September 17, 2023 (Fr. Chateau presented this information at all Masses the weekend of Sept. 16/17, 2023. It also in the bulletin dated September 17, 2023)

Dear Parishioners of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish,

I have a deep and abiding affection for our parish. Serving as Pastor for the last 11 years in Ferndale and the last 51½ years in Oak Park has been my vocation, my life, and my joy. There is within me a genuine feeling of loving connectedness. I deeply miss the occasions when I am not able to be present. As Pastor, I have among other things tried to provide spiritual accompaniment while ensuring the bills are paid.

We are one parish with two worship locations. Each has their own unique history and traditions. Over the past few months many of my homilies have revolved around the challenges of our parish and our Family of Parishes. The past few years have presented us with challenges that we have never faced before: A world-wide pandemic, changes to the way we worship, a decline of 83 priests available since 2012, a 30% decrease in attendance since 2018, aging buildings with expensive repairs, financial challenges as well as the introduction of the Family of Parishes concept in the Archdiocese.

The institution of the Family of Parishes has made something crystal clear. We have many more buildings than our Family and Parishes require. Any one of our 5 church buildings could seat the number of people who attend our Saturday and Sunday liturgies. 

There are a few things we need to keep in mind as we chart our course into the future. We are all called to be good stewards of the gifts entrusted to us. Another thing we need to keep in mind is that our parish is NOT the buildings. Our parish IS the community coming together in prayer, worship, and service to others. We must trust in the reality that Jesus is in charge.

Change is hard. Being a Pastor during times of change is difficult. Given my experience in pastoring this community of faith and in consultation with parish leadership I have made difficult decisions. Today we as a parish need to face some hard realities. 

In May 2023 and July 2023, facility audits were completed at both of our locations. These audits are required by the Archdiocese of Detroit. We also had roof inspections done on all parish buildings. At the same time, our Director of Finance and our Finance Council began preparing the budget for the 2023 – 2024 Fiscal Year to be submitted to the Archdiocese of Detroit for approval. These things have become sadly, a “perfect storm.” The facility audits and roof inspections revealed that there are significant and immediate repairs which need to be made at the St. James church and St. James rectory buildings. The parish has been subsidizing the rectory for the past 9 years. The tenants pay rent but the rent that they pay does not cover the cost of having the rectory. Last fiscal year after the rent was paid the parish shortfall was approximately $25,000 to cover the operational costs of having the rectory. The costs of the roof repairs of the St. James buildings are approximately $184,500. As a result of this information the budget submitted for the current Fiscal Year 2023-2024 is in deficit. The facility audit and roof inspection of the Fatima buildings revealed that the roof on the Fatima school, which has a tenant who is hoping to expand its use and is generating a $31,000 profit for the parish, will require roof replacement in the 2024 – 2025 Fiscal Year. The cost of this is approximately $180,000. While the Fatima school roof project does not have to be done until next fiscal year it is required since there is a tenant in the building.

After much prayer and discernment, I asked our Finance Council Chairperson, Chuck White, and our Director of Finance, Vicki Mazurek, to take a deep dive into the overall financial status of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish, and to explore our current and anticipated financial status to see if doing these repairs is financially feasible for our parish and to present their factual findings to me and our parish Finance Council. The necessary data was gathered. It became clear that if we proceed with the work needed at St. James in this fiscal year and the work needed at Fatima in the following fiscal year Our Mother of Perpetual Help parish will have no money to continue operations. This information was discussed at a Parish Finance Council meeting, a Family Finance Team meeting, a regular monthly meeting with the priests of the four parishes attending, as well as a Family Leadership Team meeting with the priests of the family. Consensus was reached at our parish Finance council. Support was given at the Family Finance Team meeting, Family of Parishes priests meetings, and a meeting with the Family Leadership Team and the priests of the family to explore the potential closing and sale of one of our properties.

In October 2021 the owner of “The James” (the senior living facility adjacent to the St. James property), had contacted us requesting a meeting to discuss any interest we might have in selling the St. James Church and Rectory. At that time, we told him that it was not something we were interested in exploring.

In the beginning of July of this year, after much prayer and discernment, I, as the priest with primary responsibility for Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish, asked the Archdiocese of Detroit to contact the owner of The James to determine if he still has any interest in purchasing the property. It was made very clear that he still has definite interest.

In my homilies over the past few months, I have shared with you the many challenges we are facing.

Again, we need to be good stewards as we chart our course into the future. We have an obligation to manage and utilize intelligently the gifts that God has entrusted to us. We must live within our means. No decisions have been made. We need to be proactive, rather than reactive to the issues we face and make some exceedingly difficult decisions. We need to keep the best interests of the whole parish as the top priority.

I asked a group of parishioners to serve with me on a parish status transition team to further discuss and hopefully come to consensus around what we should do. There have been two meetings with this group where this information has been presented and discussed. This group reached consensus that something needs to be done as soon as possible. Inevitably, we must dare to feel the sting of the collective loss we are experiencing. What we are studying is what to do. What will happen? Do we keep both locations open? Do we do the required repairs and drain our savings? Do we close Fatima? Do we close St. James? We need to hear from you the parishioners. It is my prayerful hope that the best decisions, the best judgments will prevail. 

Secure boxes and index cards are located at the Welcome Desk at each of our locations for you to submit your questions/input. There is also a form on the Status of the Parish page of our website where you may submit your questions/input regarding these matters. We request that you supply your name, address, telephone number and email address on your submissions. The team will be meeting again on Oct. 3rd to review your questions/input. Your questions will be answered with factual responses.

Obviously, this is a process that will take some time. I will keep you informed of our progress via my homilies, articles in the bulletin and on our website. Parish mobile app messages will be sent when information is posted on our website. If you have not subscribed to the parish mobile app now is the time to do so.

I know this information is hard to digest, but if we do nothing except fix the immediate problems, in two years we will not be able to pay our bills. In my heart there is much sadness. Please be assured of my prayers for all of you during this time as I ask you to keep me in your prayers as well.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Rev. Paul F. Chateau