Fr. Gawronski formally installed as moderator of new Family designed to share priests, resources to advance mission
TRENTON ─ The game plan may change, but the goal remains the same.
(Re)claim the world for Jesus.
That was the message shared by Detroit auxiliary bishop Gerard Battersby during Mass with the Downriver Vicariate Family 3 Family of Parishes, Sept. 14 at St. Timothy Parish in Trenton.
The six separate parish communities of Sacred Heart in Grosse Ile, St. Cyprian in Riverview, St. Joseph in Trenton, Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven, St. Roch in Gibraltar, and St. Timothy together celebrated the commissioning Mass brining the parishes into a family to share staff and resources in mission.
Bishop Battersby celebrated Mass with the family pastors, preaching to the congregation about why the Archdiocese of Detroit is taking on the Family of Parishes model and what it means for the mission going forward.
Following the homily and recitation of the Creed, Fr. Marc Gawronski was commissioned as the Moderator of the In Solidum Family of Parishes for southern Downriver, making him the “first among equals” with administrative responsibilities for the parish family.
The phrase “first among equals” comes from a 2020 instruction from the Holy See which describes the In Soldium -- Latin for “in solid” -- model that some Family of Parishes are choosing to follow.
“I think it’s important to see what happened before (the commissioning): It was the Creed,” said Fr. Gawronski, who currently primarily celebrates Mass at Sacred Heart, St. Cyprian, and St. Joseph. “What happened after the Creed is related to the Creed. The pastors, the family pastors, are teachers of the faith. As the community prayed the Creed, led by the family pastors, we affirmed our faithfulness as teachers of the faith, because it’s a big part of our role as family pastors.”
The feeling at St. Timothy was one of optimism, recognizing that the resources and personnel in the church aren’t what they used to be, but the mission is the same.
“Everyone is quite excited to see how this is going to turn out,” said Emily Campbell, a St. Joseph parishioner. “We like the idea of working together with different groups and bringing different ideas together from different locations. There is a little uncertainty of course, but we are taking it in strides. We have some good leaders, our pastors are working with us, so we have faith that everything is going to turn out for the best.”
The commissioning Mass at St. Timothy was the culmination of a process parishes throughout the archdiocese have been undertaking to come together in a joint-effort with a focus on evangelization, while maintaining identities as separate, unique parish communities.
“Catholic means universal; it doesn’t mean parochial, it means universal,” Fr. Gawronski said. “In my experience, people are very open to working together if there is a common mission. For the people I’ve spoken to, the kind of changes Family of Parishes is going to bring, they are excited by it.”
A few parishioners in the newly formed Downriver Family have already made the effort of going to other parish communities to experience what makes those and their communities unique to discern what each might contribute to the Family.
It’s all about breaking down barriers and getting off one’s “parochial islands,” said Deborah Stevens, who literally had to get off the island to visit other parishes as a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Grosse Ile.
“One of the assignments of our Encounter groups we had to get ready for this transition was visiting a different parish, and I chose St. Roch’s because that was one of the six parishes I never visited before,” Stevens said. “I introduced myself to someone as a stranger and had a very nice conversation with this lady about the history of the parish.”
Stevens said conversations and encounters with parishioners from other communities led to a consensus in the community that the transition to Family of Parishes, while like any change is prone to a few rough patches, is a positive step for the Church to take if she is to continue to fulfill her “Great Commission” in preaching the Gospel.
“We are starting to get that cross-pollination of ideas where we feel we can do this together,” Stevens said. “Because what it boils down to is sharing resources, because we don’t have enough priests. I think this will be successful if we communicate a lot and share a [common] mindset.”
Breaking down that mindset of “my parishes” in favor of what can be accomplished together is a theme of discussion for parish councils throughout the various Families in the archdiocese.
In the Downriver Vicariate Family 3, each parish will have two members of its parish pastoral council on the Family pastoral council, including Al Cotto, the current pastoral council president at Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven.
“There has been a lot of reading and understanding what the Family of Parishes means and the necessity for moving forward with this,” Cotto said. “Bishop Battersby said it best in the homily tonight: This is about reclaiming lost land, lost souls for Christ. It’s something new to all of us, but something I’m looking forward to.”
Bishop Battersby said in his homily that the previous parish structure has done a great service ever since Christianity came to these shores. But in a new era, in a time when there are fewer priests, fewer parishioners, and a society that seems to have moved away from the Gospels, now is the parish communities to work together to share the work and their resources.
“We know the workers are few, we’re losing so many priests in the next 10 years, so there is a real necessity for us to get involved in order to move forward,” Cotto said. “At Our Lady of the Woods, our pastoral council has been very involved. Fr. Bob (Johnson) has explained this to us and given us all the information.”
After Mass, parishioners from the various communities gathered in St. Timothy’s social hall for a meal, breaking bread together after praying together.
“Tonight is a great experience, it excites me to talk to all the parishes in the family,” Fr. Gawronski said. “I’m excited by the way the people, the lay ecclesial ministers, the pastors and deacons have begun talking about working together, strengthening the relationships we have from working together in the past.”