Detroit’s ‘Mass Mobs’ are back after pandemic hiatus

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Detroit Mass Mobs
People are pictured in a file photo prying during Mass at Holy Redeemer Church in Detroit. The Mass was the site of a "Mass Mob" event, an evangelization effort aimed at boosting regular Mass attendance. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Jim West)

(OSV News) — Those eagerly awaiting the return of Detroit Mass Mobs marked their calendars for June 25.

After a three-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Detroit Mass Mobs officially resumed at the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church at 4200 Martin St. in Detroit. The church is part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.

Thomas Mann, one of the original promoters and organizers of the Detroit Mass Mobs, said enthusiasm for the movement remains strong, citing pent-up demand over the past three years.

“I can only judge from people I run into. I get asked all the time, ‘When are you going to start them back up?’ There is a certain following,” Mann told Detroit Catholic. “We had a fairly good contingent who came to all of them. And there are 20,000 followers on the Catholic Mass Mob of Detroit and the Detroit Mass Mob Facebook pages.”

Mann remembers the feeling of waking up on Sundays during the 2014-19 heyday of Detroit Mass Mobs. “On those Sundays, I was really excited. It was so uplifting to go to Mass,” Mann said.


How it started

In early 2014, Detroit jumped on the bandwagon of the phenomenon, the concept for which started in Buffalo in the fall of 2013. People in that city were invited to attend Mass at historic churches, once vital parishes whose attendance had dwindled.

“They have a number of Polish churches in Buffalo — beautiful historic churches,” Mann said. “Somewhat like what we have here. The idea got picked up in national news stories and spread to Rochester, New York, and then to other cities including Detroit.”

“Annamarie Barnes (who passed away in 2016) organized the first local one at St. Hyacinth,” Mann said. “She liked the idea of helping these inner-city parishes.”

Mann joined Barnes and others to help organize and promote the events. Detroit Mass Mobs were held at more than 50 historic churches in Detroit during that time, and Mann intends to pick up where the program left off.

The intention is to help inner-city parishes increase their attendance and, inevitably, financial donations. “We are reminding people where they came from,” Mann said. “Their parents and grandparents helped build these churches. The Detroit Mass Mobs have helped our local churches by raising over $625,000 in direct offerings during the Masses, and hundreds of thousands more with the increased awareness.”

Mann used Roman numerals to designate each previous Detroit Mass Mob event. The first one at St. Hyacinth was Mass Mob I. Since then, historic churches throughout Detroit have scheduled Mass Mobs, some more than once. The event at Our Lady Queen of Angels will be Mass Mob LII (52).

“We actually surpassed Buffalo in the number of Mass Mobs,” Mann said. “Almost all of the other cities who initially were holding Mass Mobs have stopped.”


Bringing people back to church

Why should people start attending again?

“The historical (churches in Detroit) are stunning,” Mann said. “It’s the feeling of having that church filled. Mass Mobs bring people back to church. People who didn’t usually go to Mass came and told us they rejoined the church because of the Detroit Mass Mobs.”

Mann encourages people unfamiliar with the concept to watch some of the videos on the Detroit Mass Mob website. He expects attendance at the 2023 Mass Mobs to grow with each subsequent event, just like they did in 2014. “The first one was just word-of-mouth and social media. Reaching out to friends. At St. Hyacinth, about 150 showed up in a 700-seat church,” Mann recalled.

After Mann joined to help with promotions, media coverage and mentions on social media increased, as did attendance. The second 2014 Detroit Mass Mob took place at Mann’s own parish, St. Charles Borromeo. “The church holds 400 and it was standing-room-only,” he said. “The miracle has been, outside of the first Detroit Mass Mob, we have filled and in some Masses had out-the-door, standing-room-only for the other 50 Masses, ranging from a 300-seat church to an 1,850-seat church at St. Hedwig, which has the largest seating capacity of any Catholic church in Detroit.”

Mann said Our Lady Queen of Angels holds 650 people. “I do expect to fill the church,” he said.

Regarding Mass Mobs after June 25, Mann is not ready to release a schedule yet, though he said he has many pastors interested in hosting Masses. “I’ve got a list already, but not confirmed. About two months ago, I started visiting some of the parishes that have been on my schedule. We were ready to have some in 2020 when COVID came,” Mann said.

He has been working on scheduling new churches where a Detroit Mass Mob has not been held yet. “But I’m getting asked by a lot of the pastors for us to come back,” he added. “Let’s see how this one in June goes. We will announce future Masses at a later date.”

Mann wanted to be sure to acknowledge the other organizers on his team. “Anthony Battaglia is our webmaster, and he also created the Detroit Mass Mob Facebook page. Jeff Stawasz created the ‘Catholic Mass Mob of Detroit’ Facebook group page. I consult with him when organizing,” Mann said. “We also have added Diane Dawson Wilks and John DeLorenzo as photographers, and John Kevin Bentley is another consultant.”

Kelly Luttinen writes for the Detroit Catholic, where this first appeared.

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