June 29, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John not alone

'Mass Mob' draws 900 to historic Detroit church

Detroit— Normally the saints of St. Joseph are lost in their solitude, having the spacious confines of their church to themselves.

On Sunday they were lost no more.

The statues of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were joined by 900 people attending services at the Catholic church as part of the Detroit Mass Mob.

The fledgling movement honors Metro Detroit’s oldest churches by having Catholics from around the region attend one of their Masses en masse.

“It’s a beautiful church,” marveled Paula McDonald, 34, of Wixom. “It has a lot of history.”

One hundred and forty-one years of history, to be exact.

It hasn’t been that long since the church was last full, but it sometimes seems that way, said members.

In 1873, the throngs that filled St. Joseph were immigrants from Germany.

On Sunday, they were travelers from an equally exotic locale — the suburbs.

“Not much,” Michelle Cooper of Clarkston said when asked how often she visits Detroit. “This gives me a reason.”

Like other Detroit churches, the congregation at St. Joseph has grown old and small. To survive, it merged last year with two other shrinking churches, St. Josaphat and Sweetest Heart of Mary, to form Mother of Divine Mercy parish.

The turnout Sunday seemed big enough to fill all three churches.

People jammed the small wooden pews, lined the walls, snaked up the stairs to the choir loft and tumbled out the rear and side doors.

Several babies cried. When’s the last time the statues heard that?

“You saw people of all ages,” said McDonald.

The big crowd, humid weather and lack of air-conditioning had many churchgoers fanning themselves. The church brought in several fans and opened its stained-glass windows.

But attendees didn’t mind a little discomfort.

They loved the architecture of the 19th century landmark, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

This is what churches looked like in their heyday: high ceilings, ornate confessionals, wood-carved columns, a pulpit that hovered high above the pews.

“It’s beautiful. It takes your breath away,” said Cooper.

The big turnout paid immediate dividends, and not just of the celestial sort.

Donations were up, said church officials.

Churchgoers not only were generous during the Mass collection but, on their way out, dropped loose change into a gallon-sized jug in the rear of the sanctuary.

Detroit Mass Mob, which got the idea from a Catholic group in Buffalo, began its monthly trek in April.

The turnouts have grown from 150 people to 400 to 900.

The next service is July 13 at Sweetest Heart. Capacity is 1,800. The Mass mobsters are vowing to fill every seat.

“Definitely,” said Cooper. “These churches need our help.”

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A couple makes their way to St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Detroit on Sunday, June 29, 2014. St. Joseph's was selected for a 'Detroit Mass Mob,' where parishioners from other churches in the Detroit suburbs come to celebrate mass in Detroit's historical churches. / Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News
A couple tries to get a better look of the sanctuary from the balcony ... (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Fr. Grzegorz Tokarski, center and Deacon Joe Lennon lead Sunday's service. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)