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Dedicated parish hits a milestone

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Some note a tie between St. Jude Catholic Church and its legendary namesake: the patron of hopeless cases, who beseeched the faithful to persevere despite severe, seemingly impossible circumstances.

The parishioners of St. Jude Catholic Church are dedicated and boost the surrounding neighborhood with a food pantry.

This weekend, the parish on Detroit’s east side marks a milestone, its 75 anniversary, despite having faced shrinking membership, financial issues and other challenges that have led churches across southeast Michigan to shut their doors.

But the parishioners are dedicated, flocking from other areas for fellowship at the site on Seven Mile as well as boosting the surrounding neighborhood through a food pantry, cleanup efforts and more.

“They maintain their positive spirit despite the things against them, despite the demographics that have diminished their membership,” said Archdiocese of Detroit Bishop Donald Hanchon. “They’re strong, they’re steady, and I think they are making a difference.”

St. Jude’s resilience and community ties underscore their anniversary festivities on Saturday, shortly after the feast day for their patron saint.

Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron is leading a 4 p.m. Mass. A sold-out dinner reception follows at the Assumption Cultural Center in St. Clair Shores with music, a cash bar, silent auction and 50/50 raffle, organizers said.

Another bonus: a book featuring pictures from St. Jude’s long history, said Tim Johnson, who joined the church about seven years ago and is on its parish council. “It should bring back some good memories for people who have been attending their whole lives.”

Through bonding with other worshipers, St. Jude attendees — which now number about 250 families, down from more than 5,000 people at its 50th anniversary — often maintain their ties.

“There are many multi-generational families involved,” said Mike Pecar, who frequently travels there with his wife from their Rochester Hills home about 30 miles away. “We’ll have three generations in one family that still attend … and like us, many of them have moved geographically further away but still feel attached to our family at St. Jude.”

Church historians trace its origins to the Rev. John Ording receiving an official canonical appointment to launch a parish on July 8, 1941. Days later, some 500 people attended the first official Sunday Mass at Denby High School, which hosted gatherings until the first of St. Jude’s buildings opened the next year, according to its website.

The following two decades, the church thrived: a convent opened; classrooms were added to welcome hundreds of students to its school; a credit union was created, records show.

As the world changed dramatically in later years, St. Jude responded — forming a social hall, offering adult education courses, launching an emergency food depot. But the church also lost members, closed its school and incurred debt, which Hanchon and council members said is being paid off incrementally.

Still, a commitment to service remained. St. Jude officials estimate the food pantry now serves about 100 people each month with donated goods. “If you were to be there on a typical day and see the amount of food that comes into and goes out of that parish, it’s quite phenomenal,” Hanchon said. “Many people get to know the church that way if they’re not Catholic.”

Another way St. Jude serves is through heading into the nearby community, which has also faced hard times. The Rev. Shafique Masih, its pastor, and others have joined efforts to clean up around abandoned homes. “I feel that we can become a great witness, bringing the good news and the peace to our area,” he said.

St. Jude’s visitors also spot distinctive features, such as ornate stained glass depictions of various saints.

Meanwhile, indoors, St. Jude’s visitors also spot distinctive features: a baptistery area with the original green marble baptismal font; a textured blue devotional chapel ceiling; art glass panels depicting saints as well as other figures — Gandhi, the Rev. Solanus Casey, Martin Luther King Jr. — who demonstrated traits such as healing, peace, justice and service.

“It’s just a beautiful church,” said Diane Garrison, who started attending with her family in the late 1970s. “It’s not like a hall. … It’s some place peaceful to go and talk to God.”

For now, she and other devotees anticipate the upcoming holiday services, potlucks and other functions. But they also cherish bonds.

“Everybody is close and willing to help,” Garrison said. “If you need anything, you can go to anybody and ask. It is my family.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2117