Dark holiday season for Detroit Catholic Church as archdiocese downsizes

By Reuters Staff
January 2, 2012

(St. Leo Catholic Church in Detroit December 17, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

The brown brick building at 4860 15th Street is at the center of the next downsizing to hit this failing city: the restructuring of the Archdiocese of Detroit. St. Leo Catholic Church was built more than 120 years ago as Detroit was developing into a manufacturing powerhouse – first in shipbuilding and later in car making.

Today its neighborhood is one of the most abandoned pockets in one of the nation’s most desperate cities. Like many Catholic churches around urban America, it has been hit by a shortage of priests and a dwindling supply of parishioners. The Church’s woes are all the more acute in the Motor City, where St. Leo and the archdiocese are stark examples of the impact of the near-death of the U.S. auto industry. Detroit’s population-and the parish’s flock-have withered along with the car factories. The Christmas Eve Mass by 81-year old Bishop Thomas Gumbleton may be among the last ever held here.

(The inside of the abandoned Martyrs of Uganda Catholic Church in Detroit December 18, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

Last month, Archbishop Allen Vigneron released a preliminary draft of the Catholic Church’s third downsizing in Detroit in little more than a decade. The archdiocese has cut its parish count in Detroit’s city limits to 59, down from 79 in 2000. St. Leo is among nine parishes earmarked for closure in the Detroit area within the next few years. In 2012, its congregation is due to be subsumed by the larger St. Cecilia, about three miles away.

Read the full story by John D. Stoll here.

For more photos, check out our Photographers Blog post “Detroit’s glimmer of hope.”

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