Sacred Heart in Livonia's All Saints Shrine home to more than 100 relics, inspired by pastor's search for St. Nicholas

LIVONIA — A local priest’s devotion to St. Nicholas has turned his parish into a national pilgrimage destination.

Fr. Joseph Marquis, pastor of Sacred Heart Byzantine Catholic Church in Livonia, has collected more than 100 relics of various saints. Most are actual bits of bone from saints of the early church, although Fr. Marquis also has collected some modern artifacts, including a piece of Pope St. John Paul II’s blood-stained cassock and a bit of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s hair. 

Now, the collection of relics — one of the largest in Metro Detroit — is on display at the Livonia church, available for veneration and reflection at the All Saints Shrine. 

“They’re our elder brothers and sisters in the faith,” Fr. Marquis told Detroit Catholic. “They’re men and women who were imbued by the Holy Spirit.”

Fr. Joseph Marquis holds a reliquary containing a piece of the blood-stained cassock of Pope St. John Paul II. The relic is one of dozens on display at the All Saints Shrine at Sacred Heart Byzantine Church in Livonia.

Fr. Marquis’ interest in the saints began when he was 4 years old. His father was in a sanatorium fighting tuberculosis, and his mother was in the third trimester of a high-risk pregnancy. She was rushed to the hospital on Christmas Eve. 

Fr. Marquis’ great-aunt came to watch him and his brother. She had the boys pray for their family, specifically asking for the intercession of St. Nicholas. 

“She led us in prayer and asked for God to bless our family. All of a sudden, something came over my brother and I. After all these years, I can still feel it,” Fr. Marquis said. 

His great-aunt explained that they were feeling God’s presence. She then told them about the saints and how their prayers can help the faithful. She again focused on St. Nicholas.

“My aunt explained who he really is. She said that he’s not an elf, he’s really a saint,” Fr. Marquis said.

Fr. Marquis said his quest to locate a first-class relic of St. Nicholas led him to discover, over the years, relics of dozens of other saints, which led to the creation of the All Saints Shrine.

The next day, Fr. Marquis’ mother gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It took several months for his father to regain his health, but the entire family was eventually reunited. Fr. Marquis said he believes St. Nicholas’ prayers helped accomplish this.

Fr. Marquis’ devotion to St. Nicholas has grown stronger throughout his life. He was the official Santa Claus of the J.L. Hudson Thanksgiving parade in Detroit in the 1970s and '80s, and he also founded the St. Nicholas Institute, which serves to promote the example and encourage the spirit of St. Nicholas. 

“St. Nicholas is a very important saint to me and my brother,” Fr. Marquis said. “Even though he’s couched as being a type of elf, he was really quite self-effacing. He even did many of his good deeds under the cover of night because our Lord said to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

Fr. Marquis searched for a relic of St. Nicholas for years, but acquired one of a different saint at first. He says this was his patron saint’s way of guiding him to creating the shrine.

“Because St. Nicholas held back in letting me acquire his relic, we developed All Saints Shrine,” Fr. Marquis said. 

Fr. Marquis touches a reliquary containing a piece of the True Cross of Christ at Sacred Heart Byzantine Parish in Livonia.

Besides St. Nicholas, the shrine also includes relics of the 12 apostles, the four Gospel writers, the right index finger of St. Joseph of Arimathea, the sternum of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a large fragment from the hip of St. Polycarp, a 3/4-inch by 1 1/4-inch fragment of the True Cross of Christ, SS. Perpetua and Felicity, and St. Agnes of Rome.

The relics are displayed in cabinets located along the side aisles of the church. Because the church is Byzantine and therefore contains many icons, Fr. Marquis said he hopes the shrine can be a spiritual retreat for Catholics of all backgrounds.

“Most of the relics are revered by both Eastern and Western Catholics. My hope is that this can be an ecumenical experience,” he said. 

The shrine has already attracted pilgrims from across the United States. Jim Miller said that his visit was a profound experience.

“I realized that the Church is alive,” Miller said. “The church has been alive for centuries. These relics are treasures, and it made me realize that we are still in touch with these saints.”

Fr. Marquis is available to give guided tours of All Saints Shrine every Wednesday from 1-4 p.m. Pilgrimages can also be organized by calling (313) 282-4327 or Sacred Heart Byzantine Parish is located at 29125 West Six Mile Road in Livonia.

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