St Hugo, Bloomfield, MI (Exterior)

St Hugo of the Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Hugo of the Hills
Location: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 June 2017, 10:00am

The building

St Hugo's commands a large and beautiful campus, with two churches, a convent, elementary school (pre-K through Grade 8), clothes closet, carillon, and rectory. Clergy and staff use golf carts to travel from one end of the campus to the other. The parish's first church, a Gothic Revival cruciform structure, was built in 1932 and is still used for weekday masses, weddings and funerals. The McManus family, instrumental in the founding of the parish, are buried in a crypt underneath the first church; special permission from the Vatican was required, as they are the only laity buried in an interior crypt in the United States. The new church was built in 1988-1989 and is modern in design, in a hexagonal shape, and seats 1800. There is a canopy over the baptistery with various symbols of biblical references to water. The Stations of the Cross are clustered together on one of the back walls. There is a beautiful statue of the Holy Family and one of Christ blessing the children. The building seems to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act: there are seven handicapped parking spaces, all near a graded ramp leading into the main entrance. Restrooms are handicapped-accessible.

The church

The parish was established in 1930 on property donated by Theodore McManus, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, and his wife Alice. St Hugo's is reputed to be the only Catholic parish in the US to have been funded entirely by private donations. Today it is a large, thriving parish, with all of the usual sacramental preparation, Christian formation, social, and social justice ministries, described on a well-designed website (incidentally, the first parish website I have encountered that is available in fourteen languages). There is an extensive music program. The Sunday I worshipped there, the parish had just hosted two chamber music concerts sponsored by the Great Lakes Music Festival, and were preparing for a carillon concert series during the month of July. There are six masses each weekend and two each weekday.

The neighborhood

Bloomfield Hills is one of Detroit's most affluent suburbs, lying to the north of the city. The extended parish campus is surrounded by large, single family homes, most on extensive lots.

The cast

St Hugo's does not use printed worship aids; there was a bulletin, but it was distributed after mass, not before. All of the participants in the mass were identified in the announcements before mass began, but the names went by much too quickly for me to write them down.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Perhaps two-thirds full; it's a large building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived early to take photographs, and several people welcomed me at one point or another.

Was your pew comfortable?

Cushioned, and very comfortable indeed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly quiet, as the organist played several chorale-preludes, all of them, I think, by Bach.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, and welcome to St Hugo's." This was followed by several announcements, a brief introduction to the scripture readings for the day, and the names of all of those serving in the mass. The speaker then introduced herself as the commentator for the mass, although she had no further role to play in the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Worship, Fourth Edition, a combination service book and hymnal published by GIA Publications of Chicago.

What musical instruments were played?

A four-manual opus of W. Zimmer and Sons of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was installed when the church was built. There were major renovations to the instrument by Cornel Zimmer in 2005, including the addition of some digital voices. I should note that St Hugo's is well-supplied with musical instruments. In the main church there is also a nine-foot Bechstein concert grand piano (not played at this mass). The chapel has a 24-rank organ by Casavant Frères of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. And just outside the main church is a 48-bell carillon from the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in Asten, The Netherlands. All of these instruments were gifts from parishioners.

Did anything distract you?

The priest was vested in chasuble, the deacon in dalmatic. The former was a highly-decorative light olive green, the latter a fairly plain dark green. They really did look a bit odd right next to each other.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Standard ordinary form mass that one finds in most North American parishes. Candles accompanied the deacon to the ambo, otherwise no fuss, no muss. Communion was in both kinds.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – This score averages a 10 for delivery and a 6 for content. The gospel was only weakly linked to the sermon, which grew out of basically one phrase: "Be not afraid."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel for the day was Matthew 10:26-33, in which Jesus instructs the disciples: "Do not be afraid of anything. You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows." The homilist noted that three times in this gospel reading Jesus says, "Be not afraid." But there are things we will fear: germ warfare, nuclear war, another 9-11. And there are other fears that keep us from acknowledging Jesus as Lord. We're afraid to profess our faith in public. We're afraid to stand up to our children and insist that they behave in a Christian manner. No one likes confrontation. God's word, though, may at times require us to confront family and friends.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organist's playing, which was quite fine. And the cantor was exceptional, with a rich baritone voice, and in the way he avoided all of the mega-cantor gestures so often encountered.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Let's assume "the other place" is purgatory, not hell. This parish has made a conscious decision to wean its worshipping community from printed materials as much as possible. Hymns were announced by the cantor, and the four hymns were the only time the congregation had anything printed in front of them. It seems to work, at least in the sense that this congregation sings pretty well. But for those of us used to more print-rich environments – with readings, the music for the mass parts, etc. – it takes some adjustment.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Nothing. A very well written and thoroughly informative weekly bulletin, which is also available for download from their website, was distributed to parishioners as they were leaving.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – They seem to be doing a lot right. A likelihood of returning of two less than perfect simply represents the fact that Materfamilias and I are a bit averse to really large parishes.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The architecture of the space and the striking art work placed within it.

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