Outstanding in their field

There is a blogger for the Detroit News by the name of Michael Happy. He was a member of Holy Name Parish in Detroit in his boyhood, and has his fond memories of that time of his life. He has blogged about the Catholic neighborhood and school experience, and has rustled up ex-parishioners for the occasional reunion, or an electronic joint reminisce.

For Holy Name, though, everyone is an ex-parishioner. The Archdiocese of Detroit closed the parish in 1990 in the expectation that the city would require much of the land directly south of the church to further expand Detroit City Airport. The runway had been extended to accomodate 737 jets, a trailer park south of the airport had been condemned, parking lots were built and Southwest Airlines was successfully wooed to provide a low-cost in-city alternative to the suburban airport.

After a few years,  though, Southwest pulled out. The economic benefits that the city and its neighborhoods had hoped to realize never came about. The city, though, seemed to practice a policy of purposeful neglect of the old Holy Name neighborhood, including the abandonment of Fletcher Field across the street from the west side of the airport and a few blocks from Holy Name.

A few years ago, Happy, who writes the “Going Home” blog for the News, got in touch with his fellow ex-parishioners to make the field usable again. Then he got in touch with the Protestant congregation that bought the Holy Name property from the archdiocese to enlist its members’ help.

When officials at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, a large Catholic cemetery within the old Holy Name parish boundaries, got wind of the effort, they decided they wanted to help, too. Slowly, painstakingly, things started getting better.

The culmination of all their efforts was last Sunday, with the cemetery sponsoring a “sunrise run” to benefit the field rehabilitation effort, followed by a barbecue and a softball game at the rehabbed Fletcher Field. Among the treats were 1,000 hot dogs donated and grilled by the descendants of the old Chevrolet dealer in the neighborhood, who now operate a tire dealership on the site.

Friends of the field fixup went to a bakery in the city before the event, seeking five loaves of bread to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the like. Instead, the bakery donated 50 loaves. The bread was so plentiful that there were sandwiches for all of the volunteers.

One of the members of the Protestant congregation looked at the sandwich scene and told a Catholic volunteer, “You know what this bread is symbolic of,  don’t you?”

Happy himself wrote in his blog, “What was considered extraordinary at Fletcher Field has become downright ordinary today.”

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