About 600 people gathered at St. Cecilia’s Catholic church in Detroit Sunday to participate in a mass mob — a large gathering of people that attend mass at a specific historic church in the city. These events, organized by the Detroit Mass Mob group, are aimed at bringing attention to historic Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
The organization, which was inspired by a similar mass mob movement that started in Buffalo, N.Y. in April 2014. Since then, the mass mobs have been held at 27 historic churches in the city, and are open to the public. This previous Sunday’s mass was the eighth out of 10 that are planned for this year.
Thom Mann, an organizer for Detroit Mass Mob, said all of the church’s events are hosted at have suffered over past decades and have very small weekend mass attendance relative to the capacity that was planned when the churches were built. While the mass mob events are technically just normal mass services, Mann says that filling the halls is important.
“It is a celebration of a mass, but what’s different, though, is that on a given Sunday, this church would have 50 people here,” he said. “Today there are 600.”
According to Mann, there are 52 churches in Detroit that have been struggling over the last several decades, and the St. Charles Lwanga Parish, part of St. Cecilia’s, is the 27th church where mass mobs have been held.
“In the beginning we didn’t know how many people we were going to get, but then we started getting huge crowds,” he said. “By the fourth one we had 1,800 people, and 2,000 at the fifth.”
Mann said this particular session had a peculiarly small attendance and speculated that the rainy weather could have been the reason for the low turnout.
“After the first one, 25 out of 26 have been full, but this one is not quite full,” he said. “This was one that we worked pretty hard on.”
Mann said the mass mob sessions held to date, apart from the one that took place at St. Cecilia’s last weekend, have managed to raise a total of $336,000. Aside from connecting people with the old churches and bringing people in from outlying communities, raising money to make up for the lack of regular Sunday attendance is a central part of the Detroit Mass Mob’s mission.
“To be honest, one church could use that by itself, because a roof repair can be half a million dollars and a new boiler is something like 60 grand,” he said. “This one has had major problems so they actually shut it down in the winter because they had to replace the boiler and had all kinds of water damage that they had to repair.”
The amount raised from the mass mob held at the St. Charles Lwanga Parish this past weekend was not available at the time that this article was written. St. Charles Lwanga parishioners have been unavailable for comment on the mass mob that took place this past weekend.
Archbishop Allen Vigneron published a video in the summer of 2014 in support of the Detroit Mass Mob organization.
“What a wonderful idea to visit these historic churches, to experience their beauty, as a way to be renewed in your faith,” he said in the video.
Ronald Carpenter, a real estate broker and Grosse Pointe resident who attended the mass, said the attention the events bring to the historic churches, especially from people outside the immediate communities, is critical for their revitalization.
“It exposes the area to a whole group of people that would never have even ventured in here, I never would have driven down this street if my GPS hadn’t told me to,” he said.
Though there are several Christian student organizations at the University of Michigan, including St. Mary Student Parish and Cru, representatives from both said that no members of their organizations have participated in the mass mobs.
LSA senior Katie Loftus, member and family faith intern for the St. Mary Student Parish, said she thinks most students simply don’t know about the mass mobs happening in Detroit.
“For some, it is the time commitment,” she said. “There is definitely a population that does not know these types of ‘mass mobs’ exist.”
However, Loftus echoed Mann on the benefits of mass mobs, saying it lets people branch out beyond their own immediate communities.
“It seems like a great way to build community outside one’s own parish,” Loftus said. “I think organizing a group from St. Mary’s to attend would be a great way to increase student involvement.”