Nine parishes in North Macomb Vicariate unite for weeklong event no one parish 'would be able to do on our own,' organizers say 

MACOMB — It is a story that has been told countless times before. To millions upon millions of ears.

But it is a story that needs to be told again. Once more. To ears that have not heard the story before, or those who have heard the story, but have forgotten their part in the tale.

It is the story of Christ, his Church, and how everyone is invited to take part in telling and receiving God’s plan to save humanity from sin.

For one week in northern Macomb County, nine parishes united to tell, share and retell that story to the greater community.

From March 23-28, the North Macomb Vicariate hosted its biennial “Onward to the Kingdom” Lenten retreat. Throughout the week, each of the vicariate's nine parishes — St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Kieran in Shelby Township; St. Lawrence in Utica; St. Clement of Rome in Romeo; St. Francis of Assisi-St. Maximilian Koble in Ray Township; St. Isidore in Macomb; St. Mary Mystical Rose in Armada; and SS. John and Paul in Washington Township — took turns hosting local and national speakers and Masses in a call to revive the faith in northern Macomb County.

Massgoers pray the “Our Father” during the closing Mass of the weeklong “Onward to the Kingdom” retreat, which featured talks by Crux editor and founder John Allen Jr. and musician John Angotti. 

“This is a way for all of us to remember that we are part of a larger Church,” Mary Kraus, Christian service coordinator at St. Lawrence, told Detroit Catholic. “Even though I may be a parishioner at St. Lawrence, when I visit the other parishes in my vicariate, see the Catholic faithful at others churches, it shows we’re all part of something bigger.”

The weeklong mission began with a day of service at the vicariate's lone Catholic high school, Austin Catholic in Chesterfield Township. On Sunday, nationally acclaimed Catholic musician John Angotti hosted a music ministry workshop at St. Therese of Lisieux before the retreat moved to St. Lawrence, where Angotti performed a concert titled “Celebrate Our Story.”

Monday featured Mass at St. Francis-St. Maximilian in the morning, followed by Angotti giving a “Renew Our Story” presentation at SS. John and Paul Parish. After Mass on Tuesday at St. Clement of Rome, local speaker and evangelist Mary Wilkerson gave a “Tell Our Story” presentation at St. Kieran.

“This retreat started in 2009 as an opportunity to get our parishioners out to other parishes to see the ways we are the same but still differ in how we celebrate Mass, the look and feel of the parishes,” Kraus said. “The way we format the week leaves everyone with an opportunity to step outside of their box, be exposed to the bigger Church.”

On Wednesday, retreatants went to the Capuchin Retreat Center in Washington Township for Mass, before an evening “Connect Our Story” presentation at St. John Vianney from Crux founder and editor John Allen Jr., who gave the retreat goers a more global perspective of the current state of the Church.

“With the collaboration effort between the parishes, we’re able to book speakers and events we in no way would be able to do on our own,” said John Lajiness, pastoral associate at St. John Vianney. “We are usually able to bring in some national-level speakers, something that any one parish would struggle to do, especially in the smaller parishes in the vicariate.”

“The wide diversity of the different speakers and opportunities for our parishioners was something that really excited me about this year’s retreat,” Lajiness continued. “John Angotti with his pastoral background and musical gifts; Mary Wilkerson is a local speaker who shared with us how to share our witness and testimony. And John brought a broader perspective, with his experience covering Rome and what the Catholic Church looks like on a global perspective.”

Matt Kush, music and creative director for St. Isidore Parish in Macomb, leads the choir during the closing Mass.

The final day of the retreat, Thursday, began with a Mass at St. Mary Mystical Rose, and the evening ending with Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Robert Fisher, episcopal moderator of the archdiocese’s Northeast Region, celebrating Mass at St. Isidore.

During his homily, Bishop Fisher recounted his days as a counselor at Catholic Youth Organization camps in Port Sanilac and the power of stories to captivate attention.

“The stories we have are a great power for all of us,” Bishop Fisher said. “This week, the theme of the mission revolved around stories, talking about celebrating our stories, renewing our stories, telling our stories and connecting with our stories. In a lot of ways, those four sub-themes are what we do at the Mass: we celebrate, we tell, we relive and we come in communion with the story of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Fisher said Lent is the time for the faithful to examine where they have gone astray with the story God has given them, calling to mind the sacrifice Christ endured to make each believer’s story a story of salvation.

“During the season of Lent, it is a wonderful time to renew, to take a look at where our story has deviated from Jesus’ story,” Bishop Fisher said. “How have we forgotten to serve, forgotten to love, forgotten to look for Christ in others, to be generous? So I invite us to come back, to renew, to confess our sins and celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, to have a time of renewal, because God has forgiven us, truly, and sent us forth to tell our story to the world.”

Renewed with the call to go forth and proclaim the Gospel, the vicariate community relished the chance to celebrate together one last time.

Fr. Roman Pasieczny, pastor of St. Lawrence, told Detroit Catholic why the mission is such a crucial part of Lent for the northern Macomb community.

“During Lent, it is all of our mission to return to God, to come together and proclaim that this community, these parishes, are a community for God,” Fr. Pasieczny said. “There are so many stories for this community to share, in each of the nine parishes. But the story of the vicariate, being here, in one of the fastest-growing regions in Michigan for the last 10 to 20 years, is to come together, to return to God. God is here, in our community. He loves us, He saves us. And His story is our story.”