Saving a shrine

It’s taken work, prayers and the grace of God

 

BY TONI CASHNELLI

PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLIAlex Kratz at St. Joseph ChapelThe statues are peeling. The parking lot is a crazy quilt of patch work. And the chain link fence has taken a few hits.

But Friar Alex Kratz looks beyond the neglect and disrepair, and what he sees is holy ground. That, and a world of possibilities.

On a dank, bone-chilling day, a break in the rain gives him time to lead a tour of a 2.25-acre site where he has invested a lot of work and a lot of prayers. Five years ago, this was just another vacant parish. Today it’s home to a center of Franciscan and Marian spiritual renewal.

Welcome to St. Joseph Chapel and The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pontiac, Mich. Behind two buildings is a U-shaped trail with 14 Stations of the Cross. In the nearby rectory are the new offices of Terra Sancta Pilgrimages, which Alex co-founded in 2008 and now serves as Spiritual Director. This confluence of place and purpose seems to have been destined: A shrine is a holy place, and “Terra Sancta”, referring to its ministry in the Holy Land, means “holy ground”.

“It was kind of meant to be,” says Alex, who was looking to move Terra Sancta’s headquarters from an office building in Southfield when he heard about Left and right, statues of the Sorrowful Mysteries; above, the refurbished chapel.this place in 2013. A pilgrimage veteran suggested a space 12 miles north of Detroit and a half-mile from the site where an auto plant once produced Pontiacs. “I had done a wedding here at St. Joseph’s once, and I remember thinking, ‘I’d like to have a church like this.’”

Answered prayers

How it all unfolded still amazes Alex. “God made it happen,” he insists.

St. Joseph’s was founded as a mission for Polish-Americans in 1923. The Marian shrine, a passion project of long-serving Pastor Bernard Jarzembowski, was dedicated in 1948 (see below). Through the years, Alex says, “This place became known for some healing miracles.” One of six registered Marian shrines in Michigan, it attracted pilgrims from across the country. But as auto plants closed and neighbors fled to suburbs, the parish declined and fell into debt. By the time the property was offered for sale in 2013, the shrine was “basically closed.”

The notion of moving Terra Sancta to a place loved by pilgrims appealed to Alex and co-founder Patti Giangrande.  But there was also a Franciscan connection at St. Joseph’s.  Devoted to the saint, “Pastor Jarzembowski was healed by St. Anthony as a child,” Alex says. “And we discovered there was once a Third Order fraternity here. That felt like it Inside the shrine; above, Stations of the Cross.confirmed our presence.”

Once they decided to buy and restore the chapel and grounds, the pieces fell into place. A woman in Plymouth, Mass., pledged $150,000 “as a thanksgiving gift for the Blessed Mother.”  But hers was a matching fund donation. To seal the deal, “We had a three-month window for all of this to happen,” Alex says. “We needed to raise $150,000 to match it. By the grace of God, we reached our goal,” purchasing the property in March of 2015. “Maybe Pastor Jarzembowski was praying for us.”

They had outlined their plans in a brochure titled, “A Gift for Our Mother: Restoring Terra Sancta”.

“We believe we are being called to be the guardians of this little oasis of holy land, this ‘Terra Sancta,’ in Pontiac,” they explained in an appeal for donations. God willing, they would restore the chapel and shrine, build bridges to the Holy Land “through pilgrimage and solidarity,” and reach out to neighbors though charity and evangelization.

Chapel reborn

Inspired to follow Francis and “rebuild my church”, they discovered how demanding that can be.

Besides a facelift, accomplished with vinyl siding and the addition of a stone façade, the sad little chapel needed a new boiler, a new roof, electrical updates and repairs to window frames. Volunteers and donors came to the rescue. “The paint is new, the molding, carpeting and lighting are new,” Alex says. “The tabernacle was found in the attic and re-plated.”

On May 13, 2017 – the centennial year of Our Lady of Fatima – the chapel re-opened. Since then Alex, one of the founders of St. Moses the Black Friary in inner-city Detroit, has been here on Tuesdays and Saturdays celebrating Mass and working with Above left and right, the beginning and end of Stations of the Cross; a Sleeping Joseph in the chapelPilgrimage Coordinator Patti on Terra Sancta’s ministries. First Saturday devotions are popular, and the typical turnout for Mass is “decent” for “a somewhat out-of-the-way shrine like ours,” Alex says.

Eventually, “I’d like to do outdoor Masses, especially for the Feast of St. Anthony.” On last year’s Feast day, “We had a donation of 400 loaves of bread from an Italian baker. We went door-to-door to share the blessing” in their predominantly black Baptist neighborhood and were buoyed by the positive response. Down the road, “We hope to perhaps one day open a St. Anthony Evangelization Center” and possibly start a healing ministry.  It sounds ambitious, but “Our strength is doing ministry on our knees, praying.”

They’re not worried about the weathered statues, the droopy fence or the pitted parking lot. As Alex has learned, this is a place where prayers are heard – and miracles can happen.

Inspired by a statue

Our Lady of the Cape stands next to the altar at St. Joseph’s.It was a statue that inspired Bernard Jarzembowski to establish a Marian shrine in Pontiac, Mich.

As pastor of St. Joseph Parish from 1939 to 1962, he supervised reconstruction of the church and encouraged devotion to the Blessed Mother, launching pilgrimages in her honor and forming parish groups such as The Confraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In 1947 while attending the Marian Congress in Ottawa, Canada, he was drawn to the replica of a statue of Our Lady of the Cape, spending much of his time in prayer before it.

He commissioned a copy of the statue from a Montreal artist and planned a Marian shrine at St. Joseph’s. The finished statue was placed next to the altar. The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, was blessed on June 20, 1948, by Bishop Stephen Woznicki of Detroit. The grotto shrine on the side of the chapel was blessed on Aug. 17, 1952, along with a statue Pastor Jarzembowski gave the parish, an Italian-sculpted marble image of The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

According to church records, “The shrine quickly became a pilgrimage destination….about 1,200 pilgrims from many states came for the first pilgrimage, even from as far as Minnesota and New England.”

The shrine is associated with a number of miracles. In 1960, eight people swore in an affidavit that the Sorrowful Mary statue had come to life. Years later during race riots in Detroit, vandals went after the statue. “They were not able to knock her down,” according to Alex Kratz. But after that incident, “Her left cheek developed a tear channel.”

If you go

Candles for pilgrims in The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of MarySt. Joseph Chapel and The Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is at 400 South Blvd. W., Pontiac, MI 48341. The chapel and shrine are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with Confession from 10:30-11:45 a.m., Mass at noon, and Rosary after Mass.

On the Fridays of Lent, except Good Friday, St. Joseph Chapel will open at 11:45 a.m. for noon Mass with the Marian Stations of the Cross to follow. The Mass will be shorter than normal, with a brief homily and no singing. Closing time on those days is 1:15 p.m.

To learn more about restoration, donations or volunteering, visit agiftforourmother.org or terrasanctapilgrimages.org, or call 248-423-3600.

Helping the Holy Land

Alex Kratz leading a Holy Land pilgrimage“Even though we’re tiny and poor, we help the Holy Land a lot,” says Alex Kratz, Spiritual Director of Terra Sancta Pilgrimages. Since 2008, the Michigan-based ministry has taken nearly 1,000 pilgrims to places where Jesus walked and introduced them to the modern-day Christians who live there.

Now housed in the former rectory of St. Joseph Chapel and the Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pontiac, Mich., Terra Sancta does more than lead pilgrimages twice a year. “We support a parish on the West Bank,” says Alex, “and have a Child Sponsorship Program with a school there. Building bridges is very moving to me.” One hundred percent of donations to its Holy Land programs go to the Holy Land.

Alex sees a trend, “an uptick in pilgrimage to the Holy Land all over.” Terra Sancta’s latest orientation meeting was held on Super Bowl Sunday. Despite the scheduling and snowy weather, “We still got 40 who came to learn and/or register for our April pilgrimage, which now is at about 40 pilgrims and likely growing. We haven’t had numbers like this in seven years or so, so we are happy.”

Don’t put off doctor visits

PHOTO BY Shutterstock.COMRegular exams help identify risk factors.Remember that old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?  It more than applies to regular doctor visits.

Health professionals stress that regular exams are important to help identify risk factors and problems before they become serious.  If diseases are caught early, treatments are usually much more effective.  Ultimately, having a regular doctor visit will help you live a long and healthy life.

For men, in addition to checking weight, blood pressure, and other basics including lab work, your doctor’s visit may specifically include:

  • A rectal exam to check for abnormal bumps in the prostate and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test to screen for prostate cancer starting at age 50 or younger (if there’s a family history)
  • Between 65 and 75 if you ever smoked cigarettes, an abdominal exam to check the aorta for enlargement, weakness, or an aneurysm, which could become a life-threatening problem

It is important for you to play an active role to get the most out of your doctor’s visit.  Time is often limited during these exams, but by coming prepared you’re sure to get the most out of your checkup.

Here is the schedule:

  • Primary care doctor: Once a year unless stated otherwise by doctor. Elderly usually go every four to six months
  • Eye doctor: Every one to two years
  • Dentist: Every year depending on dentist
  • Dermatologist: Every year unless specified otherwise

Stay well and God bless.

Michelle Viacava, RN

Province Nurse

  • Children in Negril marching for an end to violence.Tuesday in Jamaica, Friar Jim Bok was on hand for “a sweet peace march in Negril,” as he writes on Facebook. “Today, grades 4, 5 and 6 from the Negril All Age School marched through two of our troubled neighborhoods, Red Ground and Whitehall, to pray for peace and an end to violence and crime. The theme: Peace Wi Seh! Perhaps they have something to tell us! It was a great morning in Negril!”
  • The secrets of one of Oxford University’s greatest medieval teaching institutions – a friary established in 1224 – have been unearthed and are being studied by archaeologists. Known as Greyfriars, it was home to “some of the most important scholars in Oxford University’s history and indeed the wider history of European academic life,” including Roger BaconUnearthing secrets of scholarsThis fascinating story is posted on the Order’s website at: Rediscovered-oxford
  • Canadian friars from the two existing provinces are planning their Chapter of Union from Oct. 21-25 at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alberta. A public celebration will accompany the launch of the new bilingual Pan-Canadian Province.  Read more at: Chapter-of-union-dates
  • It’s no big deal, according to Friar Chris Cahill, who since 1995 has been baking bread during Lent for the Hispanic community at San Carlos Borromeo Church in Cincinnati. Each Friday he provides 20 loaves for the meal following El Via Crucis (Way of the Cross). Attendance has risen this year since the first Friday of Lent, when 140 people were present. “Last week we had 190,” Chris says. “They usually Chris Cahill, OFMbring a couple of soups in huge containers, and I bring the bread.” He starts baking on Thursday to be done by 6:30 on Friday, before the event at 7 p.m. “I have five varieties I make: white; whole wheat; multigrain; cornmeal; and herb (dill). The dill usually goes the fastest.” Asked why he’s been doing this for 23 years, he says, “I’m part of the community. I like to do things for the community.”

 

FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

www.franciscan.org

March 8, 2018

PHOTO BY MARK SOEHNER, OFMSisters Anna Marie Covely, Mary Pia Malaborbor and Vickie GrinerOn Wednesday, March 7, the Poor Clares elected Sr. Mary Pia Malaborbor as their new Abbess.  Her Vicaress is Sr. Anna Marie Covely.  The Councilor is Sr. Vickie Griner.  I was there as their Ordinary and President.  This is a role not unlike that of our Visitators when we have an election.  As I wrote last week, I was able to have visitation with each sister.

I am struck by how these women, inspired by the Spirit, are able to allow some decisions that need to be made to rest for a while, to have days of prayerful reflection around these decisions, and to come to an internal space with a reduction of urgency and capacity for joy.  They may, in the end, come to make a similar decision that they held in the beginning.  But it feels different.

In this long retreat that we call Lent, I hope to have some of that joy and peace as we brothers make our own decisions for ourselves, with the Province and individual friars.  Certain flowers only bloom in the desert after a rain.  May these Lenten days offer that desert space where God can speak to our hearts.

– Mark Soehner, OFM

 

Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

ARCHIVES

PHOTOS BY TONI CASHNELLIAlex Kratz at St. Joseph ChapelThe statues are peeling. The parking lot is a crazy quilt of patch work. And the chain link fence has taken a few hits.

Our Lady of the Cape stands next to the altar at St. Joseph’s.It was a statue that inspired Bernard Jarzembowski to establish a Marian shrine in Pontiac, Mich.

Alex Kratz leading a Holy Land pilgrimage“Even though we’re tiny and poor, we help the Holy Land a lot,” says Alex Kratz, Spiritual Director of Terra Sancta Pilgrimages. Since 2008, the Michigan-based ministry has taken nearly 1,000 pilgrims to places where Jesus walked and introduced them to the modern-day Christians who live there.

FRANCISCAN FRIARS Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist

On May 13, 2017 – the centennial year of Our Lady of Fatima – the chapel re-opened. Since then Alex, one of the founders of St. Moses the Black Friary in inner-city Detroit, has been here on Tuesdays and Saturdays celebrating Mass and working with Above left and right, the beginning and end of Stations of the Cross; a Sleeping Joseph in the chapelPilgrimage Coordinator Patti on Terra Sancta’s ministries. First Saturday devotions are popular, and the typical turnout for Mass is “decent” for “a somewhat out-of-the-way shrine like ours,” Alex says.

FRANCISCAN FRIARS
Office of Communications Province of St. John the Baptist