When organizers launched the Detroit version of the “Mass Mob” experience in April 2014, they weren’t sure “if it would take off, or it would be quick flash in the pan.” But after Mass Mob visits to twenty-four Metro Detroit parishes since then, with an estimated 30,000 area Catholics participating, Jeff Stawasz, an original organizer, says the venture has turned out to be “just phenomenal.”
Detroit Mass Mob number twenty-four happened at Sacred Heart Major Seminary on Sunday, July 10. Around seven hundred people converged upon the seminary to celebrate a 10 AM Mass in the main chapel that was packed-to-capacity. Msgr. Todd Lajiness was the main celebrant and homilist, with Sacred Heart’s resident priests and priests attending the STL summer session concelebrating. Afterward, visitors enjoyed a reception with refreshments and could go on a guided tour of the seminary building.
A Mass Mob is patterned after the “flash mob” trend—an energetic group of people swooshing into a public place like a shopping mall or urban park and making a quick social statement. The Mass Mob movement began in 2013 in Buffalo, New York, where Catholics borrowing the flash mob model organized spontaneous visits to inner city parishes. Mass Mobs have since become popular across the country, bringing attention to a city’s Catholic heritage and historic church buildings. Passing the basket among the Mass Mob attendees helps the parishes’ finances, too.
The success of the Buffalo Mass Mob experience motivated Thomas Mann to join with Stawasz, Anthony Battaglia, and Jerome Hooper in 2014 to originate the Detroit Mass Mob experience.
“We are bringing an awareness of the churches of Detroit,” Mann says. “We are bringing people back into the city— that’s the important thing,” Asking for donations boosts the bottom line of the parishes, he adds, which is another benefit of the movement since most Mass Mob churches are struggling with declining membership and declining financial support.
As people streamed into Sacred Heart’s chapel on July 10, Stawasz pointed out how families and young people enjoy participating in the Detroit Mass Mob events. He recalled with amusement how “some of the younger children look up in these great old structures [like Sacred Heart]and ask mommy, ‘Are we inside a castle?’”
During his welcome, Monsignor Lajiness asked for a show of hands: “For how many of you is this your first visit to Sacred Heart?” About two thirds of the worshippers raised their hands. Among the visitors were Michele and John Schroeder, who traveled from Dearborn to attend the Sacred Heart Mass Mob.
“Every time I come to the seminary,” Mrs. Schroeder says, “I feel a sense of awe at the magnificence of the architecture and the feeling of being just a little closer to God in such a holy place.” She praised the “feeling of welcome” she and her husband received from Monsignor Lajiness, the Mass Mob representatives, and the Sacred Heart staff members who hosted the reception, worked the information table, and led the tours.
“I was very pleased to attend the Mass and can’t wait to attend the next one,” says Mrs. Schroeder, who pitched in by helping to take up the collection offering. Attendee Suzanne Clinton says, “It’s another beautiful Mass Mob here at Sacred Heart . . . an absolutely gorgeous place.”
“In a lot of the parishes we have gone to, the pastors started out right here at Sacred Heart,” Stawasz says about the special significance of a Mass Mob at the seminary. He estimates attendees came from twenty-to-thirty parishes across Metro Detroit. “I’m sure many of their parish priests have walked through these doors. We are grateful to be here today.”
Learn more about the Detroit Mass Mob movement, including a schedule of the remaining churches to be visited in 2016, at detroitmassmob.com.