Moderators, pastors for ‘families of parishes’ to be named by end of February

Fr. Anthony Richter, pastor of Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson, preaches during an Ash Wednesday Mass in February 2019. Fr. Richter was recently appointed moderator of the archdiocese’s newly formed South Oakland Vicariate Family 1 — one of 27 new “families of parishes” expected to begin operating together this summer. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Remaining clergy to be named by end of March; new families will begin gathering together beginning this spring with eye toward summer start

DETROIT — Priests who will lead the Archdiocese of Detroit’s first wave of “families of parishes” are expected to be named by the end of February or shortly thereafter, while other priests in each family will be assigned by the end of March. 

However, parishioners shouldn’t expect a greater than usual number of parish changes once the assignments are complete, said Deacon Michael Houghton, director of missionary strategic planning for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“I think there’s tremendous value being placed on stability in the parishes (in the assignment process),” Deacon Houghton told Detroit Catholic. “There’s no intent to shake things up and start over. For the most part, parishioners won’t see a big change” beyond the usual number of spring parish moves. 

All priests in the family will be assigned to each parish in the family, although priests may primarily serve one or two parishes — in many cases the parishes they’re serving now. Like all parish assignments, the appointments are being recommended to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron by the archdiocese’s clergy assignment board.

One possible difference, Deacon Houghton said, is that once each new family is formed, parishioners might see priests from other parishes in the family more frequently to celebrate Masses and sacraments as clergy collaborate to lighten one another’s burdens.

Fr. Socorro Fernandes, SAC, pastor of St. Valentine and Our Lady of Loretto parishes in Redford, chats in his office. Of the 15 priests named so far to lead “families of parishes,” 12 will operate within “in solidum” models, with pastors of each parish in the family sharing responsibility for the entire family. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s expected 51 families of parishes, 27 will begin operating together by July 1, 2021. The remaining 24 will start July 1, 2022.

So far, Archbishop Vigneron has announced the priests who will lead 15 parish families that will form this summer. Of those, 12 families will operate under the in solidum model of parish governance, while three families will operate as “one pastor” models.

Two of the priests recently appointed to lead “one pastor” families were already serving as pastors of each of the parishes in their families, and none of the new moderators for the in solidum families are expected to leave their current parishes.

Deacon Houghton explained the difference between the two models comes down to how priests within each family relate to one another.

“The ‘one pastor’ model is what we’re familiar with today; you have a pastor who’s in charge, and he may have two or more parishes, often with the help of associate pastors,” Deacon Houghton said. “In the in solidum model, there’s a group of pastors who share that responsibility.”

As a team, each pastor in an in solidum family shares responsibility for each parish in the family — while perhaps primarily serving one or two parishes — while the moderator serves in a “first among equals” role, Deacon Houghton said.

Msgr. Charles Kosanke, pastor of the Basilica of Ste. Anne and Most Holy Trinity Parish in Detroit, holds a relic of St. Anne during her feast day in July 2020. Msgr. Kosanke will serve as moderator for the newly formed Southwest Vicariate Family 1. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

“They are all equals, but there are times when someone will have to speak on behalf of the family and exercise the role of tiebreaker,” Deacon Houghton explained. “The moderator isn’t to exercise any special authority unless it’s to move the family forward. The goal is consensus on the part of the team of pastors as they lead the family of parishes.”

Priests will typically be appointed to six-year terms with their parish family, with associate pastor and in solidum moderator terms lasting for three years. However, the archbishop may ask priests to stay longer or move sooner than that, Deacon Houghton said.

Moderators of first-wave parish families will gather for a retreat in April, during which they’ll learn, pray and reflect on their new roles, Deacon Houghton said. In May, four regional retreats will be held for all clergy in each family, during which priests will begin drafting a “family priests covenant” to outline the roles, responsibilities and norms governing each family.

“The idea is, each group of priests will talk through how their family will function,” Deacon Houghton said. “It could be that one of the pastors has a specific interest in one area, for instance, religious education. That pastor might say, ‘I’d be really happy to run religious education for all the parishes in the family.’ They’ll have those discussions up front about how they’ll run the parishes in a functional and spiritual way.”

Clergy also will be invited to regular support sessions, during which they’ll learn about best practices and receive coaching and support on various topics, Deacon Houghton added.

Msgr. G. Michael Bugarin, right, and Fr. John Bettin (now administrator of St. Daniel Parish in Clarkton) participate in a leadership team meeting at St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores in 2019. (Courtesy photo)

During the spring and early summer, each family of parishes will host three gatherings as a way for parishioners and staff to get to know one another. Those gatherings may take place virtually or in-person, and will focus on the three pillars of a missionary Church: encountering the Lord, growing as disciples and witnessing Jesus to others, Deacon Houghton added.

“We’re trying to get people together so they can get to know one another and pray together,” Deacon Houghton said.

Once each parish family begins operating in July, it will be up to the moderators to appoint staff for newly created roles, including a “mission support director” for each family — who will manage non-ministry areas such as human resources, finance and building maintenance — and “mission direct” leaders in areas such as Christian service, worship and family ministry.

Through all the changes, Deacon Houghton stressed, the goal is always about preaching and sharing the Gospel with as many people as possible.

“Our goal is to be a more missionary diocese. Families of parishes is not an end; it’s a means to an end,” he said. “We made a structural change, but that doesn’t change the mission we’re on. The mission from Unleash the Gospel and Synod 16 is that we need to be a more missionary diocese, and this is just one of the steps along the way.”

Families of Parishes FAQ

For a list of frequently asked questions about “families of parishes,” visit