Curtis Schuelke's personal pilgrimage has taken on a special meaning: 'It's amazing that the Church subsists in every building'
TROY — Curtis Schuelke didn’t set out to visit every parish, chapel and monastery in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
And yet, as of publication, Schuelke has been to Mass or Vespers at 282 places of Catholic worship in the archdiocese — with just seven left to go.
Schuelke, 30, is the coordinator of youth and family ministry at St. Thomas More Parish in Troy. Growing up, his family belonged to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia.
“The ritual of going to Mass was a normal part of life when I was a kid,” Schuelke told Detroit Catholic. “Then when I got to college (at Loyola University in Chicago), I met a group of strong Catholic friends who invited me to daily Mass. I started to read the Bible and apologetics and to develop a daily prayer life, and we all did a Marian consecration together.”
His journey started — somewhat unintentionally — during Lent of 2018, when Schuelke attended Mass at five different churches. He enjoyed visiting each parish community and decided to continue his “parish pilgrimage” beyond Lent.
From the small St. Patrick Chapel in Michigan’s Thumb in Clifford, to large parishes in Metro Detroit, to intimate chapels in monasteries, to Eastern rite churches, Schuelke has now experienced nearly every one, in every corner of his archdiocese.
Even before 2018, Schuelke realized his church passport, so to speak, already had quite a few stamps.
After he graduated from Loyola, he discerned the priesthood with the Dominican friars in Chicago, but decided to return home to Detroit to gain more life experience. He knew he wanted to work for the Church and received a powerful confirmation through prayer that God wanted him to pursue youth ministry. He was hired in the summer of 2018 as a youth minister for Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Temperance.
Around that time, Schuelke realized his list of churches was growing. He documented them on a Google sheet, including those from his childhood that he could recall. He counted 40 in the Archdiocese of Detroit — 70 if he included those he attended during his time in Chicago.
It comes as no surprise that Schuelke would set a goal like this. He has always been a collector and a maker of “bucket lists.” He and his fiancée, Marie, aim to visit as many national parks as possible in their life together.
To Schuelke, the pilgrimage is about much more than seeing the physical buildings. Visiting chapels and churches gives him a glimpse of the people who make up each community.
“When I came back to the area, I was enamored by the idea of the Church of Detroit. I took a ‘Nature and Mission of the Church’ class at Sacred Heart (Major Seminary), and I was struck by the fact that the truth of Rome subsists in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and therefore the power of the archdiocese is in every single parish,” Schuelke said. “It’s amazing that the Church subsists in every building. And then to think of how many Catholics I have worshipped with in the Archdiocese of Detroit — it’s pretty cool.”
Schuelke takes a photo at every sanctuary he visits and makes notes on each one about anything that stands out to him. He particularly enjoys hearing Mass in other languages and other rites. He has been to Masses at Vietnamese, Polish, Korean, Albanian, Chaldean and Indian Catholic churches. He and his mother went to St. Joseph in Warren, an Indian church that is part of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Eparchy in the U.S. and Canada. They took their shoes off, as is the custom at the parish, and sipped tea with parishioners after Mass.
At St. John's Deaf Center in Eastpointe, he experienced Mass in American Sign Language (ASL). Schuelke knows some sign language and was moved by the experience of praying with others in ASL.
As a coordinator of youth and family ministry at St. Thomas More, Schuelke noted the places where he felt most welcome, in hopes of replicating that feeling at his home parish.
“At St. Damien of Molokai in Pontiac, everyone was just so happy to be there,” Schuelke said. “Mass was packed. The music was great, and it was such a joyful atmosphere. At Christ Our Light in Troy, the people were extremely hospitable. They had donuts after Mass, and parishioners sat and talked with me. They seemed very happy I was there.”
At St. Thomas Syro Malabar Catholic Church in Southfield, another Indian church, the priest welcomed him and introduced him to the congregation. Parishioners went out of their way to ensure he had a book to follow along with the Mass.
Schuelke felt like part of the family at St. Peter Claver in Detroit, whose church roof physically collapsed in 2018. The parish now worships at Sacred Heart Chapel at the former Marygrove College, and during a recent visit, every person in the congregation said hello to him as they walked in the room. At the end of Mass, the priest asked whether there were any guests, then introduced himself to Schuelke and invited all the parishioners there to introduce themselves.
While not everyone would embark on a pilgrimage to visit nearly 300 churches and chapels, Schuelke encourages people to seek out Catholic worship away from their home parish occasionally, especially those rich with cultural heritage.
Schuelke isn't sure what's next after his pilgrimage is complete — he expects the last will be Sacred Heart in Brown City — but he said he might consider sharing his pilgrimage on a website once he's done.
The lessons he's learned along the way, however, Schuelke said he'll cherish forever.
“The churches that stand out are the ones that are the most hospitable, and the ones that notice when a new person walks in the room,” Schuelke said. “As I visit these churches, I see the beauty of the Catholicity — the universality — of the Church. Even if we only go to our own parish each week, we need to remember that the true Church is found at every parish.”