Pope names Shrine of the Little Flower a basilica

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

With its soaring tower and Art Deco design, Royal Oak's National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church inspires awe among visitors and passerby alike.

On Saturday, the landmark stands out on an even greater scale for another reason.

Pope Francis has granted Shrine the title of Minor Basilica — making it the second church in Michigan and one of 82 in the United States to bear the designation, the Archdiocese of Detroit announced Saturday.

The title is given to churches around the globe to signify "a particular importance in liturgical and pastoral life as well as a closer relationship with the pope," the archdiocese said in a statement.

"By honoring the National Shrine of the Little Flower with the designation as a Minor Basilica, Pope Francis has blessed all of us in the Archdiocese of Detroit," said Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron. "As a basilica, the National Shrine helps to express our own relationship to the Holy Father and to enrich the liturgical life of the entire Archdiocese. This honor carries with it a responsibility to share our love of Jesus with more fervor."

To mark its designation, Vigneron is scheduled April 22 to lead a solemn celebration of Mass with a reading of the decree.

The church's name also is changing to reflect its new label, and Shrine is set to observe various feast days associated with St. Peter and the papacy will be observed, according to the archdiocese.

The distinction caps a lengthy effort.

The Rev. Robert Fisher, who now leads Shrine, and its former pastor, the late Monsignor William Easton, had worked for years to push for the honorary label.

Last year, Vigneron year requested that the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments bestow the title.

"We are most grateful to Pope Francis for the designation, and to Archbishop Vigneron for his support and guidance to obtain it," said Rev. Fisher, who became Shrine's pastor last year. "The essence of being a National Shrine — and now a Minor Basilica — is drawing people closer to the Lord by providing a place for prayer, and where one's spiritual life can be refreshed, energized and deepened. We recognize our responsibility all the more to spread the Gospel message to all who come our way."

Founded in 1926, the church was among the first named after St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a French nun known as the "Little Flower."

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops designated it a National Shrine in 1998 — becoming one of the first five churches in the country to share the honor, according to the archdiocese.

To meet the criteria for becoming a Minor Basilica, Shrine had to "demonstrate its heightened liturgical activity and its architectural stature," archdiocese officials said.

With a membership numbering more than 3,500 families and operating grade and high schools, the Shrine is considered one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese.

It's also one of the most active churches in the region. Eight regular Masses are celebrated each weekend, including one in Spanish, church members said. Four priests serve full-time.

The distinctive structure near Woodward and 12 Mile features a crucifix-adorned tower as well as a chapel with numerous sacred objects and a Heritage Hall illustrating church history. It also was one of the first churches in the region to include a round sanctuary with a center altar, archdiocese officials said.