Royal Oak's National Shrine of the Little Flower marks basilica status
Royal Oak — Ellen Scholti stood amid the pews of National Shrine of the Little Flower on Wednesday evening, reveling in the white and gold decorations, flickering candles and songs from the choir.
The longtime parishioner was among more than 1,000 people who gathered there to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving marking the church's new status as a basilica.
The Archdiocese of Detroit announced this year that Pope Francis had granted Shrine the title of Minor Basilica — making it the second church in Michigan and one of more than 80 in the United States to bear the designation.
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," archdiocese officials said. To meet the criteria for becoming a Minor Basilica, Shrine had to "demonstrate its heightened liturgical activity and its architectural stature," the archdiocese said.
For Scholti and other members, such a distinction more than merited a celebration.
"It's always been a wonderful parish," she said. "It's really incredible to be a part of that and the blessings that come with that. I'm very proud."
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who last year requested that the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments bestow the title, led the Mass. A declaration from Pope Francis also was read.
"This is a wonderful occasion and it marks a real milestone in the life of this parish church," Vigneron told the rapt audience surrounding him.
The Rev. Robert Fisher, who leads Shrine, and its former pastor, the late Monsignor William Easton, long had sought the honorary label.
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 — one of the first five churches in the country to share the honor, according to the archdiocese.
Vigneron said the new status makes Shrine "an outpost for the Roman church" and positions it "to advance the work of the new evangelization."
With a membership numbering more than 3,500 families, the Shrine is considered among the largest parishes in the archdiocese.
Joanna Mikolajczyk, of Southfield, has attended for about four years. Her daughter, Sienna, was baptized there. Toasting the upgraded standing is "very important," she said. "Everybody's honored. ... I hope it brings attention to the church and strengthens everyone's faith."
Now, the main aim is for parishioners to "take this joy and share it with other people," Fisher said. "It's important for the whole community."