Shrine parishioners rejoice in ‘great honor’ of basilica’s new role of faith

Archbishop Allen Vigneron leads a Mass of thanksgiving at the newly designated National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak on April 22. Nearly 30 priests, four bishops and more than 2,000 faithful attended to celebrate the first minor basilica in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

Archbishop Allen Vigneron leads a Mass of thanksgiving at the newly designated National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak on April 22. Nearly 30 priests, four bishops and more than 2,000 faithful attended to celebrate the first minor basilica in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

“The first thing that struck my eye was the statue of ‘the Little Jesus’ smiling at me from the midst of flowers and lights. Immediately afterwards my glance was drawn to the snow: the monastery garden was white like me! What thoughtfulness on the part of Jesus! Anticipating the desires of his fiancee, He gave her snow. Snow! What mortal bridegroom, no matter how powerful he may be, could make snow fall from heaven to charm his beloved?”
–St. Therese of Lisieux

Parish officially becomes National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica during Mass of thanksgiving

ROYAL OAK — If the weather outside was any indication of whether St. Therese of Lisieux approved of the National Shrine of the Little Flower’s being officially made a basilica on April 22, it was a resounding “yes.”

It was snowing in April — not unusual for Michigan — but as Fr. Robert Fisher pointed out, that was a good sign.

Deacon Thomas Avery reads the official papal decree signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments, designating the Shrine a minor basilica.

Deacon Thomas Avery reads the official papal decree signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments, designating the Shrine a minor basilica.

“Depending on where you were today, maybe you saw some snowflakes,” said Fr. Fisher, pastor of the newly dedicated National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak. “Maybe you saw more than just snowflakes. One of my parishioners today sent me an email reminding me of St. Therese’s love of snow; she indeed does approve.”

Before a full church of nearly 2,000 people, the Shrine was elevated to the status of a minor basilica, the second in Michigan and 82nd in the United States, during a Mass of thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Allen Vigneron. The Mass was concelebrated by nearly 30 priests along with three bishops: Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon, Grand Rapid Bishop-emeritus Walter Hurley and Steubenville, Ohio, Bishop Jeffrey Monforton.

Both Archbishop Vigneron and Fr. Fisher noted the significance of having several former Shrine priests in attendance, including Bishop Monforton, who served the parish as a newly ordained priest, and former pastor Fr. Edward Prus. But the most fitting tribute was saved for a priest who was surely there in spirit.

“If you will indulge me, I would like particularly to call to mind Msgr. (William) Easton, who began this process and who I am sure is united with us in prayer tonight,” the archbishop said at the start of his homily, referring to the former Shrine pastor who died in December 2013 and was instrumental in pushing for the Shrine’s designation as a basilica. “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,” the archbishop said, to the congregation’s unanimous reply, “And let perpetual light shine upon him.”

Before the liturgy began, Deacon Thomas Avery read the special papal decree designating the Shrine as a minor basilica to an uproarious ovation from the congregation. The decree was dated Dec. 23, 2014, and signed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, then-prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Deacon Avery, who has served at Shrine since 2007, said afterward that “words can’t really describe” the honor of being asked by the archbishop to proclaim the decree.

Archbishop Vigneron blesses the congregation with holy water.

Archbishop Vigneron blesses the congregation with holy water.

“The privilege of announcing to all of southeast Michigan that this place is a big part of the New Evangelization and is united to the papacy in a very special way is a wonderful gift to all the people of this church, this parish and all of southeast Michigan,” Deacon Avery said.

Archbishop Vigneron noted that though the new basilica is already one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit with nearly 4,100 families, “we all claim a kind of membership at Shrine,” especially now by virtue of the basilica’s special connection with the pope.

“This church now is in some sense an honorary parish church within the city of Rome,” the archbishop said. “All of our churches, of course, are in communion with the Holy Father. But we might think of Shrine now as a basilica as a particular outpost for the Roman church.”

One of the rights of a basilica is the display of ornamentation traditionally associated with the papacy, such as the papal symbol of the crossed keys. The Shrine Basilica is enlisting the help of a local priest-artist, Fr. Timothy Pelc of St. Ambrose Parish in Grosse Pointe Park, to develop a coat of arms that will make use of such symbols, Fr. Fisher said.

Other papal symbols, such as the ombrellino, which looks like a partially opened umbrella embroidered with the basilica’s crest and used during liturgies with papal significance, and the tintinnabulum, a bell used in processions, will be ordered after the crest is designed.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Mass of thanksgiving at the new basilica April 22.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Mass of thanksgiving at the new basilica April 22.

The signage in front of the church will also change to reflect the basilica’s new name, said Fr. Fisher.

“There are at least two other ‘National Shrines of the Little Flower’ in the United States. One of them, in San Antonio, Texas, is also a basilica, and they chose the ‘Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower,’ so ours had to be a little different. So we put it at the other end,” Fr. Fisher said.

Archbishop Vigneron described the basilica as a sort of “sacrament of sacraments,” drawing its connection with the Eucharist and the priesthood as symbols of the unity of the Church, but also to the wider Christian family.

“You and I and all the people of God, we are this sign, this sacrament, this real presence of the Body of Christ in the world,” he said. “So that Christ is present in Royal Oak. Christ is present in Oakland County. Christ is present in Metro Detroit.”

And the connection to the papacy isn’t superfluous, the archbishop added.

“That’s why we’re glad to belong to the pope’s church. Because Peter’s successor is the guarantee that this is not a fairy tale.”

Several local media outlets were set up in the balconies of the octagonal-shaped church.

Several local media outlets were set up in the balconies of the octagonal-shaped church.

Frank Lawrence Sr., a three-year Shrine parishioner, said being in attendance for the landmark liturgy was “something I couldn’t pass up, naturally.”

“It’s a great honor to be a parishioner here,” Lawrence said, citing the “solemn manner” in which Masses are celebrated and the parish’s 24/7 adoration chapel “which is very rare.”

“There’s always someone present with the Lord, so it’s a great honor to have that,” Lawrence said.

Maria Djonovic said the festive liturgy reminded her of the day her son, Fr. Marko Djonovic of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Lake Orion, was ordained.

“It was exactly that joy I felt,” said Djonovic, who doesn’t belong to Shrine but said she “had to be here” for the Mass. “And all these priests, I felt like I was in Rome with the pope.”

“I felt the Holy Spirit here, like (St. Therese’s) presence was here. It was completely wonderful. I loved it,” she added.

Tim McGinnity attended 12 years of parochial school at Shrine and said he felt privileged that his childhood parish was now recognized worldwide.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron incenses the altar at the start of a Mass of thanksgiving April 22 at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica to celebrate the granting of its new title and responsibilities as a church is special connection with the Holy Father and the See of Rome. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

Archbishop Allen Vigneron incenses the altar at the start of a Mass of thanksgiving April 22 at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica to celebrate the granting of its new title and responsibilities as a church is special connection with the Holy Father and the See of Rome. (Photos by Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)

“It’s a great honor when you consider so few are minor basilicas around the world,” he said. “To have the Shrine of the Little Flower one, I grew up right across the street, so I spent a lot of time here.”

Deacon Avery said since the announcement of the basilica title in January, noticeably more pilgrims have come through the Shrine — “more people walking around with their heads up in the air, looking around,” he said — which he credits to none other than the basilica’s patroness.

“I think the only thing you can really point to is St. Therese,” he said. “Listening to the voices of people who come here, who are drawn here, who are part of the RCIA program — St. Therese and now soon to be her parents are just a phenomenal message and a beacon to all the people of this area. You just can’t believe the number of people who have said ‘It’s St. Therese.'”

Fr. Fisher acknowledged that media attention toward the Shrine has increased since the announcement, as well, a spotlight he tries his best to direct toward the real purpose behind the celebration:

“It’s certainly a great honor for the church and for the parish, but more than that, I keep reminding people that it’s a challenge for us to use that title as one more drawing card to bring people to Christ, to bring them to the church.”