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Catholic Church Holds 40th Birthday Party Amid Talk of Closure

October 3, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ Sadness and joy blended at the 40th anniversary celebration for St. Ignatius Catholic Church, one of 43 parishes tagged by the archdiocese to close because of declining inner-city membership.

About 300 parishioners marked the occasion Sunday with Mass and brunch. Red balloons carried the ironic theme of the long-planned celebration: ″Life Begins at 40.″

The Rev. Anthony Helinski, St. Ignatius’ pastor, concluded Mass by saying he has responded to the archdiocese’s proposal with a letter of appeal.

″When a bishop speaks, we don’t goose-step,″ Helinski said, to the cheers of parishioners. ″Catholic people must be consulted in all aspects of their lives and certainly on something as important as a change in their parish.″

He said the proposal, which dealt another blow to a decaying city, is unjust and ″not a way to deal with people today.″

He said he believes all 43 churches designated to close and the five that would merge with some of the closing churches will fight the directive, which was announced Wednesday by Archbishop Edmund Szoka.

Leaders of the affected churches will begin developing a strategy at a meeting tonight, Helinski said.

The plan, which affects about 10,000 Roman Catholics, calls for St. Ignatius’ 150 families to merge with those at St. David’s, about a mile away. All of the churches are in Detroit except for one in the suburb of River Rouge.

The Detroit Archdiocese comprises 331 parishes in six counties with about 1.5 million members. That figure is up from 900,000 after World War II, but most of that growth has been in the suburbs. In 1976, more than 100,000 Catholic households were in Detroit, as against fewer than 50,000 now.

Helinski said he thinks the decision to close the churches is also related to the shortage of priests.

Parishioners were upset that the decision appears to contradict what the church recently asked parishes to emphasize - ministry to the poor, sick and elderly.

The announcement followed four years of study of urban parishes by a task force, which concluded that 43 of the city’s 112 churches aren’t viable.

Mark and Beverly Clark Pattison, members of the St. Ignatius church council, charged that the task force never looked closely at the parish or gave it a fair chance to defend itself.

″They don’t understand what it means to ask people to cross three neighborhoods and a freeway to get to a Catholic church,″ Mrs. Pattison said.

But Kay Federspiel, secretary at St. Ignatius for 20 years before she moved from the neighborhood after her house was burglarized, said she watched the church decline.

″There used to be 1,400 parishioners here; now there are maybe 300,″ she said. ″You see what the neighborhood is like around here with the burned-out houses and you can’t blame people for moving away.″

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