Summer visits an opportunity for Fr. Ulman to get to know new parishioners, answer questions and welcome families to parish

ROCHESTER HILLS — When Fr. Stanley Ulman was first assigned as pastor of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Rochester Hills 15 years ago, he hatched an idea to get to know his parishioners better. 

It might raise an eyebrow, he thought, if a priest dropped by the house unannounced. Instead, he decided to send postcards to parish families with a note saying he'd be in their area, and would love to meet them and bless their homes. 

His efforts proved to be fruitful. Fr. Ulman blessed 125 to 150 homes in the summer months — and made quite a few new friends, too.

“The idea behind this was practical,” said Fr. Ulman, 73. “It helped me to get a lay of the land and for our new families, too.” 

While the goal in the beginning was to meet all of his parishioners, with 1,700 registered families at St. Mary of the Hills, his quest quickly became a little overwhelming. These days, Fr. Ulman limits his visits to new parish families (about 25-30 homes per summer), but the idea is the same.

Colin O'Brien places a St. Mary of the Hills magnet given to him by Fr. Stanley Ulman on the refrigerator.
Fr. Ulman blesses the O'Briens' family home with holy water as Dan O'Brien crosses himself. 

In the early days, Fr. Ulman recalled with a smile when he would show up at (whom he thought) was a parish family’s home, only to have the homeowner looking bewildered upon opening the door and seeing him in his Roman collar. “Usually, it was because the family had moved and hadn’t notified the parish,” he said with a laugh.

Still, there were times when the homeowners would still welcome him inside or even occasions when Fr. Ulman could persuade them to attend Mass at the parish.

It's also been a chance for parishioners to ask questions about the sacraments or bring up topics they might not otherwise, he said. 

“This was helpful because they would bring up issues or questions, or they would ask about the school,” Fr. Ulman said, referring to Holy Family Regional School, which is partially sponsored by St. Mary of the Hills.

On July 24, Fr. Ulman met the O’Brien family, who recently joined the parish.

Although Dan and AnnMarie O’Brien have lived in their Troy home for 15 years, it had never been blessed. Dan received Fr. Ulman’s postcard and thought it was a great idea to have him come for a visit, and to meet their three boys, Danny, Colin and David.

“It’s kind of nice to have one of God’s representatives in the house,” Dan O'Brien said.

Dan O'Brien watches as his son, Colin, plays a song on the piano for Fr. Stanley Ulman.

His fourth-grade son, Colin, agreed. He, who along with his brothers, is an altar boy, said he also enjoys Sunday Mass, because “it makes me happy.” He added he loves hearing the priest's homilies. 

When Fr. Ulman asked the boys whether they had any questions, Danny, 11, immediately asked, “How do I deal with my brothers when I’m altar serving?”

Fr. Ulman smiled but was quick to respond: “Try to be reverent.”

Danny said although he is excited, he is nervous about going to Holy Family this fall. Having Fr. Ulman at his home helped to ease his fears, especially when the priest encouraged him to join the many sports and activities the school has to offer.

Fr. Ulman insists he's not in it for a free meal, either. While he's flattered when a family invites him to stay for dinner, he politely declines, insisting he's there for the home blessing and to meet the family only. And he never asks for money or donations.

With an average of 100 new families a year, Fr. Ulman stays busy. “It can be hard, but it makes a big difference for people to feel welcome, and I enjoy doing it,” he said. “We have many things to be thankful for.”