Royal Oak — The National Shrine of the Little Flower has always held a special place in Msgr. Robert McClory’s heart.
Growing up, he attended the youth prayer group at the Royal Oak parish, and later, after college, became a Shrine parishioner himself. When he entered the seminary, Shrine was the site of his candidacy Mass — a step along the way in which a young man wears the Roman collar for the first time. And when he was ordained in 1999, it was at Shrine that he celebrated the Eucharist for the first time.
So when Msgr. McClory walked into the Royal Oak basilica for the first time as pastor July 1, the emotions were strong.
“To have had such a connection to Shrine over the years, and to suddenly come here, you feel like a kid in a candy shop,” Msgr. McClory said. “Suddenly, a place that’s just given you so many spiritual blessings over the years, you’ve now been entrusted with leading and shepherding its people.”
For eight and a half years, Msgr. McClory has worked — and lived — with the chief shepherd of the Archdiocese of Detroit, serving as Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s right-hand man for matters of administration as vicar general and moderator of the curia, overseeing and guiding the archdiocese’s Central Services.
It’s a role in which he’s had a unique vantage of point to see a side of the archdiocese — and the archbishop — that most don’t get to see.
“It’s been a privilege to be able to live and serve with him for eight and a half years,” Msgr. McClory told The Michigan Catholic. “As a leader, he has this sense of humble confidence. His ministry is about Jesus, it’s not about himself.”
The example of the archbishop — whom Msgr. McClory readily calls a mentor and a “spiritual father to me” — is something the new Shrine pastor hopes to take with him to his new assignment.
After working closely to help implement the vision of Synod 16 and Unleash the Gospel, Msgr. McClory said he prayed about whether the opening for pastor at the Shrine — after the episcopal ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Robert Fisher — might be an opportunity for him to put some of those ideas into practice.
“I shared with the archbishop how much it would mean to me (to return to full-time parish ministry), and he listened to the words that I shared and prayed about it,” said Msgr. McClory, who from 2011 until this year also served as pastor of Presentation/Our Lady of Victory Parish in Detroit, though with the help of Deacon Hubert Sanders in day-to-day administration. “I’m grateful that he responded that he would like to assign me to Shrine.”
One of the most rewarding experiences so far, Msgr. McClory said, was seeing Shrine parishioners in action during the annual “Catholic Corner” at Woodward and 12 Mile, passing out rosaries, answering questions and offering confessions during the Dream Cruise weekend.
“Out on the corner with my stole in a private spot, I heard about a dozen confessions throughout the course of the day,” Msgr. McClory said. “So many people planned and organized that day, and to me that was a window into how Shrine parish functions as a church. I was glad I could be a part of supporting them and being an active presence.”
Since his arrival, he’s consulted with a number of pastors — including both former Shrine pastors and other pastors of large parishes around the archdiocese — about how best to approach leading the 4,200-family basilica, including an education system that spans early childhood through high school.
“At Shrine, I love that we offer practically everything the Church has to offer,” Msgr. McClory said.
With his installation Mass celebrated by Archbishop Vigneron on Aug. 27, Msgr. McClory said he looks forward to building upon the work of his predecessors at the “full-service” Royal Oak basilica, even as he works to ensure the archbishop’s vision for Unleash the Gospel remains strong.
In July, Fr. Jeff Day, former pastor of St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills, began serving as deputy moderator of the curia, a role in which he is expected to serve for a year before succeeding Msgr. McClory.
“When the archbishop developed a transition plan, Fr. Day had a six-month lead time before coming on full time to work in the Chancery, and he was able to be oriented to a number of groups and organizations. On July 1, he immediately assumed responsibility for a number of day-to-day functions, board memberships and direct assistance to the archbishop,” said Msgr. McClory, who will continue as moderator of the curia for the next year as his successor is transitioned.
“As one might say, to quote John the Baptist regarding Christ, ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’”
In the meantime, Msgr. McClory said his main focus is on his new parishioners at Shrine, whom he looks forward to serving as best he can.
“In a wider diocesan role, you can have a significant impact in a wide territorial area, but as a pastor, the love that people have for you takes on a different quality,” Msgr. McClory said. “The relationship of a pastor to his people is precious and unique, and I’m praying that I’ll have all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I’ll need to serve.”