Grace amidst the storm: Detroit Catholic’s top 10 hope-filled stories of 2020

DETROIT — It was a year many would like to forget.

More than any year in recent memory, 2020 presented its fair share of challenges for Detroit-area Catholics. When the pandemic struck with full force in March — taking with it the public celebration of Masses, normal parish gatherings and changing life as we know it — things seemed bleak.

But then April came, and May. And rather than folding up shop, the Church flourished.

Parishioners came out of the woodwork to serve their friends and neighbors. Pastors brought Jesus to the people in bold and creative ways. Communities banded together to support each other and fight a common enemy, and hope began to breathe again.

At the end of a trying year, we’re not out of the pandemic woods yet. But there is much to be thankful for. As we look back at 2020, it’s easy to see the bad. But this historic year was also full of hope in unexpected places — and hope is always worth holding onto.

So, rather than a traditional top 10 list of the “most important” stories, we thought it was worth taking another look at Detroit Catholic’s top 10 hope-filled stories of the past 12 months.

We wish you a Merry Christmas, and — more so than any other year — a happy, healthy and holy new year.

10. Pope names Ste. Anne Church a basilica, cementing historic parish’s importance to Detroit (VIDEO)

An icon in Detroit for more than three centuries, historic Ste. Anne de Detroit Church stands as a monument to Detroit’s resiliency. When it was named a minor basilica March 1 — days before the pandemic struck in full force — it was a point of pride for Metro Detroit Catholics who would soon learn just how critical such good news would be this year.

Buried in its chapel, Fr. Gabriel Richard (who is now being considered for sainthood) coined the city’s enduring motto, ever-appropriate for 2020: “We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes.”

9. Artist’s mural of 13 Felicians who died of COVID-19 elicits emotional response

When the death of 13 Felician Sisters at their Livonia convent from COVID-19 made national headlines in May, local artist Edward Stross turned the community’s grief into a moving tribute, painting the likenesses of each of the sisters who passed. 

His mural garnered praise from the Felicians and the community at large, who visited to reminisce about former teachers, friends and nurses whose impact will not soon be forgotten.

8. Catholic schools make masks, donating lab equipment, cleaning supplies to local hospitals

In a year of heroics, Catholic schools played an outsized role, as teachers selflessly transformed their classrooms into digital learning spaces, cafeteria workers continued to provide meals for students in need, and administrators went the extra mile to keep returning students and faculty healthy and safe.

But perhaps the biggest heroes were the students themselves, who jumped at the chance to join a nationwide movement, making masks and donating supplies to hospitals in desperate need. 

7. In father’s memory, St. Ambrose chef weekly feeds homeless, first responders 

When grocery store shelves began to empty and restaurants closed in March, millions of Americans wondered how difficult it might be to get their next meal. For the homeless, however, the predicament was real.

Enter Vonzell Whaley, St. Ambrose Parish’s chef, and a host of volunteers and ministries across the archdiocese, who stocked pantry shelves, delivered meals to first responders and shifted shelter operations to keep those most at risk safe and fed. In Whaley’s case, he did it to honor his father, also a chef, who died in 2017.

6. On eve of Election Day, Detroiters turn to the Eucharist to pray for the nation

The pandemic wasn’t the only thing causing people stress in 2020. A contentious and bitterly fought presidential election divided households, raising animosity and distrust in a year when unity was needed more than ever. 

Recognizing that no politician is a savior, Metro Detroit’s Catholics turned instead to the king of kings and true savior of the human race, marching with the Eucharist through the streets of Detroit on the eve of Election Day — a sure sign of where true hope might be found.

5. Games, walks and family bonding: Local families say crisis is building domestic church

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, togetherness makes the heart grow fuller. As parents began to work remotely, college students moved back home, and kids took to online learning, the domestic church flourished. 

Families found more time for meals together, games and prayer, and the “church” part of “domestic church” wasn’t neglected, as families found vital resources in livestream Masses, devotions and resources to keep the faith in a unique year.

4. Catholics credit Blessed Solanus’ prayers with healing at Detroit hospital where he died (VIDEO)

In almost instinctual fashion, Detroit Catholics turned their most fervent prayers during the pandemic to a familiar intercessor: Blessed Solanus Casey. But while the friar’s aid undoubtedly made a difference at one Detroit hospital battling the COVID-19 outbreak, other stories of miraculous favors abounded. 

Detroit Catholic’s July “miracles” report featured two of them: Polly Kenzie, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, saw her disease vanish after praying to Our Lady of Lourdes, and Lena Dabish-Bahri’s prayers for a child were miraculously answered thanks to Ste. Anne’s grandmotherly intercession. 

3. Help from above: Monroe pastor takes vicariate’s prayer intentions to the skies

Separated from their parishioners by distance, the COVID-19 lockdown sparked a spirit of innovation in Detroit-area pastors, who went to great heights — literally — to bring Jesus to the people. Fr. Phil Ching, then-pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Monroe, took to the skies in a two-seater plane to bless the entire vicariate with the Eucharistic Lord. 

On the ground, other pastors took Christ on road trips, into hospitals and onto public spaces in order to maintain “spiritual closeness” with their flocks.

2. Clergy, laity lift high the cross as protests continue for sixth day in downtown Detroit

Nationwide protests sparked by the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in late spring spilled into the streets of Detroit as the country wrestled with racial tension, police violence and growing calls of outrage bubbling over during an already-stressful health crisis.

Amid signs of protest, calls for justice and an end to police brutality stood the most radical symbol of faith, sacrifice and suffering: Jesus Christ on the cross. As it has in times past, the Church stood tall to remind the world where it can find true healing.

1. ‘He is risen’: Archbishop blesses Detroit from cathedral’s steps on Easter Sunday

With the Archdiocese of Detroit still on lockdown and public Masses suspended in the pandemic’s darkest days, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron took to the steps of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Easter Sunday to offer an extraordinary blessing to the city and Church. 

Livestreamed to thousands of faithful, it was a striking and powerful image that lifted the soul of a city in dire need of hope. Two weeks earlier, Pope Francis had offered the world the most vivid and likely enduring image of the pandemic, standing on the rain-soaked porch of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to implore God to send an end to the crisis. 

In a stirring act of unity, the archbishop offered up Detroit and its surrounding areas to the risen Jesus. “Nothing is more powerful than life in Christ,” he said. “Not even in this pandemic and all the aftermath that we anticipate. As much suffering as it is bringing to us, we will conquer in Christ, because Christ conquers.”

God bless you and your family in 2021. Thanks for reading Detroit Catholic.