Church ‘mystery dates’ help Canton couple strengthen bond with each other and Christ
Feb 28, 2019
Lori and Bernard Girardot have visited 84 churches in Archdiocese of Detroit, have plans to visit them all
WARREN — From Canton to Clinton Township, Monroe to Macomb, and Woodhaven to Waterford, if you can think of a Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Detroit, chances are, the Girardots have been there.
What started out as a one-off visit away from their home parish of St. Thomas a’Becket in Canton has turned into a weekly pilgrimage and retreat for Lori and Bernard Girardot.
The couple, married for 31 years, to date have visited 84 parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit and beyond, striving to attend Mass at every church in the archdiocese in what has become a weekly pilgrimage.
The project has even turned into a fun little game that’s spiced up their marriage, Bernard says.
“It starts with one of us doing some research, figuring out what areas we haven’t explored yet, digging into the Mass times. That person proposes a Mass time to the other person without telling them where the church is, keeping it a mystery,” Bernard told Detroit Catholic. The two sat down for an interview before a Saturday evening Mass at St. Anne Parish in Warren, another stop on their tour.
The Canton couple live near the intersection of Ford and Beck and hit the highway either Saturday evening or Sunday morning for a drive. Armed with the Mass Times app on their phones, the driver knows where they are going, and the passenger patiently waits to see what their partner has in mind.
Sometimes, there is a change of plans during the drive.
“I recall one time, we were driving to a Mass that was Downriver, and we were stopped by a train,” Lori said. “So after waiting five to 10 minutes, we knew we were two miles from the church, so Bernie turned around. Bernie got back on the highway, went down to the next exit, and the road was closed, because a tree was in the way. We said, ‘Well, OK, we missed the 4:30 Mass,’ so we pulled up Mass Times and looked for a 5 p.m. Mass somewhere else.”
Visiting 84 churches has given Bernard and Lori an interesting perspective on the diversity and the commonalities of parishes across the archdiocese — from architecture to liturgical practices.
“It’s very interesting to see all the unique features of each parish community,” Bernard said. “We went to St. Ladislaus (in Hamtramck), which has a very Polish presence, and you could really see their impact on the church. Each parish community has a unique flavor, a unique way of worshiping and showing fellowship.
“It’s fun to see the different microcultures,” Bernard continued. “It is interesting about the faith: Catholic does mean Catholic. No matter where you go, the Order of the Mass is the same. But how it is executed can vary in some areas. Some Masses are full of ceremony with the ringing of the bells and incense, the high ceremony. Others are more informal, plebeian.”
Bernard grew up at Gesu Parish in Detroit, and Lori was raised in St. Robert Bellarmine in Redford Township. Asked which of the parishes they’ve visited is their favorite, the two decline to answer. Instead, they opt to appreciate each place of worship for its own features.
“Preferences no longer count, because I have discovered so much broadness in the presentation of the Mass,” Lori said. “We have been to Masses where they have a lot of extra prayers, a lot of differences in standing up versus kneeling at different parts of the Mass. Now I go to Mass looking at it as a visitor. It’s all beautiful, and I tend to find a message in the Mass, no matter where. It’s a beautiful experience.”
The Girardots — now empty-nesters with their son, Michon, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and daughter, Cosette, out of the house — don’t recommend their church pilgrimage for anybody. The couple said they were well involved in parish life at St. Thomas a’Becket before starting their journey.
In fact, the first stop on their tour, on May 14, 2017, was not intended to be the start of seeing every church in the archdiocese. But almost two years later, the semi-globe trotters are asking what is possible.
“We still have places to go; there is a Catholic Church in the archdiocese that’s down in the Caribbean (the Archdiocese of Detroit was given pastoral responsibility for St. Ignatius Parish in the Cayman Islands in 2000); maybe we’ll save that for winter,” Bernard said. “We also know there are oratories and other facilities like St. John’s in Plymouth that isn’t a parish, but has a gorgeous chapel.”
When the couple makes their stop, Bernard plays a guessing game on when the church was built, observing the stain glass windows and building style of the church’s roofline. He added he was surprised by how “new” St. Anne in Warren was; Bernard guessed it was early 1940s, when really the church was dedicated in 1964.
Lori is more in tune with observing the layout of the church and what particular devotions are present at the parish.
“The first thing I look for is the altar,” Lori said. “When I walk in, I try to have my camera out and take a picture of the altar before Mass. I also look for the crucifix itself, but I’ve noticed a lot of churches don’t have the crucifix in the center of the altar. Another thing I look for is a picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It’s neat to see how that devotion is represented in so many different ways across the churches.”
Lori and Bernard make a point to turn their pilgrimage into a kind of holy “date night.” Depending on whether they are going to a Saturday evening or Sunday morning Mass, the two will scout out the town or neighborhood where the parish is, looking for a local diner to share a meal and get a flavor of the town.
“It has really been a spark in our marriage,” Lori said. “We remember when we were engaged, the priest who married us (Msgr. John Zenz), asked us how we are going to keep our marriage alive,” Lori said. “And Bernard and I looked at each other and said. ‘We’d never have a dull moment.’ In a way, that is what this all about. Keep things fresh and new.”
The couple married in 1987 at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse in Farmington — another worship site marked off on their list. After 31 years of marriage, the two see their weekly trips to a new church as another way to keep the spark alive.
“What I’ve learned through this project, if you can call it that, is that surprise and delight can build (a relationship),” Bernie said. “And not just to surprise, but to be giving as well. You want to please your partner and be excited by the prospect of spending time with them. That is a true blessing, and it’s the best. This is a way of keeping God in our marriage.
“Sure, through 31 years, you have your bad days, moments when you go, ‘Oh, you again,’” Bernard added. “But your faith in God and your vows in front of the altar give you the strength to continue. Even in the bad times and the good times, having God with you makes it that much better.”
Lori agrees that the church pilgrimage has made their marriage even stronger, providing the consistency that God brings, along the spontaneity of going somewhere new — two elements that makes every marriage stronger.
“I’ve learned that 31 years is a long time,” Lori said, with Bernard giving a long groan in response. “It’s filled with ups and downs, but we’re in this thing together. We got married in the Church, found family and friends who go out together through the Church.
“Our goal is to help one another get to heaven,” Lori continued. “We get the other one to be the best version of themselves they can be. We find for us, it works to have it with the Church, without mystery dates. It just works.”