Downriver parishes come together as one during Family of Parishes commissioning Mass

Downriver Vicariate Family 3 Family-Pastors take on oath of fidelity to the new Family of Parishes pastoral structure which will see six Downriver parishes more closely collaborate and work together as a Family of Parishes, with each of the parishes maintaining their canonical standing. The oath was part of the Sept. 14 commissioning Mass at St. Timothy Parish in Trenton, when the parish Family was formally installed with Fr. Marc Gawronski named the Moderator of the In Solidum Family of Parish. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

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. 

Detroit auxiliary bishop Gerard Battersby gives the homily on why Family of Parishes is being implemented in the Archdiocese of Detroit and how it relates to the church’s mission of preaching the Gospel to the world.

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.” 

Emily Campbell of St. Joseph Parish in Trenton sees the Family of Parishes concept as a way for individual parishes to use their unique gifts and charisms in collaboration with other parishes to preach the Gospel and fulfill Christ’s mission for the church.

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.” 

Before the commissioning Mass, parishioners at the various churches in the family had “Encounter” events, where they went to different parishes to learn about the various communities that will make up the new Family of Parishes.

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.  

Al Cotto is the current pastoral council president at Our Lady of the Woods in Woodhaven and will serve on the new Family pastoral council for the Downriver Vicariate Family 3. He said his role has been to explain to other parishioners how Our Lady of the Woods will maintain its identity as a parish while working with neighboring parishes under this new structure.

“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.

Cotto agreed. 

“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.

Fr. Gawronski emphasized Catholic means “universal,” and how this new parish structure is geared towards the church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel in 2021, reclaiming souls for God.  

“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.”