I was the beneficiary of a rather fortuitous sequence of events recently. Apparently, in a drive to help municipalities raise funds, the state of Michigan amended a variety of traffic laws, among them accessing turn-arounds on divided highways; where one could previously drive out of a parking lot into the turn-around directly facing the lot exit, now such crossing of the solid white line merits a no-points, $150 fine for ‘Impeding Traffic’.
Having been the recent recipient of such a tax bill myself, I had to alter some of my driving habits, one of which involved the local pizza joint. Now, instead of simply leaving out the lot from whence I came, I began to exit the back of the lot, doubling through the subdivision behind the commercial strip facing the highway.
It was the first time taking my route when I noticed an odd building set among the working-class style ranch homes, an obviously Catholic church, yet too small and too modern to be a full parish. So thus it was that, in the manner of Faust’s Mephisto who desires evil but nonetheless brings good into being, did a crooked traffic fine racket deliver me to the entrance of Michigan’s Branch of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima.
To those unfamiliar with the story of Our Lady of Fatima (or Nossa Senhora de Fátima in its native Portuguese) beginning in 1916, three poor village children in Fatima Portugal had a series of visions. The first of these were in 1916, an angelic messenger instructing the children to deepen their prayer lives through the use of the Rosary and hasten their efforts learning to read in preparation for some future revelation. Then, beginning on May 13, 1917 and occurring on the 13th of every month for the next six months, a vision of the Blessed Mother appeared to the children.
The visions are notable for their historic nature; the Blessed Mother instructed the children to pray for peace – World War I was at its height, with Portuguese troops in the process of deploying – and warning of a great apostasy about to enter the world by way of Russia, requiring prayer for the consecration of the Russian nation and the preservation of the Russian people. The Blessed Mother also displayed a vision of hell and the tribulations some future pope would have to suffer on behalf of the people of the world.
The visions culminated on October 13, 1917 in the Miracle of the Sun, a solar phenomena witnessed by thousands across miles of the Portuguese countryside. The younger of the two children, the siblings Francisco and Jacinta, died not long after, falling in the post-war Influenza Outbreak – per the Blessed Mother’s revelation, they were soon to join Christ in heaven – with the third, the cousin Lúcia, becoming a nun and eventually taking permanent residence at the convent built at the site of the final vision.
Sister Lúcia met with many popes, most notably John Paul II, who visited Fatima shortly after his assassination attempt and left the bullet removed from his abdomen in the crown of the statue of Mary left at the site. Sister Lúcia put the literary skills she acquired at the behest of the Blessed Mother to good use, authoring several memoirs as well as writing numerous letters to the people who contacted her for information and advice. The honorable Sister finally died in 2005 at the age of 97, with Pope Benedict immediately advancing her cause for canonization. (EWTN has more detail here and there is also the Wiki page).
History aside, the shrine was closed when I first discovered it but I noted with pleasure that a portion of the small complex bookstore was dedicated to a bookstore. Since the local Alba House had closed up shop some time back, I made note to return next time the shrine was open; always nice to browse a Catholic bookstore, especially one so close to home.
I returned the following Saturday, finding the bookstore impressively stocked with the sort of items one finds in a Catholic bookstore, pamphlets, holy cards, and devotional art as well as a full selection of books, including children’s and Spanish language titles.
Various books offered, including the excellent Ignatius Press Bible Study guides.
A very impressive selection of Catholic themed children’s books
In my eyes there are few places better than a good Catholic bookstore or library. Indeed it is a shame that the Church doesn’t emphasize this portion of its heritage more; as an institution, the Catholic Church rests at center of the intellectual history of what we know as Western Civilization, particularly in the development of academics.
Despite having an abundance of books I’m working through, I purchased two, an interpretation of Genesis and an summary of the Summa Theologica by Aquinas, along with a quite nice portrait of Saint Helena in the Italian Renaissance style.
From left: Doctrines on Genesis, portrait of Sta Helena (artist unknown) and Tour of the Summa.
The book on Genesis expounds a premise – literalism in the creation account – I don’t agree with (but is still of personal interest) while the summary of the Summa is especially good; by chance I came across the section on The Passion of Christ as I was skimming it in the store and it was excellent. The printing date of the edition was from 1978, meaning it had gone unpurchased with its price unadjusted for nearly four decades, practically begging for me to buy it.
Seeing as it was our first visit, the volunteer – a conservatively dressed and very well-mannered middle-age woman – offered to take us on a tour. As we went through, photographing and admiring the decorations, I commented on the unlikely location.
It turned out that the current location is the second in the history of the Blue Army in Michigan; the original was in south Detroit around Vernor Highway and Patton Park, spending decades in that location until, like many things in Detroit, it bowed to the inevitable and sought more accommodating – to say nothing of safer – environs.
Representation of one of the apparitions at Fatima, the Blessed Mother appearing before the Portuguese shepherd children, Francisco and Jacinta Martos and Lúcia de los Santos.
The majority of the decorations are from the original shrine although others were added over the years, salvaged from other older churches as Detroit was inexorably denuded of its Catholic population.
Mass is said in the chapel on evenings of First Fridays and Mornings of First Saturdays as well as the 13th of the month (in commemoration of the apparitions at Fatima, which took place on the 13th). The Rosary is said before each Mass, with the priest hearing Confessions in that time.
Altar in the chapel with the (functional) communion rail and the single altar table for a traditional presentation.
The Mass said there is quite nice, a hybrid style combining pre-Vatican Two rituals (priest properly facing the tabernacle, Eucharist taken kneeling at the rail) with the Mass said in the vernacular. The priest – who is assigned to a local parish but volunteers his time there – is quite conservative, dedicating a portion of a recent homily to the moral imperative of defeating Hillary Clinton and her transgressive anti-life, anti-family agenda.
After one of the Masses I had an opportunity to speak to another of the volunteers, one who apparently served in some managerial capacity. As he described it, the Blue Army is a lay apostolate, run entirely by volunteers. Their various branches are functionally independent, their only association with the local diocesan church being an annual report summarizing their income and expenses and their schedule of activities.
I found the whole thing quite worthy of admiration, the way in which they manage to hone their mission down to the essentials of Catholicism – fellowship amid a traditionalist practice of the Sacraments, dissemination of Church literature, preservation of church artifacts, almsgiving consistent with the principle of subsidiarity – while remaining separate from the (quite numerous) shortcomings of parochial church in America.
As most of the more traditional among the practicing Catholic population in America would attest, it’s quite frustrating to see what the Church has become here, both the shabby emphasis on money that dominates on the parochial side and the overweening ‘social justice’ politicization of the Church’s mission.
Case in point is my parents’ church; a wonderful building and genuine historical site from the late-1800s, the slate roof and plaster ceiling finally came due for some much needed repair. Now their parish is quite devoted and rather affluent to boot, thus well able to finance repair, but of course such a thing can’t be done simply; instead, the repair has to be approved by the diocese, the raised funds deposited with them – some amount naturally remaining in their coffers – with the contractors approved by them.
It’s only the church’s status as a registered historical site that keep it from being closed, although latest word has the once glorious slate roof being replaced by cheaper asphalt because – well, let’s not say it’s because of money, but…
Things are even worse when you consider the questionable politics the American Church has been immersed into at the behest of the USCCB: anti capital punishment crusades, crypto-support for abortion and homosexuality via the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services, refugee resettlement programs run by Catholic Charities that have imported jihadists and rapists (including pederast rapists).
Of course such travails are nothing new to Catholicism; indeed most of the great Holy Orders arose in response to some shortcoming in the parochial church in response to the demands of the present moment. Our age is no different; one need only look to the late Mother Angelica and her exertions in establishing the success of EWTN for a contemporary example.
Still one can’t help but wish that the parochial church in America was more responsive to the needs of its actual flock – the intermittently remembered people who fill the churches and pay the (exorbitantly high) tuition rates for Catholic schools. It would be nice if, in the place of social justice outreach, refugee resettlement, illegal alien advocacy and whatnot, the parochial church decided to devote its efforts to continuing education, setting up simple reading rooms dedicated to the great Catholic authors and thinkers, a place where parents could take their kids for family study and devotional reading.
Then again though, educating the lay community regarding the Church’s natural law traditions would work at cross-purposes to the USCCB’s ‘social justice’ politics; after all, how are you going to keep them singing from your leftist hymnal on illegal immigration or capital punishment once they’ve read Aquinas?
The Blue Army shrine in Michigan is something along those lines, offering a (tastefully decorated) meeting room along with the chapel and bookstore, complete with a flat-screen monitor and closed circuit connection to the chapel, to accommodate the overflow from Masses (which happens rather often).
The meeting room brings us to the final irony of our story; the current location is, oddly enough, a former Jehovah’s Witness temple purchased by the Blue Army some years ago. Which is yet another attraction to the place – imagining just how mortified the doorbell-ringing, Watchtower-slinging, idolatry-denouncing former proprietors would be if they saw what’s become of their haunt…