: “Although words can never adequately express my sympathy to you and your congregation on the recent death of Fr. Don Miller, OFM, please know that our members, staff, and board of the National Religious Vocation Conference continue to hold you close in prayer.”

Br. David Henley, Glenmary Home Missioners, Cincinnati: “I wanted to let you know Fr. Don and your community are in our prayers in the Glenmary Chapel. I have fond memories of Don at many vocation events.”

Br. Ronald Hingle, National Religious Vocation Conference Board, Baton Rouge:  “We, like all of you, are deeply moved by Don’s passing, but feel we certainly have an intercessor for our vocations causes – and others – in heaven.  We will miss his warm smile, his candor, his insight, and his sense of humor. Please know that a donation to our Misericordia Fund, which assists needy communities in participating in NRVC activities, will be made in Don’s honor.  We will miss him greatly!”

  • Principal Halsey Mabry (The Grinch) accepts a check for a school playground.Students at St. Francis Seraph School will benefit from an oversized gift delivered last week by a team from JACK Casino in Cincinnati. At the school’s Christmas program a check for $10,000 was presented to help build a playground for the elementary school in Over-the-Rhine. Beneath his Grinch mask, Principal Halsey Mabry was smiling from ear to ear.
  • Viewing parties are planned around the country to coincide with the national broadcast of the film The Sultan and the Saint on PBS television stations. It’s scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, Dec. 26 (check local listings). The Catholic Center at St. Monica-St. George in Cincinnati will host two showings of the film, one at 7 p.m. Jan. 6, another at 12 noon on Jan. 14. For more information visit sultanandthesaintfilm.com; follow the Cincinnati Facebook link.
  • Roger Bacon students were quizzed on their musical knowledge.The end of exams seemed like the perfect time for a round of Christmas Stocking Stumpers (holiday music edition) with students and faculty at Roger Bacon High School. Play along in this video at vimeo.com and be prepared to answer questions such as,  “What was given on the Ninth Day of Christmas?” Friar Mark Hudak knew the answer!
  • Friar Tim Sucher invites you to A Franciscan Christmas Open House, 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday, Dec. 29, at Christian Moerlein Event Center, 1631 Moore St. in Over-the-Rhine. It features hors d’oeuvres, desserts, a cash bar and beer on tap. Based on recent traffic, the annual Christmas display is becoming a local tradition, says organizer Tim. This year, “We sent out a note to all the parishes in Hamilton County,” and many of them reprinted the note in their church bulletin. “The flow of people has been pretty constant.” Open through Jan. 1, the display features nativities from around the world, model trains, a Dickens Christmas village, a Santa Claus display, and lots and lots of decorated Christmas trees. Read more at: stanthony.org
  • One you’ll want to share: Murray Bodo relates the story of St. Francis and Christmas in Greccio in this moving video from Franciscan Media on facebook.
  • Michelle Viacava during her pilgrimage; right, the SJB memento she left at the foot of the larger cross.Province Nurse Michelle Viacava shared these photos from her pilgrimage in Spain as she walked toward Santiago to see the tomb of St. James the Apostle. “Walking the El Camino along St. Francis Way was a time I will never forget and always treasure,” she says. “It was renewing and a time of great reflection for me. God was ever present in the beautiful nature and peace felt throughout the walk. I met people from all over the world who were there” to find themselves and reflect on life. Michelle left a small cross (see photo) at the base of the large cross where she is seated. She shares it as a Christmas greeting with a wish for healthy and safe holiday travels.
  • Last Sunday was crunch time at Transfiguration Parish in Southfield, Mich., as youngsters practiced - sort of - for their Christmas Eve pageant. Somehow, it will all come together!

“God became human – for our love.”“O, holy night!  The stars are brightly shining…”  It’s so easy for me, and I think others, too, to forget in the day to day just how loved we are by God.  I don’t just mean “love” the way that I was supposed to love my sister (sorry Carol or Catherine!), but God loves us in a crazy way.  Maybe the best glimpse we get is that of two young lovers.  But even that doesn’t compare to the strength, the passion, the vulnerability of God.

This holy night, we’re invited to re-involve our senses, our hearts, our will.  Francis wanted us to get right in the middle of things with the Holy Family.  That’s why he set it up in Greccio so that we might smell the straw with animal urine, marvel at the Shepherds who have to bring their work with them, get close to Mary, worn out by the journey, covered with sweat, near collapsed after birthing a baby. St. Francis Seraph in Cincinnati has such a live Nativity scene in one of the courtyards, if you’d like a more physical place to be involved in this meditation.

Let’s look down into that crib, and see the bands wound around this helpless baby.  Max Lucado says, “He went from holding stars to clutching Mary’s little finger”.  Here, God became human – for our love.  What a crazy, passionate love.  That when he appeared – our soul felt its worth!  We are the ones for whom God went to any lengths to win our love.   Only love can change us.

Tonight, look down into a crib or up on a cross and get caught off guard all over again by God’s self-giving.  If you do, you’ll want to give away what you’ve been given.  You’ll look out for refugees and immigrants that look familiarly like the Holy Family.  You’ll notice the brother that gets overlooked.  You could get drawn to a nearby soup kitchen or volunteer for Jamaica or Detroit.  Who knows?

Merry Christmas!

— Fr.  Mark Soehner, OFM

 

Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

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FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

The “now” part seems like divine providence. “This is the 50th anniversary of the riots in Detroit,” says Maynard, referring to a tsunami of violence that Top, stained glass at St. Moses the Black;  above, its patron saint swept the city in 1967, leaving 43 people dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed. For Alex, race and inequity converged in recent, deadly confrontations between African-Americans and police officers. “All of this came crashing into my prayers,” he says.

NRVC colleagues sent condolences on the death of Don Miller, who served their national board from 2013-2017.The letter from Dominican Sr. Patricia Twohill was typical of the outpouring of sympathy following the death of Don Miller on Dec. 12. “Father Don’s legacy will live far into the future, since he was so instrumental in sharing his knowledge and experience to promote vocations,” she wrote from Columbus in a letter to the friars of SJB Province. “He touched the lives of many men and women who were discerning God’s call for them….”

Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

The “now” part seems like divine providence. “This is the 50th anniversary of the riots in Detroit,” says Maynard, referring to a tsunami of violence that Top, stained glass at St. Moses the Black;  above, its patron saint swept the city in 1967, leaving 43 people dead and 2,000 buildings destroyed. For Alex, race and inequity converged in recent, deadly confrontations between African-Americans and police officers. “All of this came crashing into my prayers,” he says.

FRANCISCAN FRIARS
Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist