Stories that captured our hearts: Detroit Catholic's top 10 newsmakers of 2023

Nicole and Austin LeBlanc, parishioners of St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit and St. Mary Parish in Wayne, shared their inspiring journey of being pregnant with conjoined twins in a series of moving interviews with Detroit Catholic and Detroit Catholic en Español in the spring. The couple’s daughters, Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare, died just an hour after they were born and baptized May 16, but the family’s story of love and radical trust in God's providence inspired the nation. (Courtesy photo)

DETROIT — When Detroit Catholic launched five years ago as the digital successor to The Michigan Catholic newspaper, we wanted our emphasis to be on storytelling.

Detroit Catholic’s charge has been to bring you a local Catholic news story every weekday — a mission we’ve fulfilled every day since our launch on Oct. 26, 2018. We delight in bringing you the news of the day, but our favorite stories take on a more timeless character.

Some years — like 2020 — are full of news. Responding to a global pandemic, reporting on a new basilica and covering the impact of a presidential election on the Church are important parts of our mission as Catholic journalists.

Other years, however, it’s the human stories that fascinate us. And 2023 was one of those years.

In the past 12 months, we’ve interviewed inspiring, faith-filled individuals whose trust in God’s providence has left us amazed and encouraged. We’ve witnessed the fire of faith in those whose circumstances might otherwise have warranted despair, and we’ve been privileged to learn from them.

This year’s top 10 stories feature individuals whose hopeful faith we’ve come to cherish. We hope you enjoyed these stories as much as we have.

10. Detroit scholars, theologians remember Pope Benedict XVI as an intellectual titan

The first story on our list broke on the very first day of the year, when Catholics in Metro Detroit and around the world learned the sad news that our 265th pope, Benedict XVI, had died. In the days after, tributes poured in from Catholics across Metro Detroit to a holy man, a humble spiritual father, and a brilliant theologian whose gifts will enrich the Church for generations to come.

Detroit Catholic interviewed local scholars about the long-lasting impact of Pope Benedict XVI’s intellectual and spiritual prowess, including his prolific authorship of countless books, encyclicals and letters covering everything from the beauty of truth to the richness of the liturgy. But for all the pope’s philosophical and theological might, it was his simple faith in the risen Jesus that leaves a lasting mark.

9. Inspired by popular podcast, third-grader launches ‘Kid’s Bible in a Year with Teddy’

You’re never too young to make a difference. That’s the lesson Detroit Catholic readers took away from our story about Teddy Howell, a 9-year-old student at St. Charles Borromeo Academy in Newport. Inspired by Fr. Mike Schmitz’s chart-topping podcast, “The Bible in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz)” — and at the same time frustrated by its lack of child-friendly content — Teddy set out to create his own version: “Kid’s Bible in a Year with Teddy.”

Teddy’s podcast, complete with 10-minute episodes in which he guides his peers through prayers and Scripture, quickly became a hit. Twenty-six episodes and 127 nearly five-star reviews later, Teddy’s project is proof that evangelization doesn’t have a minimum age.

8. Woman returns to Detroit cathedral where she was left as a baby in the 1950s

On Jan. 27, 1953, a mysterious person walked into the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit and left a baby in the back pew. Discovered by two nursing students, that baby was placed up for adoption and eventually ended up in the home of Elizabeth and Leo Kraus of Fraser.

Mary Fuller never knew her birth family growing up — and she didn’t discover who left her at the cathedral, or why — until decades later. During a visit to the cathedral in August, Fuller caught up with Detroit Catholic to share her story of reconnecting with her roots and the journey of faith that led her to discover more family than she ever dreamed possible.

7. Stolen Station of the Cross returned to Richmond parish after 22-year mystery

It’s not every day Detroit Catholic stumbles upon the resolution to a cold-case mystery caper, but that’s exactly what happened when a reader alerted us in May that he believed he was in possession of stolen property. Leonard St. Pierre’s providential recovery of the long-lost First Station of the Cross from St. Augustine Parish in Richmond, which had been stolen from the church 22 years earlier, was a fascinating twist on a puzzling, and ultimately heartwarming, story.

6. Meeting the apostle of hope: Thousands venerate major relic of St. Jude

When Detroiters heard a first-class relic of one of Christ’s twelve apostles, St. Jude Thaddeus, would be coming to the Motor City in October, the news spread like wildfire. Known as the “saint of hopeless causes” and the “apostle of the impossible,” St. Jude’s powerful intercession has been known to work wonders for those seeking healing, respite or answers to desperate prayers.

Lines wrapped around each of the five churches that hosted the relic, a large piece of the apostle’s arm bone, and Catholics waited for hours to venerate and pray with a man who walked with Jesus. Many, waiting in line, told Detroit Catholic of their intentions: healing from stage four cancer, a child’s return to the Church, help with a difficult exam — and all left with an abiding sense of God’s love and providence.

5. As a synod delegate, Detroit Catholic en Español editor felt ‘close to the Church’

For the first time in the history of the Church, Pope Francis invited lay Catholics to take part in this fall’s Synod of Bishops in Rome as voting members. The editor of Detroit Catholic en Español, Jose Manuel de Urquidi, was selected as one of 70 laypeople from around the world to join 294 bishops, priests and religious for four weeks of intensive prayer, discussion and voting inside the synod hall at the Vatican from Oct. 4-29.

During those marathon weeks — the first of two general sessions of the synod on synodality — Urquidi described his sense of the Church’s closeness. An experience few are privileged to receive, he told Detroit Catholic of the impassioned discussions and familial bond he forged with Pope Francis, whose grandfatherly compassion he came to appreciate and love as he missed his family back home.

4. Still marching: Thousands from across state rally in first Michigan March for Life

On the one-year anniversary of the dreadful passage of Proposal 3, which stripped away basic protections for unborn life and ushered in an age of abortion-on-demand, Michigan pro-lifers showed the culture of life remains strong. Thousands from all across the state converged on Lansing for the first-ever Michigan March for Life, an important milestone in the fight against legalized abortion, which is shifting from the federal government to the states.

Students from southeast Michigan Catholic high schools led the charge, holding banners and praying that politicians, mothers and fathers might protect the most vulnerable in society. The state’s Catholic bishops celebrated a moving Mass for Life at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lansing, and pro-life leaders at the state and national level gave impassioned defenses of life from the Capitol steps.

3. Pope names Steubenville’s Bishop Monforton as Detroit’s 32nd auxiliary bishop

In a surprising, but blessed turn of events, Pope Francis announced in September that a native son of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton, would become its newest auxiliary bishop. After spending 11 years serving the people of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, Bishop Monforton brings a pastor’s heart and zeal for evangelization to his home archdiocese, where he will assist Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron in the archdiocese's South Region.

Detroit Catholic caught up with Bishop Monforton for a wide-ranging interview that spanned several stories, including one about his recent pastoral visit to Ukraine, his love for teaching the Catholic faith, and even his passion for scuba diving. Bishop Monforton began his ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit on Nov. 7, and said he looks forward to serving “all for Jesus” in his hometown.

2. As he turns 75, Archbishop Vigneron gives God thanks for a lifetime of graces

As required by canon law, Detroit’s chief shepherd submitted his resignation for consideration by Pope Francis upon reaching the age of 75 on Oct. 21. While no one knows when the pope might accept his retirement, which could take months or even years, Archbishop Vigneron sat down with Detroit Catholic to reflect upon his ministry in his home Archdiocese of Detroit.

With a radical trust in God’s providence, Archbishop Vigneron said he’s grateful for the years he’s been blessed to serve, and looks forward to continuing the work God has given him to serve southeast Michigan’s faithful for however long the Holy Father deems appropriate.

“I want to live in the present, and I’m not retired yet,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I have been reflecting on my ministry, but insofar as I have been thinking about how to use whatever time I have left to continue to advance the message that the Holy Spirit gave us during Synod 16: that we are called to be a Church on mission.”

1. Pregnant with conjoined twins, Detroit mother finds powerful strength in faith

No story captivated the hearts of the faithful in southeast Michigan — and across the nation — more than Nicole and Austin LeBlanc and their conjoined twin daughters, Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare. Since learning of the twins’ condition in utero, the couple bravely defied doctors’ repeated suggestion of abortion, determined to love their girls with heroic strength, no matter what God had in store.

Detroit Catholic en Español broke the story in March, following the couple’s heart-wrenching journey for three months until the twins’ passing on May 16, just an hour after they were born and baptized. The LeBlancs’ testimony of faith and love — and their open witness in sharing their story with the world — rallied the community in a beautiful moment that showcased the power of God’s transforming love.

Detroit Catholic en Español organized a prayer chain in support of the couple, who laid their daughters to rest in a beautiful funeral May 31 at Divine Child Parish in Dearborn. As their story spread worldwide, touching hearts from India to Spain and Belgium, the LeBlancs’ witness to the sanctity of life blessed countless souls as an example of radical love and trust in God’s plan.

We hope you’ve enjoyed Detroit Catholic’s coverage in 2023. We look forward to serving you next year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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