Rooted in the Jesuit tradition, northwest Detroit parish takes pride in welcoming strangers and promoting sustainability
DETROIT — Parishioners and alumni from near and far gathered July 30 to celebrate Gesu Parish’s 100th anniversary and the Jesuits who made it a place of formation for generations who went on to shape the world.
For a century, the Jesuit-run parish in northwest Detroit situated across from the University of Detroit (now the University of Detroit Mercy), has been a beacon of education, service, sustainability and faith in the day-to-day life of its parishioners.
“We’re celebrating our 100th anniversary as a parish and school; more importantly, we’re celebrating our future,” said Fr. Lorn Snow, SJ, the newly appointed pastor of Gesu. “These 100 years that we've built upon are bringing us into the future, filled with the good news of evangelization, outreach and our care for the environment, as Pope Francis has invited us to do.”
The festivities included food trucks, a DJ, school and church tours, a raffle, year-by-year class pictures and Mass with Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald F. Hanchon, moderator of the archdiocese’s Central Region.
“We (had) more than 1,000 people attending, including people who are coming from Florida, California, Missouri and the east coast,” said Karen Rease-Clark, chairwoman of the Gesu centennial celebration committee. “People have such fond memories of Gesu Church and School.”
Fr. John P. McNichols, SJ, served as president of the University of Detroit from 1921-32 and oversaw the moving of the university from the site of SS. Paul and Peter (Jesuit) Church — Detroit’s former downtown cathedral that was gifted by Detroit Bishop Casper H. Borgess in 1877 — to its current location on the corner of Livernois and Six Mile Road (which is now McNichols Road).
Fr. McNichols built a small chapel on a farm just north of the university in 1922, which became Gesu Parish.
Beyond a recognition of Gesu’s illustrious history, which includes alumni who went on to become mayors, congressmen and entertainments stars, the centennial celebration highlighted the parish’s contemporary ministries and initiatives.
“Gesu has so many projects that are occurring,” Rease-Clark said. “We’ve had a lot of donations that have come in because of the centennial celebration. We have a huge project, a $1 million project for our parking lot to make it more sustainable. We’re getting our doors refinished in the church, which is quite a bit of money. The kids are learning about the solar panels on the school, how the technology works, and it saves money. Really, we have so much going on here.”
Recently, the parish installed solar panels on the roof of the grade school by raising $250,000 and receiving a match from Ford Motor Company and the United Autoworkers.
The Gesu Green Team, a group of environmentally conscious parishioners, completed a $1.5 million project to divert runoff water from the parish’s six-acre campus to existing gardens and to reduce the parish's water and sewerage fee paid to the city of Detroit.
The Green Team rerouted gutters into cisterns in the school courtyard, which in turn feed hoses that water the courtyard garden and rain garden that now feature native plants.
The cisterns and gardens divert up to 3,000 cubic feet of stormwater at a time, which reduces Gesu’s monthly drainage fee by 20 percent.
The parish’s commitment to environmentalism and sustainability is one of many aspect of the parish that attract people, Fr. Snow said.
“Our sense of welcome is big; we welcome anyone,” Fr. Snow said. “We make people feel like they belong, that they have a home. We celebrate a very unique formation with a very strong Ignatian charism to help people find God in everyday life. Especially through the Ignatian examine and Jesuit principles, we seek to encounter God and Jesus Christ in this community.”
Bishop Hanchon asked Gesu parishioners and alumni to consider the great effort of the Jesuits and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters, who taught at Gesu School for many years.
“I remember in seminary, when we would complain about how many years we would have to spend in formation, someone would mention, 'You know, the Jesuits take even longer,'” Bishop Hanchon said in his homily. “They take that time, as Scripture suggests, to calculate the cost of discipleship, to see if they are ready to give everything for the sake of Jesus.”
Bishop Hanchon invited Gesu parishioners to invoke St. Ignatius of Loyola — the founder of the Jesuit order whose feast day was July 31 — and contemplate where God was in their lives when they were attending Gesu School.
“Ignatius, I think, needed to know what kind of God he served,” Bishop Hanchon said. “He needed to know how intimately related God Almighty was to him, a simple servant. All of us achieve our dignity, not because of who we are, but whose we are. We come to know whose we are over the adventure of a lifetime. If we allow Jesus to become that close of a friend to us, we find that he links us with the most unlikely sisters and brothers — all of those the world might think don’t qualify, but those who, through Jesus, discover an endless source of mercy and forgiveness.”
Mary (Hansknecht) Massaron is a 1966 Gesu graduate who is currently a parishioner at Holy Name Parish in Birmingham. Massaron returned to Gesu, where her grandson goes to school, to meet with old friends and tour the school.
“Gesu is a wonderful place because it’s incredibly diverse and welcoming to people from many different cultures,” Massaron said. “The teaching is instilled with the best values of Catholicism in terms of social justice and faith.”
Massaron recalled the teachers she had at Gesu and how they shaped her life. “Gesu gave me a strong grounding academically and a strong grounding in values that are important,” Massaron said.
Bishop Hanchon said all the work of Gesu's teachers and clergy over the years is rooted in the Jesuit motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, “For the Greater Glory of God.”
“Whatever it might be, however humble it might seem or noble it might be, do it all for the sake of the Lord Jesus, who did all he could for us,” Bishop Hanchon said. “If we live our lives in the light of God’s glory, we become instruments to make this good news no longer a secret, but a great message that unleashes so much good and so much mercy.
“The city of Detroit, the archdiocese, the greater world have been recipients of all those lessons about Jesus learned here at Gesu,” Bishop Hanchon added: “how much it costs, how much it’s worth, how much it pays, how long it lasts, the good it does, the evil it overcomes, the unity that makes it possible. Great good has happened in this neighborhood, this city, this world, because of the lessons taught here at Gesu.”