Loyalty, generosity helps small parish in Dearborn Heights to endure changing times
Founded in 1926 as industrial growth fueled Detroit’s manufacturing might, St. John the Baptist Parish in Dearborn Heights was located amid fields, few paved roads, and young families of Polish descent who made their living in the nearby Ford plants. A parish school opened a few years later, educating generations of Catholic children until 1995 when it was closed after years of declining enrollment. Rev. Edwin Balazy has been pastor of the small parish since 1981, and like many longtime parish families, has witnessed economic and demographic changes well beyond the imagination of the area’s Polish immigrants of 90 years ago.
Despite the challenges of population shifts and cultural indifference, St. John the Baptist Parish has survived with about 200 loyal, generous, and aging parishioner households. Nearly 150 of those households helped Father Balazy complete a successful Changing Lives Together campaign two years ago, with pledges of more than $119,000. “We’ve run a tight ship over the years,” said Father Balazy. “We don’t have any parish debt, and in putting together our priorities for Changing Lives Together, we were careful to keep our needs ahead of our wants,” he added.
Parishioners have fulfilled pledges to the extent that a backup power generator was obtained for the church and rectory. New air conditioning for the church is planned as pledges are completed. “We did real well considering the age of our parishioners,” said Father Balazy. “They are true people of faith and I’m very grateful for the response.” St. John is also maintaining a longstanding program to help younger parish families send their children to area Catholic schools by providing parish tuition assistance to augment archdiocesan and other sources of financial aid.
St. John the Baptist is collaborating with nearby St. Albert the Great Parish, which welcomes children from St. John into its religious education programs. Parishioners at St. Albert pledged more than $216,000 to the parish Changing Lives Together effort.
Father Balazy said the approach at St. John the Baptist was typically low-key and down-to-earth. “We decided what we wanted to do, we had a coffee and donuts gathering to explain it, and that’s all it took.”
Updated October 30, 2013