St. Cletus, Our Lady Of Grace come together as one

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published January 18, 2012

 A newly established grotto now sits on the ground of Our Lady Of Grace Catholic Church in Warren. The church recently merged with St. Cletus Church.

A newly established grotto now sits on the ground of Our Lady Of Grace Catholic Church in Warren. The church recently merged with St. Cletus Church.

Photo by Edward Osinski


WARREN — A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary nestled on a mass of rocks overlooking a calming pond with koi fish has quickly became a main attraction on the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church grounds.

The grotto is one of the many welcoming changes at the parish since Our Lady of Grace, formerly of Eastpointe, merged with St. Cletus Catholic Church at 26256 Ryan Road, south of the I-696 service drive.

St. Cletus celebrated its 50-year anniversary as a church last summer. But a priest shortage and a decline in members at St. Cletus called for the church to merge with Our Lady Of Grace, which was once located on Stephens Road near I-94. Our Lady Of Grace needed a new home to accommodate its growing parish, so a merger was the next logical step.

The union not only brought together two separate parishes, but also two different cultures. The members of St. Cletus typically have been proud Americans, while the Our Lady Of Grace Church parishioners are Vietnamese.

Father Vincent Ninh, who came from the Eastpointe church and is the presiding priest at the newly merged churches, said the Vietnamese parishioners began using the St. Cletus building in August 2009.

“We officially merged into one parish July 1, 2011,” said Ninh, 70.

St. Cletus had about 450 families before the merger, while the former Eastpointe church had about 200 families, making for a total of 650 families. And Ninh pretty much goes by two names.

“The English call me Father Vincent, and the Vietnamese people call me Father Ninh,” he smiled.

To honor the history of both congregations, parishioners will call the church building St. Cletus Church and the parish as a community is Our Lady Of Grace.

Change isn’t always easy, but Pete Michalak, a St. Cletus member for 46 years, said the union has gone very well.

“Father Vince has made the people so comfortable. He’s a beautiful guy. He’s probably one of nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Michalak said. “The parishioners from both churches are very happy. We need each other.”

Church members realize the consolidation might have caused a few parishioners to leave. They also remember the brutality of the Vietnam War. “The conflict was not any of the people’s fault. The St. Cletus council was very happy to bring the Vietnamese here,” Michalak said. “We take a look at everybody being Christian.”

“It was an unpopular war. We thought the Americans were trying to take over our country for their interests,” Ninh said. “The citizens of America are very generous and very good. The American troops in Vietnam, they tried to help the people to live in freedom, but the politics rendered the war ugly.”

Ninh was born in Vinh Phuc Yen in North Vietnam. He immigrated to the United States in 1975, settling in California. In 1985, he relocated to the Detroit area and was priest at Guardian Angels in Clawson many years. He felt the calling to become a priest at a very young age.

“I started to serve Mass when I was 10 years old,” he said. He was ordained in Vietnam Dec. 17, 1971.

John Dodge, 77, has been a St. Cletus parishioner since 1964. Dodge, who is the church’s project engineer, has welcomed the change and said Ninh’s sermons “are very good.”

“He talks to us just like a father, a friend, a brother, a member of the family,” Dodge said.

Dodge also is impressed with the grotto, which lights up at night and includes a waterfall that operates during warm weather.

“It’s beautiful when it’s running,” Dodge said. He said there are plans to add more trees, flowers and benches on the grounds for outside devotions and marriage ceremonies. Dodge said there also are plans to renovate parts of the church’s interior.

The church houses a food bank that is registered with St. Vincent de Paul. Parish secretary Eileen Campbell said the facility assists about eight to 10 families per week who receive canned goods, soap products, paper towels and more. They also receive a $15 gift card to the local Oak Ridge store to purchase eggs, milk or meat.

The families receive assistance once a month. The families who receive help are often either experiencing job loss or illness. Campbell said food donations from the public are always welcome as are monetary contributions between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The St. Cletus Credit Union remains on site, and the church also rents out space for the Catholic Services of Macomb. A Vietnamese language class is taught at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays for Vietnamese children born in the U.S. There also is an active youth group for children age 7 up to college-age, and a social hall — usually brimming with activities — complete with a new stage. Ninh said it’s typical for families to gather after Sunday Mass in the social hall for conversation and food.

Mass times at Our Lady Of Grace are 5 p.m. Saturday, and 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. There also is a 12:30 p.m. Mass on Sunday in Vietnamese. All are welcome.

Call Staff Writer Maria Allard at (586) 498-1045.