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Church Marks 40th Birthday Days After Being Tabbed For Closure

October 2, 1988

DETROIT (AP) _ St. Ignatius Catholic Church celebrated 40 years of existence in a poor neighborhood Sunday as church leaders pledged to fight an archdiocese proposal that would close it and 42 other inner-city churches.

Parishioners marked the anniversary with Mass, a brunch, clowns to entertain the few children and red balloons printed with the ironic theme of the long-planned celebration, ″Life Begins at 40.″

The church was named Wednesday as one of 43 to be closed, dealing another blow to a decaying city losing people, business and institutions. St. Ignatius would disband and merge with a church 10 blocks away.

The shakeup affects nearly 8,000 Roman Catholics belonging to the churches, which are all in Detroit except for one, in River Rouge, a suburb.

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

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

″We are disappointed with the report,″ Helinski said, quoting the letter. ″We find it inconsistent with previous archdiocese directives.″

Helinski said he and other parishioners ″strenuously object″ to the proposal and will meet Monday with leaders of the other affected churches to mount a campaign against the proposal.

The announcement, detailed by Cardinal Edmund Szoka and Bishop Patrick Cooney, followed four years of study of urban parishes by a task force led by Cooney. The task force found that 43 of the city’s 112 churches aren’t viable.

″There were many that I thought were thriving parishes but when you looked at the total picture that was not true,″ Cooney said.

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 an opportunity to defend itself. Mrs. Pattison said churches were given only two weeks to appeal.

Kay Federspiel, who was secretary at St. Ignatius for 20 years, said she hates to hear that the church is closing, but she watched its decline and anticipated the announcement. She moved away a few years ago after her house was broken into.

″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.″

Parishioner Marianna Johnson couldn’t count the number of times her house or garage has been broken into, but she stayed in the house where she raised five children. A member of St. Ignatius for 37 1/2 years, she said she feels sorrow and anger that it will have to merge.

″These people need a church,″ Johnson said. ″There are too many members who belong who are not going to be able to get to St. David’s.″

Her granddaughter, Carol Pikarski of St. Clair, said the impoverished neighborhood needs the positive influence of the church.

″The people feel like they have been let down,″ she said. ″Sunday Mass is the only time some of them have fellowship with other people.″

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