Being honored as a shrine ‘reflects a reality of St. Joseph as a place of pilgrimage,’ rector says of parish’s new special distinction

DETROIT — On the heels of one historic Detroit church being honored as a basilica, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announced March 8 that another, St. Joseph Oratory on the city’s lower east side, will be named an archdiocesan shrine.

The designation recognizes a spiritual reality that’s existed at the parish for some time, the archbishop said, namely, that the church has become a place of worship of extraordinary distinction and a spiritual bedrock for many souls who come from near and far to worship in its edifice.

“Over the ages, countless men and women have flocked to St. Joseph — the patron of fathers, workers, and indeed of the whole church — and found him to be a constant and reliable friend and protector,” Archbishop Vigneron said in a statement. “With this designation, we recognize and celebrate the reality that the St. Joseph Shrine has been and will continue to be a sacred place of pilgrimage, a source of deep devotion to St. Joseph, and a welcoming place of rich liturgical life for all the faithful.”

A woman lights a votive candle during the 2019 St. Joseph Day of Prayer at St. Joseph Oratory. With St. Joseph Oratory becoming St. Joseph Shrine, Canon Michael Stein, ICKSP, said even more pilgrims will be drawn to the Eastern Market parish on March 19. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic) 

Since 2016, St. Joseph Oratory has been operated by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Chicago-based society of apostolic life known for its reverent celebration of the sacraments and devotion to extraordinary-form liturgies in the Latin rite. 

Since the Institute arrived at St. Joseph — then part of Mother of Divine Mercy Parish but now its own parish — at Archbishop Vigneron’s invitation, the parish has grown exponentially, serving 220 registered families and more than 1,200 households who visit regularly for Mass.

Archbishop Vigneron will join the parish on March 19 for the feast of St. Joseph, when he will read the official decree and subsequently lead the parish community and pilgrims in the annual St. Joseph Day procession through Eastern Market.

St. Joseph Archdiocesan Shrine and Parish — the parish’s new name — will become the second church in the Archdiocese of Detroit to have its entire campus designated a shrine (after the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak). Smaller shrines exist within churches across the archdiocese, such as the shrine to St. Anne at Ste. Anne Parish in Detroit or the shrine to St. John Paul II at the Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake. 

“A shrine is a specific designation for the life of the local church,” Canon Michael Stein, ICKSP, pastor and rector of St. Joseph Shrine, told Detroit Catholic. “There are different types of shrines; it could designate a specific place in a church, a church building itself, or a shrine could be the church building and the entire campus. That largest sense of the shrine is what we are here at St. Joseph.”

Canon Adrian  Sequeira, ICKSP, the parish vicar, gives a homily at St. Joseph Oratory. The canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest arrived at St. Joseph in October 2016, celebrating the sacraments in the extraordinary form. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

The Code of Canon Law (1234) defines shrines as “places where there are more abundant means of salvation for the faithful,” Canon Stein said, where public devotions are promoted and the sacraments are readily available.

St. Joseph will remain a parish and a spiritual home for its parishioners, but now has the “double vocation” of being a second home for those from other parishes who visit St. Joseph as a spiritual supplement to their prayer lives, Canon Stein said.

The announcement comes just one week after the designation of Detroit’s historic Ste. Anne Parish as a basilica. That designation — which comes from the pope himself — is much rarer and carries a higher distinction, but there are similarities between the two. For instance, like a basilica, the pastor of a shrine can be known as a “rector.”

Already a place of pilgrimage

Also like a basilica, a shrine serves as a place of pilgrimage — a reality that had already come to exist at St. Joseph, Canon Stein said. 

Beyond the parish’s annual St. Joseph Day celebration — during which thousands of people come to the parish for Masses, dinners and a public procession — the parish also offers a perpetual novena to St. Joseph on Wednesdays concurrent with its noon Mass for workers on their lunch break, and it’s not uncommon for busloads of pilgrims to tour the historic, 1873-built church. 

“A title reflects the true life that is occurring in the church,” Canon Stein said. “Our church doors are open all day, every day, for anyone to be able to enter the church and light a candle or offer prayers. We have a central devotion to St. Joseph, who is the patron of workers, of fathers, of families, the guardian of purity — it seems almost every societal ill finds an answer in St. Joseph.

A statue of St. Joseph is seen on the campus of St. Joseph Oratory. The parish’s fervent devotion to Jesus’ foster father is one of the reasons the church will make a fitting shrine, Canon Stein said. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“So with this life of daily Mass, daily confession, of public devotions and the life of St. Joseph, the archbishop recognized that spirituality, and, by erecting us a shrine, says this is a title more fitting of the everyday life that’s occurring,” Canon Stein added.

The parish offers two Masses each Sunday (9 and 11 a.m.) as well as daily Mass Monday through Saturday, all in the Extraordinary Form.

In a letter to parishioners, Archbishop Vigneron commended St. Joseph’s clergy and faithful in building up the spiritual life of the parish under the Institute’s care.

“Having witnessed the vibrant renewal taking place under the pastoral care of the Canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest over the course of the last three years, I am grateful for the fervor and commitment of the priests and parishioners,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “It has become clear to me that souls are flocking to St. Joseph Shrine to be invigorated spiritually through the liturgical life there, expressed in the extraordinary form of the liturgy, and through the numerous devotions offered, including the perpetual novena to St. Joseph each Wednesday.”

Breathing life into an old church

When the Institute came to St. Joseph in October 2016, the church was in danger of closing. Part of Mother of Divine Mercy Parish — which also includes Sweetest Heart of Mary and St. Josaphat churches — St. Joseph had only a handful of families who attended regularly. 

Recognizing the church’s historic importance to the city, Archbishop Vigneron invited the Institute — which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year — to take residence at St. Joseph, a move that paid immediate spiritual dividends.

Members of St. Joseph Oratory process down Gratiot Avenue during the St. Joseph Day procession in 2019. Traditional Catholic devotions at the parish have drawn pilgrims from near and far to the parish. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

“St. Joseph didn’t have many parishioners at the time and had many urgent capital needs,” Canon Stein said. “There were whispers of potential closure. We are very grateful to the archbishop’s larger vision; he really created a win-win situation. He unmerged St. Joseph from its previous cluster, made it a parish again and invited the Institute to come in, take residence on campus, reopen the doors and breathe sacramental life back into St. Joseph’s.”

In October 2017, the parish launched a three-year, $2.5 million historic renewal campaign that so far has included the restoration of the church’s 200-foot steeple and bell tower and will also include the restoration of the church’s four exterior walls. 

The restoration of the church's actual stones is a symbol of the spiritual reality taking place within the parish, Canon Stein said.

“As these living stones multiply and increase, meaning the souls who come to St. Joseph, we’ll be able to take more of the material stones, the entire outer walls of the church, for future renovation,” Canon Stein said.

Beginning March 11 and leading up to St. Joseph Day, the faithful are invited to join the St. Joseph Shrine community in a nine-day, solemn novena to St Joseph, including themed homilies and a prayer to the beloved saint

While March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph, the parish will have a second opportunity to celebrate its patron on May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

“St. Joseph is one of those saints who is so grand that he has multiple feast days on the calendar,” Canon Stein said. “So May 1 will also be an opportunity where souls will have the opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence, as well as any tour group or pilgrimage group that comes throughout the year, on any day, because they have come to a shrine.”

The usual conditions for obtaining a plenary indulgence include going to Mass, confession and praying for the intentions of the pope.

To link St. Joseph’s two principal feast days, St. Joseph Parish and Shrine will begin a 33-day total consecration to St. Joseph on March 30, culminating in the May 1 feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, Canon Stein said.

A fruit of prayer and sign of renewal

Archbishop Vigneron said he hopes the designation of St. Joseph Shrine will encourage more of the faithful to take advantage of pilgrimage opportunities to increase their devotion to St. Joseph.

“It is fitting that this designation comes during the 150th year of St. Joseph’s patronage of the Universal Church, as decreed by His Holiness, Pope Pius IX,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “As with the recent news about the Basilica of Ste. Anne, I hope that this recognition will stir up in our hearts a renewed commitment to the friendship in Christ we share with the saints, and challenge each of us to consider how we can deepen and foster these friendships.”

Canon Stein blesses bread during the St. Joseph Day of Prayer in 2019. St. Joseph Oratory hosts thousands of visitors every year for St. Joseph Day. (Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

St. Joseph’s historic renewal campaign has been supplemented by a daily prayer to St. Joseph that was composed by a saint who’s close to both the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and to Archbishop Vigneron, Canon Stein said.

“One of the patrons of Christ the King, and a saint that is very dear to Archbishop Vigneron, is St. Francis de Sales, and we have a prayer to St. Joseph, that is composed by St. Francis de Sales, and that is the prayer we say as a parish after every Mass,” Canon Stein said. “We use that prayer as a parish to entrust our historic renewal efforts to St. Joseph. And we see this blessing of becoming a shrine as one of the unforeseen graces of this daily prayer to St. Joseph.”

On March 19, a place will be revealed next to the St. Joseph side altar where parishioners and visitors alike can hang ex votos, a traditional devotion in which the faithful can leave small tokens of thanksgiving for a prayer granted through St. Joseph’s intercession.

Canon Stein encourages the faithful who visit the shrine — especially those planning to attend the March 19 St. Joseph Day of Prayer — to use all of their senses to take in what makes St. Joseph a place of worship worthy of the distinction of a shrine.

Whether it’s the traditional Latin liturgy, the Gregorian chant from the choir loft, the iconic neo-Gothic architecture or the traditional Stations of the Cross in German — a callback to the ethnic community who built the historic church — Canon Stein said there is a lot to discover about the new shrine.

“There are so many different reasons people come to St. Joseph’s,” Canon Stein said. “Souls might come because they are drawn by the beauty of the sacred edifice itself, or because of the sacred liturgy, the great reverence and care that is given to the celebration of the Mass. People might come because they know the doors are unlocked, and they make it part of their routine before coming to work. 

“We are a downtown church, across from Eastern Market,” Canon Stein said. “We owe it to the people to make our doors open, so they can visit the Blessed Sacrament, invoking St. Joseph, our patron saint, to guide and intercede for them.”

St. Joseph Day of Prayer

The faithful are invited to take part in the St. Joseph Day of Prayer on Thursday, March 19, which will included Masses, devotions, dinner and a procession with a statue of St. Joseph through Detroit’s Eastern Market.

More information about St. Joseph Shrine is available online at StJosephShrineD.org and HistoricRenewal.com. The Shrine has an active social media presence @StJosephShrineD on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.