Ss. Simon and Jude Catholic Church

32500 Palmer Rd. 
Westland, MI 48186

'Hopeful': Church works on debt plan to stay open

As area Catholic churches close and merge as part of the Archdiocese of Detroit “Together in Faith” program, the fate of Westland's Ss. Simon and Jude Church still isn't certain.

The 600-family parish has to develop an acceptable plan for paying off $2.3 million owed to the AOD from the 1999 construction of the church on Palmer, if it is to remain open. The parish just got a requested extension for filing the plan, which originally was due this month.

“We are hopeful. If you're not hopeful, you can't put one foot in front of the other,” said the Rev. Gerry Bechard. “The whole issue is one of community. We are a community.”The parish has remained steady at 600 families for some years. Financially, the parish is just making its bills each month, said Kathy Hansen, who chairs the parish council.

“There is a little bit extra. We owed $1.5 million from the construction but the interest keeps increasing. We are paying 5.5 percent to the AOD for the loan,” she said. “We're looking at a variety of different evangelical approaches to increase the parish. We're planning a fair in fall when people are back from vacation.”

The AOD is asking for a plan to pay off the debt but as Bechard notes, “in this economy, that's near impossible.”

The church was founded in 1959. In July, Bechard will have served as pastor for 23 years. While the parish seems to be getting a good number of young families, Bechard said the impact of the church is felt in the broader community, including Norwayne.

For instance, parishioners have been very supportive of the Red Wagon Literacy Program which provides summer books and other items to those living in Norwayne. Last year, the parish teams gave books to more than 1,300 children and adults. The teams also passed out bottled water, flavoring for the water, toothbrushes, toothpaste, coloring books and crayons, bubbles and bookmarks.

“We're starting to wind down for summer but even the bishop couldn't believe the level of activity in the parish. There is no staff, it's volunteers. People see the need,” said Bechard.

At Christmas, the parish provided food, toys and clothing for 82 needy families.

“We hope to assist 100 families this year. It totally makes their Christmas,” said Bechard. “It's a huge celebration for them (the families). It does as much for us as it does for them. We have 30 groups in the parish and a lot of that is outreach.”

Parishioners get involved in activities ranging from working in the Norwayne Community Garden to baby showers for unwed mothers at the Wayne-Westland Salvation Army. The parish has also hosted the World AIDS Day commemoration, including a display of memorial quilts.

“Right now, we're the anchor for Norwayne. There is immediate impact. We get calls for help all the time,” said Bechard. “In addition, if this parish is going, there would be no church in Westland until you get to St. Damian (on Joy in the northern part of the city) or St. Mary in Wayne.”

There is a third Westland parish, St. Richard's on Cherry Hill west of Wayne Road which will merge with St. Mary of Wayne when its pastor retires.

Having to attend church so far away can be too much for some people, in particular senior citizens, said Bechard.

“We're facing change that is symptomatic of bigger issues. Mass starts and ends in the parking lot,” said Bechard. “Talking to about how is your mom or did your husband get that job. It's ministering to one another. It's one-on-one feet on the ground. It's powerful stuff. When a church closes, a community shatters.” (313) 222-5428