'It anchors us in Detroit': New residence to house 18 seminarians for Companions of the Cross

Deacon Marcus Schonnop, CC, offers Communion to a sister during his ordination Mass on Sept. 14 at the Companions of the Cross' new formation house and chapel at 17330 Quincy St. in northwest Detroit. The new residence for the community's 18 seminarians solidifies the Canadian-based society's presence in Detroit for years to come. (Photos by Tim Fuller | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Ordination of Deacon Marcus Schonnop, new formation house mark new chapter for Canadian-based society in Detroit

DETROIT — The Companions of the Cross, a Canadian-born society of priests and seminarians, continues to flourish in Detroit with the acquisition of a new residence to house its formation program in the city. 

Founded in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1985 by Fr. Robert Bedard and established as a society of apostolic life in 2003, the Companions first arrived in Detroit in 2011, when the community enrolled three seminarians at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. 

Today, the community has 18 seminarians, plus a formation team and several priests in Detroit, who minister at St. Scholastica Parish and the Wayne State University Newman Center.

“It meets our needs very well,” says Fr. Pierre Ingram, director of formation for the Companions of the Cross, said of the new residence in northwest Detroit's university district, at 17330 Quincy St. “The guys are excited about having a home base.”

The chapel, which formerly belonged to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was built in 1956. 

The Companions announced the purchase of the complex, which formerly belonged to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), on Sept. 4. The property includes a former convent built in 1926 and a church built in 1956. 

“This is an excellent opportunity for us to share our vision of a Church that is truly alive,” said Fr. Michael Scherrey, interim general superior. “The new facility equips us to better serve, strengthens our formation program, supports our call to community and brotherhood and provides increased outreach opportunities.”

The Companions said the new residence, which was renovated in 2008, is big enough to house its 18 seminarians, who will live and study in the city.

“It anchors us in Detroit,” Fr. Ingram said. “We’re inspired by the archbishop’s Unleash the Gospel initiative. Having this new property can help us engage that mission, long-term.”

In addition to Detroit, the Companions of the Cross have four other locations in North America: Ottawa, Ontario; Toronto, Ontario; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Houston, Texas. In total, the community consists of 37 active and retired priests, along with two bishops.

The group works to grow the Church through on-the-ground evangelization, said Fr. Galen Bank, CC, assistant superior general for the Companions of the Cross. 

Priests of the Companions of the Cross process out of the chapel after Deacon Marcus Schonnop's ordination Mass on Sept. 14.

“We’re leading people to an encounter with Christ,” Fr. Bank said. “We minister through retreats, university chaplainships and mission workshops. Our chief strategy is to bring Christ alive in people’s lives. We want to create an opportunity for openness.”

While the Companions serve people of all socioeconomic stripes, Fr. Bank said the community places its trust in God to give the growth.

“Like anything, there are instant positive responses for some, and a gradual process for others,” said Fr. Bank, speaking by phone from Ottawa, which is still the society's headquarters. “We present the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit do the work. We’re trying to invite people to an encounter with the Lord, and let them be transformed by His power.”

Fr. Ingram is a Toronto native who moved to Detroit in 2012. “It’s become my spiritual home,” he said, calling his years in Detroit “some of the happiest years of my priesthood.” 

“There are so many positive forces for change,” he said. “It’s very inspiring.”

On Sept. 14, the Detroit Companions celebrated the ordination of Deacon Marcus Schonnop, whose ordination was the first major liturgical celebration at the new Quincy Street residence.

Deacon Marcus Schonnop smiles broadly during his Mass of ordination on Sept. 14. The former agnostic was drawn to the Companions of the Cross for their missionary zeal and dedication to a life of evangelization and brotherhood.

Deacon Schonnop, a former agnostic, said his conversion started with a life-changing encounter.

“I didn’t grow up Christian. I didn’t have any friends who were Christian,” Deacon Schonnop told Detroit Catholic

A student at the University of British Columbia and working a summer job in the logging industry, Deacon Schonnop had a roommate who was a devout Catholic. Eventually, their conversations started him on a three-year journey that led to his eventual conversion at the Easter vigil Mass on April 3, 2010. 

God willing, he'll become a priest of the Companions of the Cross next spring, when he completes his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. 

“This whole journey has been an adventure,” said Deacon Schonnop, whose parents have since followed him into the faith. “Each year I am amazed at what God has done.” 

Members of the Companions of the Cross pose for a group photo with Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron in their new chapel following Deacon Schonnop's ordination Mass. The Companions make an “inestimable contribution to the life of our diocese,” Archbishop Vigneron said.

Deacon Schonnop is fully committed to Companions of the Cross, and he loves it. 

“We support and challenge one another,” he said. “We are committed to the belief that the renewal of the Church happens through individual people.”

“Looking back at everything that the Lord has done for me, I have so much hope,” Deacon Schonnop added. “I don’t have to do it alone. I have a community of brothers to help me. I will be with this community until I die.”