Parishioners and alumni of Gesu Parish and School gathered July 30 for a centennial celebration of the Jesuit-led Catholic community in northwest Detroit. Pictured are members of the Gesu School Class of 1977 pose for a group photo on the parish grounds. (Photos by Daniel Meloy | Detroit Catholic)
Rooted in Jesuit tradition, northwest Detroit parish prides itself on welcoming strangers and promoting sustainability
DETROIT — Parishioners and former students from here and abroad gathered on July 30 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish of Gesu and the Jesuits who have made it a place of formation for generations who have shaped the world.
For a century, the Northwest Detroit Jesuit Parish, located across from the University of Detroit (now the University of Detroit Mercy), has been a beacon of education, service, sustainability, and faith in the daily life of his parishioners.
“We are celebrating our 100th anniversary as a parish and a school; more importantly, we celebrate our future,” the father said. Lorn Snow, SJ, Gesu’s new pastor. “These 100 years on which we have built lead us into the future, filled with the good news of evangelization, awareness and our concern for the environment, as Pope Francis has invited us to do.”
Festivities included food trucks, a DJ, school and church tours, a raffle, year-by-year class photos, and a Mass with Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald F. Hanchon, Central Region Moderator of the archdiocese.
“We (had) over 1,000 people in attendance, including people from Florida, California, Missouri and the East Coast,” said Karen Rease-Clark, chair of the Gesu Centennial Celebration Committee. “People have such fond memories of Gesu’s church and school.”
Sustainability and practice Pope Francis’ apostolic letter, Laudato Si’, is a major concern for the Gesu Green Team, which completed a $1.5 million renovation of the parish grounds to better conserve the waters of runoff and reduce the parish’s drain and sewer bill.
Prof. John P. McNichols, SJ, served as president of the University of Detroit from 1921 to 1932 and oversaw the university’s move from the site of SS. Paul and Peter (Jesuit) Church – Former cathedral in downtown Detroit donated by Bishop of Detroit Casper H. Borgess in 1877 – at its present location at the corner of Livernois and Six Mile Road (which is now McNichols Road).
Prof. McNichols built a small chapel on a farm just north of the university in 1922, which became Gesu Parish.
Beyond recognizing Gesu’s illustrious history, which includes alumni who became mayors, congressmen and entertainment stars, the centennial celebration highlighted contemporary ministries and initiatives of parish.
“Gesu has so many projects going on,” Rease-Clark said. “We received a lot of donations because of the centenary celebration. We have a huge project, a million dollar project for our parking lot to make it more sustainable. We are redoing our doors in the church, which represents a lot of money. The children learn about the school’s solar panels, how the technology works and it saves them money. Really, we have so much to do here.
Pr. Lorn Snow, SJ, Pastor of Gesu Parish, draws a ticket for the parish raffle. The centennial celebration included food trucks, a DJ, and church and school tours.
Recently, the parish solar panels installed on the roof elementary school by raising $250,000 and receiving matching from Ford Motor Company and United Autoworkers.
Green Team Gesu, a group of environmentally conscious parishioners, has completed a $1.5 million project to divert runoff from the parish’s six-acre campus to existing gardens and reduce fees parish water and sewerage paid to the City of Detroit.
The green team redirected the gutters to cisterns in the schoolyard, which in turn feed the pipes that water the courtyard garden and the rain garden which are now home to native plants.
Cisterns and gardens divert up to 3,000 cubic feet of stormwater at a time, which reduces Gesu’s monthly drainage costs by 20%.
The parish’s commitment to the environment and sustainability is one of the many aspects of the parish that draw people in, Fr Neige said.
“Our sense of welcome is great; we welcome everyone”, the father. says Snow. “We make people feel like they belong, that they have a home. We are celebrating a very unique formation with a very strong Ignatian charism to help people find God in everyday life. Especially through the Ignatian examination and Jesuit principles, we seek to encounter God and Jesus Christ in this community.
Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald F. Hanchon plays the ukulele during his homily at the 4 p.m. Mass celebrating Gesu’s centennial.
Bishop Hanchon asked parishioners and Gesu alumni to consider the great effort of the Jesuits and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters, who taught at the Gesu school for many years.
“I remember in the seminary, when we complained about how many years we had to spend in formation, someone said, ‘You know, Jesuits take even longer,’” Bishop Hanchon said in his homily. “They are taking this time, as the scriptures suggest, to calculate the cost of making disciples, to see if they are willing to give their all for Jesus’ sake.”
Bishop Hanchon invited the parishioners of Gesu to invoke Saint Ignatius of Loyola – the founder of the Jesuit order whose feast day was July 31 – and contemplate where God was in their lives when they attended the Gesu school.
“Ignatius, I think, needed to know what kind of God he was serving,” Bishop Hanchon said. “He needed to know how intimately God Almighty was with him, a simple servant. We all achieve our dignity, not because of who we are, but because of who we are. We learn who we belong to in the adventure of a lifetime. If we allow Jesus to become such a close friend to us, we find that he connects us to the most unlikely brothers and sisters – not everyone the world might think is eligible, but those who, through Jesus, discover an endless life source of mercy and forgiveness.
Mary (Hansknecht) Massaron graduated from Gesu in 1966 and is currently a parishioner at Holy Name Parish, Birmingham. Massaron returned to Gesu, where her grandson goes to school, to meet old friends and visit the school.
“Gesu is a wonderful place because it’s incredibly diverse and welcoming to people from so many different cultures,” Massaron said. “Teaching is instilled with the best values of Catholicism in terms of social justice and faith.”
An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion distributes Communion at Mass during the celebration of the centenary of the Gesù. Gesu parishioners often cite the welcoming nature of the parish and its involvement in the community as reasons why their parish stands out.
Massaron recalled the teachers she had at Gesu and how they shaped her life. “Gesu gave me a strong academic foundation and a strong foundation in the values that are important,” Massaron said.
Bishop Hanchon said that all the work of Gesu teachers and clergy over the years is rooted in the Jesuit motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam“For the greater glory of God.”
“Whatever it may be, however humble it may seem or noble it may be, do everything for the Lord Jesus, who has done all he could for us,” Bishop Hanchon said. “If we live our lives in the light of the glory of God, we become instruments to make this good news no longer a secret, but a great message that releases so much good and so much mercy.
“The city of Detroit, the archdiocese, the whole world have been the recipients of all these lessons about Jesus learned here in Gesu,” Bishop Hanchon added, “how much does it cost, how much is it worth, how much does it pay, how long it endures, the good it does, the evil it overcomes, the unity that makes it possible.Great good has happened in this neighborhood, this city, this world, through the lessons taught here at Gesu.