Black and Indian Mission Office funds crucial repairs to Detroit parish, school

Thanks to a $45,000 grant from the U.S. bishops' Black and Indian Mission Office, which is supported by the Archdiocese of Detroit's Catholic Services Appeal, St. Charles Lwanga Parish in Detroit will be able to make much-needed repairs to its boiler, which has been unable to consistently heat the 102-year-old church building through the cold winter months. The grant will also support roof repairs at Christ the King Catholic School in northwest Detroit. (Archdiocese of Detroit file photo)

St. Charles Lwanga and Christ the King School in Detroit will receive a combined total of $45,000 for building repairs

DETROIT — As moderator of the Detroit-based Trinity Vicariate Family of Parishes 2, Fr. Marko Djonovic oversees a thriving community of parishes.

The five parishes — Christ the King, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Moses the Black, St. Peter Claver and St. Suzanne/Our Lady Gate of Heaven — flourish and impact their neighborhoods, thanks to robust ministries and social outreach.

However, with limited resources going toward the people and communities they serve, the buildings themselves often fall into disrepair.

After consulting with the other priests in his family, Fr. Djonovic, who primarily serves at St. Moses the Black, realized something needed to be done to maintain the parishes' buildings, some of which are more than a century old.

With the help of Vickie Figueroa, associate director of cultural ministries and coordinator of Black Catholic ministry for the Archdiocese of Detroit, the family of parishes recently obtained a building grant from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Black and Indian Mission Office for a total of $45,000 to help maintain facilities. Of the total, $30,000 will go to St. Charles Lwanga, which desperately needs boiler repairs, while $15,000 will help Christ the King Catholic School fix a leaking roof.

Fr. Marko Djonovic, moderator of the Trinity Vicariate Family of Parishes 2, said parishes like St. Charles Lwanga and Christ the King provide a critical lifeline to the sacraments and Catholic education for their underserved Detroit communities. (Archdiocese of Detroit file photo)
Fr. Marko Djonovic, moderator of the Trinity Vicariate Family of Parishes 2, said parishes like St. Charles Lwanga and Christ the King provide a critical lifeline to the sacraments and Catholic education for their underserved Detroit communities. (Archdiocese of Detroit file photo)

As the cold has set in over the winter months, Fr. Djonovic said St. Charles Lwanga has struggled to host Sunday Mass consistently, with parishioners often attending other parishes in the family due to a faulty boiler at the 102-year-old church.

After learning of the need, Figueroa filed an application with the Black and Indian Mission Office shortly before Christmas, and learned of the grant's approval Jan. 23.

The office, led by executive director Fr. Henry Sands, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, funds Black Catholic ministry efforts across the nation, Figueroa explained, and sometimes can fill emergency or special requests. The office is funded by the U.S. bishops' Black and Indian Mission Collection, which is supported by the Archdiocese of Detroit's annual Catholic Services Appeal.

“The purpose of the Black and Indian Mission Fund is to evangelize in Black and Native American communities,” Figueroa said, adding the fund prioritizes schools and churches to maintain access to the sacraments and Catholic education in underserved communities.

Figueroa said the grant, supported by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, allows St. Charles Lwanga and Christ the King to continue their important service in the city of Detroit. The repairs should begin within the next few weeks, she said.

Two women pray inside St. Charles Lwanga Parish in this 2019 file photo. The historic parish offers critical services in its community, including a partnership with Ceciliaville, a nonprofit providing community programs and services, as well as an outlet to play basketball for Detroit youths.
Two women pray inside St. Charles Lwanga Parish in this 2019 file photo. The historic parish offers critical services in its community, including a partnership with Ceciliaville, a nonprofit providing community programs and services, as well as an outlet to play basketball for Detroit youths.

As a moderator of the family of parishes, Fr. Djonovic said his role is to be attentive to the needs of all the parishes in his community, adding Christ the King and St. Charles Lwanga are “beacons of light in their community.”

St. Charles Lwanga Parish has a supportive relationship with Ceciliaville, a nonprofit community center and gym that serves the surrounding community. Additionally, the parish has an active street and bus stop ministry.

Meanwhile, Christ the King provides crucial education to local children and, in turn, reaches the larger community, including parents and grandparents, Fr. Djonovic said. At the start of the new academic year, Fr. John McKenzie assumed primary pastoral care at the school, and has brought a new life and enthusiasm to the community, Fr. Djonovic said.

“(Fr. McKenzie) has gotten to know many of the families, the children, and because of that, it has borne fruit,” Fr. Djonovic said. “He has people who want to become Catholic with the Easter vigil, and I think Catholic schools have always been a place traditionally where young people and parents, too, find Jesus and his church.”

Students attend class at Christ the King School in this file photo. As one of four remaining Catholic elementary schools in the city, Christ the King offers catechesis and a quality education for underserved families, Fr. Djonovic said.
Students attend class at Christ the King School in this file photo. As one of four remaining Catholic elementary schools in the city, Christ the King offers catechesis and a quality education for underserved families, Fr. Djonovic said.

Since placing the initial request, Fr. Djonovic said the parish has determined the damage at Christ the King School is more extensive than originally thought, and plans to request more funding.

While the grant is essential and will address the immediate issue, Fr. Djonovic said the need is emblematic of a more significant problem in Detroit.

Detroit is the poorest city in the United States, Fr. Djonovic said, and despite the thriving areas of downtown, Midtown, Corktown and Eastern Market, the need in the city's neighborhoods and poor communities has never been greater.

"There are two Detroits, and it has created this tale of two cities: the haves and have-nots,” said Fr. Djonovic, who founded the nonprofit Better Way Detroit, which serves the city's homeless population. “Every year, this chasm is increasing between the two Detroits.”

Dozens of parishes, particularly ones in underserved communities, have closed over the years, Fr. Djonovic noted, so it’s essential to take care of the parishes, schools and communities that remain. When churches close, communities suffer, he said.

“If we don’t invest sincere energy, time and money in parishes, in the future (Detroit) could look like a Catholic desert,” Fr. Djonovic said. “There is something to say about the impact of not having the Eucharist in the neighborhood anymore.”

Support Detroit's underserved communities

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Black and Indian Mission Office is supported by the Archdiocese of Detroit's Catholic Services Appeal. To give to the CSA, visit givecsa.org.



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