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Detroit moderator offers his take on diocesan restructuring


The Archdiocese of Detroit, much like the Diocese of Buffalo, is undergoing a renewal process using the Family of Parishes model. Father Joe Mallia, moderator for one of those families, spoke at the July 26 convocation about his experiences with the process.

Father Joe Mallia, from the Archdiocese of Detroit, spoke at a Faith Formation Convocation, on Detroit’s renewal program. The July 26 gathering held at Canisius High School., saw several speakers address Family Faith Formation topics. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

He was quite upfront about not liking the Detroit diocesan initiatives, but was chosen to speak on it to give an honest reflection.

“The truth is it’s been hard,” he told the 150 parish leaders who had gathered at Canisius High School for the daylong event. “It’s been very difficult in fact in many cases. And there are more challenges to come. But in the end, I do believe that something needed to change. I’m not sure this is the best solution, but it is the best solution we have at the present moment.”

Detroit announced their Families of Parishes model on Pentecost 2020. Declining birthrates, the city structure, the sexual abuse crisis, and a lack of financial transparency led Detroit to realize they needed to restructure. In the past, in an effort to not close any parishes, priests would be assigned to a parish even if his gifts did not meet the needs of that parish. Money was loaned to parishes that could not be repaid. Many parishes had no functioning councils or programs but were still kept open. Fifty of the 54 Families use the in solidum model.  

One common mistake he pointed out was, “We don’t really take into consideration the fears of those who are most affected by the decisions made by those who have all the power.”

He told of other missteps Detroit took. They announced the plan during the early stages of the Covid pandemic, on the heels of a major fundraising effort. Many decisions were made without consulting parishes. A playbook was created, but certain elements were ignored. The clergy were asked to form priest covenants – agreements on who would be responsible for what within the family. They had to be reviewed and altered every time a new priest came into the family.

“Are you doing that here?” he asked.



Father Mallia once saw the outrage over the lack of a solid plan to merge three schools into one, ending with no schools at all.“

When I have to go to a parish to talk about a closure, I listen to people tell me about the past; how they’ve been treated by the representatives of the diocese and so forth. I listened, and after I listened, I started my comments by reminding the people that the decisions of the past were made by people who are now dead. I can’t change the past, but we can work towards a better future. When the time came to close the parish, we had a closing Mass, a celebration of the parish. We gave each person an opportunity to come up to venerate the altar. We took the sacramental books, the oils, the holy water, the Paschal candle, and the Blessed Sacrament and we walked in procession to the new parish. It was that close.”

At the new parish, they mixed the oils and water. They lit the candle from the one they carried, and added the Blessed Sacrament into the tabernacle. “Still wasn’t easy, but it became a point of healing,” he said.

Pastors, moderators, directors of religious education, and catechetical instructors gathered for the faith formation convocation. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Not all the members of the old parish joined the new one, but at least they were heard and they had less anger than in the past.“

Avoiding pain is not an excuse for non-action,” he said.

Father Mallia did point out some good things that came from their renewal. Detroit created family directors – staff members who would oversee the programming in the family. Collaboration has grown, creating new opportunities for parishioners. It has also created greater faith formation opportunities and service opportunities. Parishes are more transparent about finances. One parish was turned into a Hispanic Center. 

He suggests pastors approach renewal spiritually.

“Once, as priests, we were done mourning the loss of that vision of priesthood that we had, we had to reevaluate why we were ordained in the first place. We had to be honest about what priesthood really was about and we needed to reclaim our identities as ministers and not administrators,” he said, adding priests are ordained to serve the Church, not a parish.

He concluded by saying, “The goal of being a minister, whether you’re a priest, religious or a lay leader, is the salvation of souls.”