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How the Institute of Christ the King saved a historic Detroit church

St. Joseph's Oratory

Courtesy of Saint Joseph Oratory Historical Renewal

J-P Mauro - published on 09/20/19

Where once there was fear of failure, now there is hope for the future. 

St. Joseph’s Oratory, a church that has stood as a landmark in the city of Detroit for over 140 years, was already in desperate need of renovation when excessive winds caused major damage to the 18th-century steeple, causing the parish to close its doors while they conducted emergency repairs.

To many of the congregation, this was seen as the final nail in the coffin of the parish, which was once large enough to maintain a school. Dwindling church attendance and deterioration of the church building had taken their toll on the old oratory.

Bishop Don Hanchon, auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Central Region, told Mark Hicks of The Detroit News:

“It was not able to sustain itself.”

In 2016, as hope was fading, Archbishop Allen Vigneron called in the Institute of Christ the King, and gave them the task of revitalizing St. Joseph’s Oratory’s grounds and once thriving ministries.

Leading the effort was Canon Michael Stein, who is now pastor of St. Joseph Oratory. Stein moved into the parish along with a deacon of his order and together the two set about identifying the extent of renovations needed to get the church back on its feet. Stein shared his initial findings with The Detroit News:

“Foundationally, it was solid. But it definitely needed work.”

Stein determined that the church would need $2.5 million to complete the work, and the parish launched the Historic Renewal campaign in 2017 in order to raise the funds. More than a year later, they are nearly halfway to their goal, having raised over $1.2 million.

The first renovations to be ordered were the restoration of the bell tower and the steeple, both of which exist in their original 18th-century forms. Stein also listed several other improvements that have been made in the last year, including a replacement parking lot, a new security gate, fencing, and an updated sound system.

In order to keep parishioners in the loop, and in an attempt to get more faithful in the pews, the oratory remained functional during the construction. Masses were held and other functions continued in order to allow the congregation to witness the renovations as they were completed. In response, church attendance has swollen to about 600 people per Sunday Mass.

While the Institute of Christ the King still has a long way to go before reaching the goal, they have demonstrated that St. Joseph’s Oratory still has a lot to offer the Detroit community. Where once there was fear of failure, now there is hope for the future.

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