Redford parishes pay down debt, improve facilities

Bill Blaul
Special to The Michigan Catholic

Redford — Despite parishes in Redford experiencing demographic and financial challenges, parishioners in the suburb bordering Detroit’s west side have generously responded to Changing Lives Together. Fundraising at three of the four parishes in Redford is helping to reduce debt, while facility improvements continue at the other parish.

Lay leaders of Changing Lives Together at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish. Fr. Robert Leliaert will lead a parish mission October 7-10 focusing on Vatican II in this 50th anniversary year of the historic Council. Fr. Leliaert, ordained in 1967, wants to close this Year of faith with a “more dynamic, more spiritual, evangelizing parish.”

The parish debt at St. Robert Bellarmine has been cut by 20 percent in recent months, and a storage room in the church was converted into a handicap-accessible restroom.

“This is our 60th anniversary year, and getting out from under our debt would be a great gift for the parish community,” said Fr. Richard Leliaert, now in his seventh year as pastor. About 900 families are registered at the parish, which has reached almost 90 percent of its $516,000 pledge goal.

The parish took out loans from the archdiocesan Loan Deposit Program in 2000 and 2007, and has struggled through a difficult economy to make the payments.

“Changing Lives Together made it possible for us to reduce the debt, and once we get it paid off, we can focus on spreading the word of God’s kingdom,” Fr. Leliaert continued. “We added a restroom to the church so we can be more welcoming of those with special needs, and our parishioners appreciate the progress.”

Fr. Leliaert plans to use the momentum to revive a traditional parish mission at St. Robert Bellarmine in early October.

“I’ve been heartened by the response to our campaign,” he said. “Our parishioners have embraced the goal, they’ve sacrificed and worked hard, and I look forward to the spiritual transformation of our parish.”

Fr. Suresh Rajaian recently departed St. Valentine to become pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in the Cayman Islands on July 1. Rev. Socorro Fernandes is now pastor at St. Valentine, in addition to his ongoing responsibilities at Our Lady of Loretto Parish in Redford. St. Valentine has about 1,100 registered households.

Three miles away at St. Valentine, Fr. Suresh Rajaian and parishioners have made a $71,000 dent in the parish debt since their Changing Lives Together campaign began last fall. Pledges exceeding 81 percent of the parish goal of $393,000 are in place, and Fr. Rajaian is grateful for the progress considering parishioners have been servicing the debt for more than five years.

“Our primary objective of Changing Lives Together is to substantially reduce the parish debt so we can commit resources to our core mission of sharing and living the Good News of Jesus Christ,” said Fr. Rajaian. “Eliminating our debt will mean more resources for Catholic education and evangelization. Our parishioners are very committed to Christian service, such as our St. Vincent de Paul ministry and our food pantry. The faithful here really enjoy going into the neighborhoods and being a light for Christ.”

One and a half miles away from St. Valentine, the roof of the former school building at Our Lady of Loretto has been repaired with proceeds from Changing Lives Together, and replacement of the parish parking lot will start June 24.

“Parishioners are very pleased to see their contributions producing results so soon,” said Fr. Socorro Fernandes, assigned as pastor of the parish in 2010.

Our Lady of Loretto has no debt, so parishioners prioritized repairing parish facilities. “We put a lot hard work, dedication, and patience into our campaign,” said Sr. Margretta Wojcik, pastoral associate at Our Lady of Loretto. “Fr. Fernandes led our campaign with sincerity and honesty, and our people responded with great generosity.”

The Changing Lives Together leadership team at Our Lady of Loretto, where parishioners have pledged 99 percent of their $280,000 goal.

Our Lady of Loretto holds twice-annual welcoming events for newly registered parishioners and families.

“We set up ‘time and talent’ tables on our various parish ministries,” said Kristine Freeman, parish secretary and a member of the campaign follow-up committee. “We provide new parishioners with a welcome package that includes information on parish ministries and Changing Lives Together. People are usually surprised by all the activities and services offered through Our Lady of Loretto, and some eventually volunteer. It’s helped us establish a warm, welcoming feeling at our parish, and I think that’s one of reasons we’ve been successful in our campaign.”

The Changing Lives Together campaign at St. Hilary in Redford started in February, and parishioners have pledged more than half of the $63,000 goal, most of which will be used to lower the parish debt.

St. Hilary Parish pastoral council members met earlier this year to discuss Changing Lives Together, the Catholic Services Appeal, and other parish priorities.

“We’re a small parish of about 160 households,” said Fr. Donald Walker, parish administrator. “Many of our parishioners are elderly and on fixed incomes in a tough economy. They listened, understood, and responded to Changing Lives Together while being very generous with the Catholic Services Appeal at the same time,” he said.

Parishioner-to-parishioner phone calls that began the campaign at St. Hilary as a means of reconnecting the faithful with their parish will continue.

“We’ll call everyone in the parish once or twice a year,” said Fr. Walker. “We want everyone to know they are loved by their parish family, that we’re ready to pray for their intentions and help out in other ways.”