150 years of St. Joseph: Shrine celebrates historic milestone on patron's feast day

Parishioners and clergy process with a statue and relic of St. Joseph during St. Joseph Shrine's annual St. Joseph Day of Prayer on Monday, March 20, from the parish on Jay Street in Detroit to Eastern Market. This year's celebration, which also featured a conference and Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke, marked the historic church's 150th anniversary. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Cardinal Raymond Burke celebrates Mass, delivers reflection on St. Joseph’s role as guardian of the Church during Detroit visit

DETROIT Hundreds gathered March 19-20 at St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood to celebrate the parish's patron and 150 years of faith on Jay Street.

The annual St. Joseph Day of Prayer — celebrated March 20 this year because the usual feast day, March 19, fell on a Lenten Sunday — featured a high Mass in the traditional Latin setting, an Italian dinner and procession with a statue of St. Joseph through Eastern Market.

The year's celebration also marks the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the historic church, which was completed in 1873.

On March 19, Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis and former prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, was the featured speaker during a "St. Joseph, Protector of the Church" conference at St. John's Resort in Plymouth. The following day, the cardinal celebrated Mass at the shrine.

Cardinal Burke has been an advocate of the traditional Latin Mass and has ordained more than 75 priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the religious community that's cared for St. Joseph Shrine since 2016, said Canon Jean-Baptiste Commins, ICKSP, rector of St. Joseph Shrine.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis and former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, participates in a procession with a statue of St. Joseph on March 20, the feast of St. Joseph, outside St. Joseph Shrine near Detroit's Eastern Market.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis and former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court, participates in a procession with a statue of St. Joseph on March 20, the feast of St. Joseph, outside St. Joseph Shrine near Detroit's Eastern Market.

“Cardinal Burke ordained me, Canon (Adrian) Sequeria, (vice-rector of St. Joseph Shrine) and over 75 priests of the institute,” Canon Commins told Detroit Catholic. “He is a good friend of Archbishop (Allen H.) Vigneron, who unfortunately couldn’t make it because of obligations in D.C.”

The presence of Cardinal Burke allowed for the celebration of a Pontifical High Mass — the first at St. Joseph Shrine in decades — before the congregation gathered for a procession across Gratiot Avenue and toward the sheds of Eastern Market, where the faithful venerated a second-class relic of St. Joseph.

The public procession has become a staple for the parish, founded in 1855 to serve Detroit’s German community on the lower east end, since the institute took charge of the church in 2016. In March 2020, Archbishop Vigneron designated the parish as an official archdiocesan shrine.

In conjunction with the historic milestone, the parish is in the midst of the second phase of its historic renewal campaign, following a first phase that included $1.9 million in stonework encompassing repairs to the steeple, outer walls and windows.

Cardinal Burke celebrates a Pontifical High Mass assisted by priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit on March 20. In addition to celebrating the 150th anniversary of the church's dedication, St. Joseph Shrine is in the midst of a historic renewal campaign that's so far included more than $1.9 million in stonework and will include upgrades to the church's HVAC and electrical systems.
Cardinal Burke celebrates a Pontifical High Mass assisted by priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit on March 20. In addition to celebrating the 150th anniversary of the church's dedication, St. Joseph Shrine is in the midst of a historic renewal campaign that's so far included more than $1.9 million in stonework and will include upgrades to the church's HVAC and electrical systems.

The second phase of the project will update the parish's heating and cooling systems and electrical work, some of which dates to the 19th century.

“It’s a big step forward in the restoration of our dear shrine,” Canon Commins said. “We just finished the stonework outside the church, and now we are going inside to the bones of the building, replacing the heating and cooling system and having new lighting to add a new level of brightness. We have the last two windows in the shops in Wisconsin that will be reinstalled this summer, so the outside envelope will be for the most part done.”

During the March 19 conference, Cardinal Burke expressed his gratitude and appreciation to St. Joseph's parishioners who have supported the historic renewal campaign.

“Yesterday, I had the pleasure to visit Archbishop Vigneron, who warmly welcomed me to the Archdiocese of Detroit and expressed his gratitude for this community and its commitment to the historic renewal of St. Joseph Shrine,” Cardinal Burke told an estimated crowd of 300 people. “I, too, would like to extend my appreciation for the community and its historic renewal efforts. I encourage you to continue the legacy and cooperation with divine providence, to lay up a treasure for future generations in glorifying God and laying the foundation for the salvation of souls.”

Cardinal Burke’s 49-minute lecture focused on St. Joseph’s dual role as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father and legal guardian of Jesus.

Canon Jean-Baptiste Commins, ICKSP, rector of St. Joseph Shrine, carries a relic of St. Joseph for veneration during a public procession through Detroit's Eastern Market.
Canon Jean-Baptiste Commins, ICKSP, rector of St. Joseph Shrine, carries a relic of St. Joseph for veneration during a public procession through Detroit's Eastern Market.

“St. Joseph in a unique manner has this secondary role of cooperation, next to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the work of our redemption by his virginal marriage to Mary and the virginal fatherhood of God the Son,” Cardinal Burke said. “He is a coworker with the Virgin Mary in the redemptive work of the Incarnation, as we are all called to be, although not in the unique way of St. Joseph.”

Mary and Joseph were legally man and wife when the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary, prompting her fiat in bringing God the Son into the world, Cardinal Burke said, meaning God uniquely chose Mary and Joseph, a married couple of the House of David, for this purpose.

Cardinal Burke stressed the importance of the Annunciation in Luke's Gospel as key to understanding St. Joseph’s role in salvation as a just, humble man willing to do the work of God, and the faithful's imitation of him.

“Our reflection of St. Joseph, protector of the Church, is not rooted in some sentimental or imaginative way of understanding our relationship with St. Joseph,” Cardinal Burke said. “Our reflection is the true marriage of St. Joseph to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the virginal paternity of Jesus.”

A procession with a relic and statue of St. Joseph continues over an overpass with the steeple of St. Joseph Shrine visible in the background.
A procession with a relic and statue of St. Joseph continues over an overpass with the steeple of St. Joseph Shrine visible in the background.

The next day, Cardinal Burke celebrated a Pontifical High Mass at St. Joseph Shrine, followed by a procession with a statue of St. Joseph and banners dedicated to the foster father of Jesus through Eastern Market.

“Processions in the course of history have always been a clear, beautiful sign of public acts of worship in our society and culture, especially at a time when God is so absent in the lives of many,” Canon Commins said. “People who see these processions see the people are reverent, they are singing hymns, there is all this attention geared to the statue of St. Joseph — everything speaks naturally to their souls. Even if you are completely foreign to Catholic theology, it is clear that something sacred is happening.”

The annual celebration of St. Joseph's feast day is the perfect time for the faithful to reflect on the great saint's virtues, Canon Commins said, specifically faith, courage, fortitude and a willingness to accept God’s plan for his family.

“St. Joseph serves as this great example of humility, being asked to be the foster father of our Lord. He is in the background. He doesn’t make noise. He remains humble, but still present. This calm is a sign of hope for us," Cannon Commins said. "Joseph didn’t understand what God was asking of him, but he remains humble and present in the life of the Lord — just as we can remain calm in the presence of Lord, even if we don’t know why or how God is calling us in our specific vocations.”

A statue of St. Joseph is displayed during veneration of a second-class relic at Detroit's Eastern Market on March 20.
A statue of St. Joseph is displayed during veneration of a second-class relic at Detroit's Eastern Market on March 20.

St. Joseph Shrine Historic Renewal

St. Joseph Shrine will host its annual parish gala Saturday, April 29, at St. Mary's Cultural Center in Livonia to raise money for its ongoing historic renewal campaign.

Tickets for the gala are available on the parish website, with this year’s gala featuring emcee Ken Kal, radio broadcaster for the Detroit Red Wings on AM 1270 “The Sports Station” and 97.1 FM “The Ticket,” as well as guest speaker Chuck Gaidica, a recent revert to the Catholic faith and narrator of the documentary “Detroit: The City of Churches.”



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