Every morning I do a review with Jesus of my previous day. Why? I like to look at all my experiences and then ask the Lord to help me to learn from them. Last week Fr. Mario shared some of the history of St. Aloysius in his bulletin article because the parish is celebrating its 150th anniversary. I learned from its rich history. Now that we (Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, St. Aloysius, Our Lady of the Rosary, and Old St. Mary’s) exist together as a Family of Parishes, I believe it would benefit us to learn about each other’s history.
So, let’s look at our Archdiocese’s Mother Church. Blessed Sacrament’s story began when the parish was established in 1905. From its beginning it has been about community and structure building, but also dealing with debt! I admire Fr. J.J. Connolly, who was named the first pastor and eventually the first rector, because he was amazingly creative. Bishop Foley purchased property for the parish and turned over the mortgage to Fr. Connolly so he could eliminate the debt for a building that didn’t even exist yet. Fr. Connolly’s response: he sold off 12 by 12-inch parcels of the property to each parishioner to “own” a little bit of the soon-to-be parish. To thank them for helping, the first Mass on Christmas day has always been offered for those generous folks. Speaking of first Masses, the very first for the parish was celebrated in a dilapidated former shoe factory that sat on the property. The parish went deeper in debt when a rectory was built. To help pay for its furnishings, the Altar Society went out to people who had never heard of Blessed Sacrament. The Altar Society leased property at the fairgrounds and for six days during the MI State Fair, they fed and invited folks. Slowly and diligently, the present church structure began to be built. A Mass was celebrated in an empty open-air shell of a building. Before the building was “completed”, the Great Depression hit. When Detroit was named an Archdiocese, the new Archbishop, Cardinal Mooney petitioned the Holy See to have the still-unfinished Blessed Sacrament to be the new Cathedral. It became a reminder of Christ’s call to the thousands of folks who drove by on Detroit’s main thoroughfare. Because of WW II, the two imposing towers and sculptures on Woodward were not added until 1951 (the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the city). To pay for the magnificent façade, they reached out to the entire community of Catholics throughout the Archdiocese and gave Blessed Sacrament the title “Everyone’s parish.”
There is so much more to share: our Cathedral has hosted future Popes, existing Popes, and future canonized saints. It has dealt with numerous renovations and celebrated numerous Sacraments. So, what can we learn from this history? Archbishop Vigneron made me Rector of the Cathedral eight years ago to foster it as an “Apostolic Center.” Building on our rich history, we have written a Master Plan which includes engaging arts, culture, education, religious and service opportunities to help people encounter the love of God and grow in their mission as disciples. When and how this will all unfold, only the Lord knows. Regardless, we will learn from the people in our history. We will help people “own” our/their mission; We will be about community and structure building; We will need to be amazingly creative. Like our Altar Society, we will go out to people who have never heard of Blessed Sacrament and invite and feed them. We are still unfinished, but we will keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and hopefully be a reminder to the thousands of folks who pass by on Detroit’s main thoroughfare that they can encounter Christ here. With His grace, we will earn the moniker “Everyone’s parish.”