November 13, 2018, Detroit, Michigan – In a nation too often fraught with division and violence, parishioners from two Detroit parishes and one suburban parish got together on Sunday, November 4, to share “sacred conversations” and begin the process of unity between African-American and Caucasian Catholics, city and suburban parishes.
In a “Reverse Mass Mob,” more than 50 parishioners of Detroit parishes St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and Christ the King took a bus to St. Mary of the Hills Parish in the suburb of Rochester Hills, Michigan, to attend Mass and begin “sacred conversations” about their personal experience of race and racism.
Jennifer Wilson, Director of Evangelization for St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven, summed up the purpose of the event during the bus ride to St. Mary’s Church. “Hopefully, you’ll change or at least touch a life today,” she told the parishioners on the bus. “That’s the goal. It’s all about unifying the city and suburbs.”
Jennifer served on a committee of parishioners who planned the event, spearheaded by Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, a community organizer with Gamaliel of Michigan. The committee was made up of members of the two parishes, including Rose Nabongo, Carolyn Nash, Ruth Remus, Ron Eady, and Ben Washburn. Also involved were members of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES), a community organizing nonprofit.
The Adrian Dominican Congregation supported the effort by paying for the bus, in light of the Congregation’s 2016 Chapter Enactment on Racism and Diversity, and through the leadership of Sister Cheryl. Other Adrian Dominican Sisters supported the event through their participation.
The spirit of unity in the face of racism permeated the morning and early afternoon. During Masses at both St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and St. Mary, Father Victor Clore preached on sacred conversations. The pastor of both St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and Christ the King, he framed the dialogue between Jesus and a scribe in the day’s Gospel as a sacred dialogue in which people share their truths and learn from one another.
Father Stanley Ulman, pastor of St. Mary, had prepared the suburban parishioners for the event in a letter in the parish bulletin. “I hope that our common worship will make us more aware of our urban brothers and sisters in the faith and help all of us to bridge the gap that exists within our Catholic faith community,” he wrote.
After Mass at St. Mary, city and suburban parishioners shared lunch and began the process of sacred conversation. Sister Cheryl explained the structures that have led to systemic racism. “The dominant narrative of fear, greed, and individualism” serves to divide people of different races and experiences, she said. “Our faith gives us the narrative of hope, abundance of goods, and community.”
Jennifer led the parishioners in their sacred conversations by sharing her own painful personal experience of racism. Participants were invited to do the same with the others at their tables – mixed groups of city and suburban parishioners.
“We have been engaged in sacred conversations in Detroit for three quarters of the year,” Jennifer said later. The Detroit parishes were challenged to take these discussions to the suburbs. “Everyone kept saying we need to cross 8 Mile [into the suburbs] if we are really going to get anywhere with this,” she explained. “On November 4, that is exactly what we did. … Discussions on race are uncomfortable, but if we do not have them the results are more than uncomfortable.”
The sacred conversations are only the start of an intentional effort by the parishioners to continue the process of honesty and unity. The brief session ended with a commitment by members of St. Mary Parish to travel to St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven Church to plan together for a similar effort next year.
Participants took the time days after the event to reflect on what the Reverse Mass Mob had meant to them.
“What surprised me the most was the discovery of folks who are part of St. Mary of the Hills’ parish who have themselves experienced racism because of their cultural background – Hispanic, Asian etc.,” said Sister Anneliese Sinnott, OP, of St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven Parish.
Ruth Remus, a parishioner of St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven and Christ the King Parishes in Detroit, found the Reverse Mass Mob to be “spiritually uplifting and an exciting time to be together in church.” The event “definitely began a conversation between city and suburban Catholic churches on racism,” she said.
Another urban parishioner, Darlene Brooks said she has been part of the sacred conversations since the beginning. “Our encounter with St. Mary of the Hills was indeed inspiring and gave me a reason to hope for the future,” she said, adding that the Reverse Mass Mob reminded her of the words to the song Love Train. “The words call on people all over the world to get on board,” she said.
Sister Grace Keane, OSF, Christian Service Coordinator for St. Mary of the Hills Parish, helped to organize the event. She was especially surprised by the size of the crowd and by the number of parishioners who were willing to serve on the committee. “The table conversation was varied, impactful, and left one determined to dig deep into enduring racial issues,” she said.
Denis Naeger, also of St. Mary of the Hills, noted that the attendance – at more than 60, twice the number expected – was a blessing. He added he is “looking forward to the reverse mob Mass experience in Detroit” next year.
DeJuan Bland, an organizer for MOSES said the event was a “refreshing first step for this group concentrated on being the hands and feet of Christ in a very necessary way.”
Feature photo: Jennifer Wilson, right, one of the organizers of the Reverse Mass Mob, boards the bus from her church, St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven in Detroit, with Sister Cheryl Liske, OP.
November 21, 2017, Detroit, Michigan – About 20 Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates were among 67,000 faithful who gathered November 18 at Ford Field in Detroit to witness a historic event: the beatification of Father Solanus Casey (1870-1957).
Born in Oak Park, Wisconsin, Bernard Casey joined the Franciscan branch of Friars Minor Capuchin at the age of 26 and was eventually ordained a priest – but not permitted to preach or to hear confessions. He served for years as the doorkeeper at St. Bonaventure’s Monastery in Detroit, and became known for his piety, compassion, love for the poor, and powers of healing. Now that he has been beatified, he needs one more miracle to qualify for canonization in the Catholic Church.
The beatification was a momentous event in Detroit – and for many Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates who have ties to that city.
“As I sat at the Beatification ceremony, I prayed that this amazing occasion would be a time of ongoing grace and inspiration for the people of greater Detroit,” said Sister Nancyann Turner, OP. For years, Sister Nancyann has ministered at Detroit’s Capuchin Soup Kitchen, founded by Blessed Solanus Casey in 1929. “I felt such a sense of unity among the thousands of people present at Ford Field – women and men honoring a very simple and generous, dedicated man.”
Sister Nancyann expressed her deep gratitude for the Capuchin soup kitchen’s ongoing mission to the people of Detroit, and for her own call to serve there, currently at the Rosa Parks Children and Youth Program. “It is a great grace to serve at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen,” she said. “I am blessed and challenged over and over."
She also hopes that the beatification of Blessed Solanus Casey will have a positive influence on the people of Detroit – and throughout the world. “I pray that more and more people can truly be about listening, healing, and blessing – as was Brother Solanus,” Sister Nancyann said. “It is the core of the Gospel.”
Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP, who lives and ministers in Detroit, said the ceremony had special meaning to her. “When I was very young, just beginning to walk, a problem with my hip was discovered. I had to have braces on my legs. My mother took me to Father Solanus at the monastery on Mt. Elliott, where he prayed over me, blessed me and said, ‘She is going to be alright.’”
Sister Suzanne said the Mass reconnected her to that experience. “I felt gratitude for my mother and for Father Solanus,” she said. “It was a blessing, too, to be among the many people who gathered.”
Sister Anneliese Sinnott, OP, long-time theology professor at Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, was impressed by the diversity of the ceremony, particularly in the choir, the cantors, the Scripture readings, and the prayers of the faithful – read in a variety of languages and reflective of the spirit of Solanus Casey.
“I also appreciated sitting with the Soup Kitchen folks because they were probably the most diverse in the stadium,” Sister Anneliese said. “I’m sure Solanus would be right up there with us.”
Both Sisters Jean Horger, OP, and Joan Baustian, OP, were impressed by the beatification. Sister Jean, who for years has ministered in parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit, was moved by the procession of relics. Paula Medina Zarate – whose 2012 miraculous cure of a skin disease brought about the approval of beatification for Solanus Casey – processed to the altar with a relic of Blessed Solanus. “The whole Mass was very well organized and so profound,” Sister Jean added.
Sister Joan, who also served in Detroit before retiring in Adrian, was moved by the “sheer number of people attending” the beatification, including young families. “My devotion to Father Solanus is largely because of his profound humility,” she said. “Detroit has a powerful intercessor.”
“I was gratified by the beatification of Father Solanus Casey,” said Sister Beverly Bobola, OP, archivist for the Congregation, who has had a special devotion to him for more than 40 years. Noting her gratitude for the Church’s recognition of Father Solanus Casey’s saintliness, she added that the historic event for Detroit places Blessed Solanus “in a place of renown for the whole world.”
Solanus Casey was the second man from the United States to be beatified this year. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City celebrated the September 23, 2017, beatification of Father Stanley Rother, a local priest who was killed while serving in Guatemala in 1981.
Right: Sister Virginia (Ginny) King, OP, left, and Arlene Bachanov, Associate.