The best of 2019: Top 10 Detroit Catholic stories we think you should read again

Detroit Catholic photographer Naomi Vrazo's photo of the St. Joseph's Day procession in downtown Detroit captured the hearts of Catholics across the country, drawn to the vintage beauty of devotion to the foster father of Jesus and patron saint of workers. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

DETROIT — 2019 was a remarkable year for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

From Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's election as vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda presenting Pope Francis with the results of the nationwide V Encuentro process, the archdiocese has made an impact on the universal Church. 

Locally, the archdiocese launched “Sent on Mission,” the second phase of the “Unleash the Gospel” movement to transform parishes into mission-focused centers of evangelization, and “Unleashing Our Catholic Schools,” a plan to re-establish the archdiocese’s schools as places where future saints are formed.

All of this happened as Detroit’s own seminary, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, celebrated 100 years of forming priests and lay leaders for discipleship.

Detroit Catholic has written countless stories about the comings and goings of Catholics throughout southeast Michigan over the past year, and we’d like to (re-)share 10 of our favorite stories from 2019.

We thank all of our readers for supporting local Catholic journalism and Detroit Catholic, and we look forward to serving Christ’s church in 2020.

Merry Christmas, and happy new year.

10. Shrine’s ‘Catholic Corner’ a ministry of presence during Woodward Dream Cruise (VIDEO)

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A blossoming annual tradition, the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak used its location on the corner of Woodward and 12 Mile to evangelize during the Woodward Dream Cruise, handing out rosaries, prayer cards and popsicles while teaching people about the Catholic faith. It’s evangelization that’s quintessentially Detroit.

9. From Nigerian refugee to Capuchin priest: Fr. Anthony Kote-Witah is right where God needs him

One of St. Bonaventure Monastery’s newest priests, Fr. Anthony Kote-Witah, OFM Cap., has a vocation that puts tremendous faith in God’s providence. Forced to flee his native Nigeria and live in a refugee camp, Fr. Kote-Witah wound up in Nebraska, where felt the call to priesthood. Now, he shares with others how one must be close to the poor and downtrodden to preach Christ.  

8. Deacon begins new ministry as Detroit Fire Department’s only Catholic chaplain

Deacon Dan Gonos never dreamed of being a firefighter, but now he ministers to them. The deacon, who serves at St. Linus Parish in Dearborn Heights, became the Detroit Fire Department’s eighth — and only Catholic — chaplain, ministering to the men and women who risk their lives for Detroiters' safety. Deacon Gonos’ “ministry of presence” is provides a lifeline of support to those whose jobs are among the most stressful out there.

7. Perfect chemistry: Detroit Mercy valedictorian chooses to enter religious order after graduation

Inspired by working with the poor in Detroit and Denver, University of Detroit Mercy valedictorian Mary Margaret Payne had a change of plans after graduating at the top of her class in 2019. From her original goal of pursuing a career in chemistry, Payne instead decided to discern religious life with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal in New York — a counter-cultural choice if ever there was one — starting a nine-year discernment process with the community in September. 

6. Pope Francis Center to build $19M ‘bridge housing’ facility to help homeless in transition

Expanding their work with the homeless in the city, the Pope Francis Center in July announced plans for a 40-unit facility on the corner of Mt. Elliott and East Canfield in Detroit’s McDougall-Hunt neighborhood. Construction on the transitional housing facility is expected to begin in spring 2020, providing a lifeline and a bridge to those living on the streets, where guests can find meals, housing, social services, medical attention and the tools to help them transition to independent living. 

5. The modern biblical scroll: Reddit offers Catholics community, chance to ask hard questions

The new evangelization requires Catholics to go to the peripheries of society, and that includes the internet. Detroit Catholic interviewed, anonymously, the moderators and users of “r/Catholicism,” Reddit’s biggest chat board on all things Catholic. The anonymous nature of Reddit, the seventh-largest social media site on the Web, allows people to be open and honest with one another, discussing some of the more sensitive issues of faith and Catholic life in the 21st century. 

4. Leaking roof destroys organ at St. Josaphat, revealing century-old hidden wonder

You don’t expect a damaged organ to be inspirational — but St. Josaphat's happy accident revealed a gorgeous stained-glass window of the Crucifixion that had been hidden for nearly 50 years. The story gained huge traction online as readers were amazed the window remained a “hidden gem” at the old Midtown Detroit parish. St. Josaphat installed an all-new, electric organ in November, bringing traditional music back to the parish, but the window remains visible.

3. St. Joseph’s Day procession highlights a day of devotion and prayer to patron of fathers and workers (VIDEO)

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The now-annual St. Joseph's Day procession sponsored by St. Joseph Oratory, a parish operated by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest on Detroit’s lower east side, is always a sight to behold. But this year’s procession went somewhat “viral” thanks in part to a stunning photograph by Detroit Catholic’s Naomi Vrazo. The image, which captured the procession going through steam rising from the city’s underground vents, drew international attention to the traditional March devotion.

2. A brewing discipleship: How a Protestant minister became a Catholic ‘coffee guy’ evangelist (VIDEO)

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Billy Kangas, one of the co-founders of Cultivate Coffee in Ypsilanti and director of community engagement at the Hope Clinic, has a wild conversion story. When the former Protestant minister felt an urge to become Catholic, he knew it was a career-killer in his line of work. Rethinking how to give witness to Christ as a layman, Kangas turned the simplest of business ideas — a coffee shop — into a source of joy and inspiration for the community. Coupled with his work at the Hope Clinic, a nonprofit medical clinic for those down on their luck, Kangas' story of discipleship features all the twists and turns of a life handed over to Jesus.

1. How leukemia shaped PIME director’s view of what it means to be ‘missionary’

Fr. Daniele Criscione’s story is nothing short of incredible. The director of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions’ (PIME) Detroit Mission Center raises support for international missionaries, but it's his own tale of missionary conversion that hits close to the heart.

Inspired by missionaries who preach Christ halfway around the world, Fr. Criscione always dreamed of joining them — until that dream was derailed by a devastating diagnosis of leukemia shortly after he was ordained a deacon. Spending the first few years of his vocation in a sterile hospital room, Fr. Criscione learned what it means to be totally dependent on Christ, stripped of every comfort. In what he calls the “greatest experience of my life,” Fr. Criscione's journey taught him being a “missionary” isn't about living in a far-off country, but dying to self and living to share the love of Christ — no matter where God would place him.

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