Faith in an uncertain world: Revisiting Detroit Catholic's top 10 stories of 2022

At St. Josephat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren, Ukrainian-Americans and community members gathered Feb. 24 for an emergency rally, anxious about their family and friends and doing their part to spread awareness about the suffering taking place at home. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

DETROIT — If there’s such thing as a “normal” year, 2022 wasn’t it.

As the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit began to emerge from a pandemic that dominated the headlines over the previous two years, one could be excused for hoping for a refreshing dose of — well, ordinary.

But from the moment Russian President Vladimir Putin decided send troops across the border into neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, sending shockwaves across the globe, it became clear 2022 would be anything but.

Catholics in Metro Detroit — home to nearly 45,000 Ukrainian Americans — felt the impact of the nearly yearlong war in Ukraine more acutely than many communities, leading local churches, politicians and civic leaders to respond heroically to a growing need to aid Ukraine’s refugees, many of whom fled to southeast Michigan.

On a national level, 2022 also saw a seismic shift in America’s abortion laws, with the U.S. Supreme Court delivering a long-sought victory for pro-life advocates in its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned 49 years of federally mandated abortion access under Roe v. Wade.

While pro-life advocates estimate the decision will save hundreds of thousands of lives nationwide — a cause for celebration, to be sure — the ruling also led to bitterly fought battles over state and local laws, including in Michigan, which regrettably passed one of the country’s most extreme abortion laws over the objection and warning of the state’s Catholic bishops.

Against these backdrops, the Church in the United States encouraged a return to the Eucharist, the Archdiocese of Detroit began a Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations, and Catholic schools enjoyed a resurgence of support as families rediscovered the beauty of faith in an uncertain world.

Here are Detroit Catholic’s top 10 stories of 2022.

10. Archdiocese’s first deacon of 50 years, Deacon Delbeke ‘can’t quit’ the people of God

When Deacon Robert Delbeke was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1973, he didn’t have many models. Just two other classes of deacons had ever been ordained in the Archdiocese of Detroit, which reintroduced the ministry for the first time in 1969 following the Second Vatican Council.

After five decades of ministry to God’s people in southeast Michigan, Deacon Delbeke became the first permanent deacon in the archdiocese’s history to celebrate a half-century of ministry, making him one of the longest serving deacons in modern Church history.

Detroit Catholic sat down with Deacon Delbeke, 85, and his wife, Carol, to talk about the joys and challenges of his groundbreaking ministry, which is still going strong after 50 years of service to God's people.

9. An underwater church in Lake St. Clair? Historians explore mystery of St. Felicity

One of Detroit Catholic’s more enterprising stories of 2022 unraveled the mystery of St. Felicity Mission, an early 19th century log-cabin church built on a spit of land believed to have been lost to the rising waters of Lake St. Clair in the 1860s.

The remains of the mission, which have fascinated divers, mariners and local historians for the better part of 160 years, had never been discovered — until recently. After a 1995 diving expedition uncovered statuary, beams and gravestones believed to have belonged to the original church, explorers with the Noble Odyssey Foundation sought a $158,000 grant to conduct a full-scale underwater search, with hopes of erecting a permanent historical marker near the site in St. Clair Shores.

In a historical exploration, Detroit Catholic talked to experts about one of Metro Detroit's most curious and best-kept Catholic secrets.

8. ‘Overcome evil with good’: Community donates $20K to vandalized pregnancy center

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, pro-life pregnancy centers and churches across the country faced a rash of vandalism, with more than 100 attacks reported nationwide in the months following the ruling, many from an anonymous group calling itself “Jane’s Revenge.”

In Metro Detroit, Catholics responded to the attacks on the Lennon Pregnancy Center in Dearborn Heights with an outpouring of love and support, raising more than $20,000 to repair broken windows and doors, restore damage and support mothers in need with diapers, formula, clothing and necessities. The incident was just one example of what Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron called Catholics’ duty to proclaim a “culture of life” amidst the darkness of abortion and walk with mothers in need.

7. They enrolled in Catholic school because of the pandemic; now, they’re becoming Catholic

In January, Detroit Catholic reported the positive news that Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit enjoyed an 11 percent enrollment increase during the 2021-22 school year — largely a result of families seeking an in-person education during the pandemic. While Catholic schools became the beneficiaries of the protracted virtual learning of their public school counterparts, a question loomed whether the enrollment “bump” would be temporary.

Instead, local Catholic schools reported steady enrollment numbers for 2022-23, suggesting families who discovered Catholic education during the pandemic were encouraged by what they found. Better yet, some, like the Wilson family of St. Clair Shores, even decided to become Catholic — a powerful testament to the life-changing potential of a Christ-centered, academically excellent education.

6. Michigan coach Harbaugh, Fr. Riccardo urge ‘courage’ in defending unborn life

It was a moment only Jim Harbaugh could command.

The University of Michigan head football coach’s powerful defense of the unborn July 17 during a Plymouth Right to Life fundraising dinner sparked a national firestorm, with the eccentric coach’s unapologetic pro-life views at the center.

Detroit Catholic’s original reporting was picked up by dozens of national publications, including USA Today, the Washington Post, New York Times, ESPN and TMZ, among others. Harbaugh’s comments — “I believe in having the courage to let the unborn be born,” he said — took on a larger-than-life character in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, a rare collision of sports and politics in a moment of raw national emotion.

Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, refused to back down in the weeks following — reaffirming their belief that some things are bigger than sports. Asked whether he was worried about being “canceled” over the incident, Harbaugh, a committed Catholic, demurred: “What kind of person are you if you don’t fight tooth and nail for what you stand for?” he said. “You get to change hearts by fighting for what you stand for.”

5. Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations a ‘call to arms’ for archdiocese, vocations director says

During this year’s Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Archbishop Vigneron made the surprise announcement that for the first time in generations, the Archdiocese of Detroit would not ordain any seminarians to the priesthood in 2022 — underscoring a long-simmering reality that vocations to the priesthood are in a persistent decline. In less than a decade, the archdiocese is projected to have fewer than half its current number of priests, with more priests retiring than being ordained for ministry.

Rather than shrink to the challenge, the archbishop called the archdiocese to an extraordinary Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations, asking every parish in southeast Michigan to do its part to encourage men to hear, pray about and respond to their calling.

“As a Church on mission, called to proclaim the paschal mystery of Jesus, we cannot be blind to this challenge,” the archbishop said. “So we pray that more of those called will hear this invitation, listen with open hearts and respond generously and courageously to the challenge of becoming fishers of men in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

4. Finding faith in trauma: Oxford student sees God’s promise shine through darkness

Four months after the worst school shooting in Michigan’s history, Oxford High School senior LeAnn Johnson couldn't stop thinking about Nov. 30, 2021. Flashbacks haunted her, huddling in a classroom with a group of freshmen as a classmate opened fire in the hallway, killing four students and injuring seven people. She recalls praying with a young boy, assuring him — though she herself wasn’t sure — that everything would be alright.

As her classmates struggled to cope with the trauma in the months ahead, Johnson, a member of the youth group at St. Joseph Parish in Lake Orion, decided to turn to God, encouraging her peers to turn their fears, suffering and wounds over to Jesus. Using her own past as a survivor of abuse, Johnson began to help others pray through the tragedy, process their grief and rediscover a sense of God’s enduring peace.

Detroit Catholic’s one-on-one interview revealed a teenager faithfully mature beyond her years, brave in the face of tragedy, bringing the light of Christ to her peers in need amidst the darkness of doubt.

3. ‘And so we process’: Corpus Christi kicks off Eucharistic revival in Detroit church

After a 2019 Pew Research Center survey discovered nearly two-thirds of self-identified Catholics lack belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the holy Eucharist, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded with the announcement of an extraordinary three-year National Eucharistic Revival, to culminate in the first National Eucharistic Congress in the United States since 1975.

In an effort to rekindle faith in Jesus’ enduring presence, dioceses across the country were invited to adopt the revival as their own, and the Archdiocese of Detroit enthusiastically did so, with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron leading a historic, two-mile Eucharistic procession June 19 on the feast of Corpus Christi from Sacred Heart Major Seminary to the aptly named Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In the months following, the archdiocese’s wildly successful Eucharistic campaign, I AM HERE, invited Catholics across southeast Michigan and across the United States to share stories of their own powerful encounters with Christ in Eucharistic adoration — sparking a reignition of faith in hearts, homes and families.

2. ‘Too painful’: Detroit-area Ukrainians see history repeating itself, beg for peace

The faces of Ukrainian-Americans draped in blue and yellow flags in the bitter cold outside St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren on Feb. 24 said it all. Their homeland — still home to countless friends and relatives — was under siege, having just been invaded by neighboring superpower Russia.

The war in Ukraine — an international storyline throughout most of 2022 — hit close to home for Metro Detroit’s Catholics. With fighting and bloodshed still ongoing, the Church in southeast Michigan stepped up its support for Ukrainians — both refugees and those still courageously battling for their native land — hosting rallies, collecting supplies and even sending caravans of parishioners overseas to aid those fleeing from the front lines.

Detroit Catholic’s readers have been eager to help — so much so that an Aug. 24 story about Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic School’s welcoming 100 refugee students led to an immediate $50,000 donation from an anonymous benefactor. As the war stretches into 2023, local Ukrainians remain uncertain about the future of their country, but the support of Metro Detroiters and the power of prayer is no longer in doubt.

1. Catholic, pro-life leaders celebrate as Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

When it comes to the topic of abortion, 2022 was a year of conflicting emotion for Michigan’s Catholics. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June 24 ruling — expected, but nonetheless earth-shaking — in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization marked the pinnacle of a half-century of pro-life activism in the United States, striking down Roe v. Wade and returning the question of abortion to the states.

While the Church in Michigan celebrated the monumental ruling, a battle for Michigan’s legislative future was already underway, with pro-abortion activists mounting a petition that sought to enshrine virtually unlimited abortion in the state’s constitution. Despite an all-out effort by the Catholic Church and a broad coalition of pro-life voices in opposition, Proposal 3 passed with 56% of the vote on election day.

While the court’s Dobbs decision will save hundreds of thousands of lives nationwide, the new reality of Michigan’s legal landscape means the fight for life is far from over, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said, and the need to accompany mothers in need is greater than ever.

"This work is more critical now, as the unborn have been stripped of their basic right to life and their mothers face the harmful lie that the death of their children is a solution to their struggles," Archbishop Vigneron said. "In response to the passing of Proposal 3, we must step forward with no judgment, open arms, and effective resources to help women reject the 'solution' of death and empower them to choose life for their children."

Thanks for reading Detroit Catholic in 2022. We look forward to serving you in the new year.


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