November 14, 2012

Two churches, one parish, one campaign

St. Gertrude

Nearly 190 years old, St. Gertrude is among the oldest parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The church was renovated in 2006.

A decade ago, St. Gertrude and St. Germaine were two Catholic parishes located just over a mile from each other in St. Clair Shores. Built in 1826, the origins of St. Gertrude trace back to Detroit’s earliest east side residents, while St. Germaine was built in 1957 to serve the spiritual needs of baby-boom Catholics in the area. Like many other metro Detroit parishes established in eras when young Catholic families dominated the demographics of several communities in southeast Michigan, as the neighborhoods and populations changed around St. Gertrude and St. Germaine, and with fewer priests available for assignment as pastors, it became clear through the Together in Faith pastoral planning process the two parishes could combine resources and collaborate on ministries to maintain the Catholic presence in that part of St. Clair Shores.

St. Germaine

St. Germaine parish was established 55 years ago and the church facilities were expanded in 1998.

Since merging in 2009 and becoming the new parish of Our Lady of Hope under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Jim Bjorum, the two worship sites have been maintained, the parish membership and finances have stabilized, and the parish has launched its Changing Lives Together capital campaign with a goal of $624,000.

“Our top priority is to reduce our parish debt so that more of our operating revenue can be used for other projects, which include parking lot improvements at both parish campuses, expanding parking near the handicapped entrance at St. Gertrude, and making the pews more comfortable at St. Gertrude,” said Father Bjorum. “I’m very impressed with the initial number of gifts and pledges we’ve received so far. The lay leaders at Our Lady of Hope and the parishioners understand the best way for us to move forward is to get our debt to a manageable level, rather than servicing a lot of interest charges,” he continued. “It’s enlightening and encouraging witnessing the generosity we’ve experienced.” The parish debt is from church building renovations at St. Gertrude in 2006 as well as a 15,000 square-foot activities center, and the addition of a choir room, library, and computer room opened at St. Germaine in 1998. “The Archdiocese of Detroit arranged for a lower interest rate on our debt for the next three years, so that will help,” Father Bjorum explained.

The parish merger that created Our Lady of Hope took a few years to plan and implement. “We have about 1,600 registered households now,” said Father Bjorum. “A couple of hundred households went elsewhere when Our Lady of Hope was created, but that’s understandable in these situations. I feel the effort we put into communicating the necessity of the change and the fact that both worship sites would stay open as well as St. Germaine Catholic School resulted in most of our parishioners deciding to come together. We did a survey after the merger and about 80 percent of those responding felt better about the merger after it happened.” Weekend Masses are celebrated at the St. Gertrude church, while weekday and holy day Masses are celebrated at St. Germaine, in part to ensure the participation of students at the school.

“Many parishes linger and ultimately close because they don’t see the change around them and adapt to that change,” Father Bjorum reflected. “In 2005, we recognized the need to merge; we embraced the change and came out much better and more alive.”

Father Bjorum said the Our Lady of Hope Choir – involving more than 60 adults – was a catalyst in bringing the two parishes together. “I think parishioners saw their parish friends joining together in song, which made it more comfortable for everyone. I witnessed the same thing at our parish festival in September and in the parish men’s club – parishioners living in the same community and sharing the same Catholic faith who were once apart in many ways, but are now serving and worshiping alongside each other in one new parish. It’s the planning we’ve done through Together in Faith and raising resources through Changing Lives Together that have enabled us to build one Eucharistic community praying and serving together. To that I say, ‘Amen!’”.

Updated November 2012

Changing Lives Together is a series of parish campaigns to generate resources to fulfill parish-developed plans and priorities. Learn more about the initiative in your parish.