Bikers blessed before riding in ‘God’s great church of the outdoors’

‘Deacon Harley’ blesses motorcyclists, bicyclists in new tradition at Sterling Heights parish

Deacon Franz Hoffer, "Deacon Harley" to some in the community, blesses bicyclists and motorcyclists June 12at St. Michael Parish in Sterling Heights. The deacon, who blessed bikes for eight years at his former parish, hopes to continue the tradition at his new assignment.  Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Deacon Franz Hoffer, “Deacon Harley” to some in the community, blesses bicyclists and motorcyclists June 12at St. Michael Parish in Sterling Heights. The deacon, who blessed bikes for eight years at his former parish, hopes to continue the tradition at his new assignment.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Sterling Heights — Bikers of all kinds were revved up with the Holy Spirit at St. Michael Parish in Sterling Heights.

On June 12, St. Michael Deacon Franz Hoffer — “Deacon Harley,” as he is known to some in the community — invited bikers and cyclist from the area to attend a “Blessing of the Bikes” at the parish, where riders of all ages and their bikes were blessed with holy water.

Deacon Hoffer, a proud rider of a 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra, blessed bikes for eight years at his former parish, St. Ronald in Clinton Township. After a brief hiatus because of Deacon Hoffer’s transfer, the tradition is back.

“I started this at St. Ronald’s, and I wasn’t really expecting it to grow,” Deacon Hoffer said. “But over time, it got bigger and bigger — close to 100 people the last time I did it.”

This year’s blessing featured only 17 motorcycles, but Deacon Hoffer expects the numbers to grow as word gets out about the blessing’s “relocation.”

This year, St. Michael’s Knights of Columbus council sponsored the event, putting a special twist on the event by having children and adults bring their bicycles as well.

About 13 children had the chance to park their Huffys next to Harleys, as the Knights provided stickers, ribbons and snacks to the youngsters who wanted to ride with the big bikes.

“Originally, we started talking about this as a motorcycle event when Deacon Fitz brought it up,” said Darren Petras, St. Michael’s Knight of Columbus council grand knight. “Then we thought about making it a blessing for all, making part of the event for the kids. The Knights brought ice, crowd control, food, any way to pitch in.”

The event was a family affair for Deacon Hoffer, who rides alongside his daughter, son-in-law and his grandkids, Emmitt and Mason Yokes — “bikers in training” on their tricycles and Power Wheels.

“Riders are a real brotherhood of spiritual people,” Deacon Hoffer said. “There are just not a lot of outlets for bikers spiritually, but I want to develop a ministry. For me, it’s great to have the family here, and they all just love it. Simple things like getting together, talking about bikes and family, that’s what it means to be an open Church.”

Deacon Hoffer said St. Michael pastor Fr. Michael Quaine was supportive of the idea, using it to evangelize to those Deacon Hoffer said are often mischaracterized.

“Bikers are a spiritual people,” Deacon Hoffer said. “Bikers ride in what we call ‘God’s great church of the outdoors.’ Being on the open road, the heat, the wind, you see so much more of the world when riding a motorcycle, all the nature.”

The blessing was open to all bikers, whether Catholic, another denomination, or not a member of any faith group. But the event is a way for the parish to extend a welcoming hand to a community that believes in camaraderie, spirituality and community, said Dave Kalasa, St. Michael parishioner and a ride of a Harley Ultra Glide.

“The world thinks bikers are a bunch of ruffians, but we volunteer all the time,” Kalasa said. “The perception of bikers is just badly played in the media, but there are a lot of events bikers support.”

With classic “biker tunes” playing — which consists of a lot of Bob Seger — bikers and cyclists gathered for fellowship before Deacon Hoffer blessed the bikes and sprinkled them with holy water. The deacon then handed out prayer cards and small crosses to tie onto the bikes, asking for God’s protection on the road.

“This might be the one time of the year some of these people may do something with the Church; it’s a little niche we have that we hope sparks something,” Kalasa said. “This can show that the Church is something they can trust, something they can be part of.”