Constructed between 1931 and 1936 in a lavish Art Deco style. A previous wooden structure was destroyed by fire in March of 1936. The church is octagonal, the eight-sided structure being symbolic of the eighth day, the day of resurrection. The altar is made of Carrara marble, 18 tons of it, and is in the very center of the building, with seating on all sides. An impressive baldacchino with images of 12 tongues of flame is over the altar. Attached to the church is the Charity Crucifixion Tower; two weeks after the original wooden church opened, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of the church. The Crucifixion Tower was intended as a cross the Klan could not burn. The Chapel of the Little Flower connects the tower with the main building. The church was declared a national shrine by the United States Conference of Bishops in 1998, and at today's service it was declared a minor basilica.
The unique church building was funded by proceeds of the radio ministry of the controversial Father Charles Coughlin, pastor of Little Flower from 1926 until his retirement in 1966. At first a staunch supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he later became harshly critical of the President, often issuing anti-Semitic commentaries and supporting some of the policies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Roosevelt administration forced the cancellation of his highly popular radio program, which was estimated to have a weekly audience of 30 million listeners, after the outbreak of World War II, and forbid the mailing of his newspaper. In 1942 Bishop Edward Mooney of Detroit ordered Coughlin to cease all political activity under pain of defrocking. Coughlin complied, and although silenced he remained pastor of the parish for another 24 years. Today the Shrine is a thriving parish of over 4,000 families, with an extensive music program, a large Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, and pre-school, elementary and secondary schools. There are eight masses each weekend, including one in Spanish.
Royal Oak is a suburb of Detroit. It is home to the Detroit Zoo and several entertainment venues. The church is at the intersection of 12 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue, two roads that run throughout the Detroit metro area, with the usual array of filling stations, small businesses, and fast food restaurants. The area behind the church consists of single-family dwellings.
The Most Revd Allen Henry Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, was principal celebrant. Concelebrating with the archbishop were the Most Revd Walter A. Hurley, retired Bishop of Grand Rapids; and others. I say it this way because promotional literature announced that the Most Revd Jeffrey Marc Monforton, Bishop of Steubenville; the Most Revd Steven J. Raica, Bishop of Gaylord; and the Most Revd Frank Yohana Kalabat, Eparch of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle of Detroit; would be there, but (alas) they didn't all show and the ones who did show were not identified. Also concelebrating were a host of priests. The Revd Mr Thomas R. Avery, deacon, read the decree that designated the church a basilica. The Revd Mr Paul Graney, David Uchalik, and Lisa Pickering were readers. The Revd Stephen Pullis, Zaid Chabaan, and Daniel Carlin were masters of ceremonies. Music was provided by combined school and parish choirs directed by Rob Abbott. Accompanist was Peter Kurdziel, director of music at Michigan's only other basilica, St Adalbert's in Grand Rapids.
What was the name of the service?Mass of Thanksgiving Celebrating the Designation of the National Shrine of the Little Flower as a Minor Basilica.
How full was the building?
Mostly full in a building that seats 3,000.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher handed me a service booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Quite, with pull-down kneelers under the pew in front.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty chatty, with lots of photos being taken, until pre-service music began about a half-hour prior to the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and welcome to the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service booklet and the now somewhat dated Gather Comprehensive hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, electronic keyboard, several guitars, double-bass, oboe, brass quintet.
Did anything distract you?
This was quite an event that the parish was celebrating, and I suppose it is understandable that many of the congregants wanted photos. Lots of clicking cameras, well into the beginning of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Lots of chant, incense, and bells. The Asperges me was sung before mass, and with plenty of priests on hand the entire congregation got sprinkled. The priest assigned to my section was quite generous with the water I suspect that there have been baptisms that used less! The music was quite diverse (as an example, at the preparation of the altar, the beautiful motet Locus Iste of Anton Bruckner followed by Marty Haugen's "All Are Welcome").
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – This would have been a 10, save for some leaden attempts at humor. To the archbishop's credit, though, he thanked the leaders of the parish who had prepared materials in support of the application, including the Revd Msgr William Easton, pastor of the Shrine from 1996 until his death in 2015.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The designation of the Shrine as a minor basilica is a real milestone in the life of this parish church. We all can claim a kind of membership in the Shrine. Be bearers of the good news and consider how as a parish we can participate in the new evangelization. St Thérèse de Lisieux the "Little FLower" of the parish's name reminds us that hearts filled with love do great things.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I appreciated the extraordinary diversity of the musical selections. This was my second time to worship at the Shrine, and I sense a warmth in their liturgies I have not often found in churches of this size.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wish more thought had been given to the service booklet. For the extensive pre-service music, English texts or translations were given, but no titles. The soprano soloist in two selections was not identified. The booklet gave hymn numbers in Gather Comprehensive, but for the service music there was neither musical notation nor any kind of identification. The page number in Gather Comprehensive for the responsorial psalm was inaccurate. All in all, it was pretty skimpy with regard to information about music used in the service. On the other hand, the opening pages, with color photos of the two living Popes, Archbishop Vigneron, a variety of other clerics, and pictures of the Shrine, were quite lavish.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to me, but in such a crowd and, I suspect, with so many guests, this was not surprising.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The reception was held in the school gymnasium: lots of food (dips, marinated vegetables, fruits and cheeses, and cookies) and drink (white and red wine, lemonade, and water). I decided to forego the food, but enjoyed a glass of red wine.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I generally don't go for large parishes, but I love the space in which they worship, and have felt very much at home the two times I have attended here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
All of that water at the Asperges.