Sacred Spaces: St. Suzanne Our Lady Gate of Heaven - Michigan Interfaith Power & Light

Sacred Spaces: St. Suzanne Our Lady Gate of Heaven, Detroit

Steve Wasko is the Program Director at St. Suzanne Our Lady Gate of Heaven in northwest Detroit's Cody Rouge neighborhood. He was recently able to share information on how St. Suzanne's serves its community, the parish focus on sustainability measures, and the benefit of funds received through the Sacred Spaces project.

The Blessing of the Rain Garden at St. Suzanne's is just one of the ways this Detroit parish shows focus on both environmental and spiritual practices


What can you share about St. Suzanne Our Lady Gate of Heaven?

For more than 75 years this parish has served in northwest Detroit in a neighborhood now known as Cody Rouge. Over the years it had a large school and programs serving a very large congregation. Today, serving the needs of both our faith community and neighboring community are essential to the mission. A major component of this was launched in 2018 with the St. Suzanne Cody Rouge Community Resource Center, a full service set of programs and services empowering hope for children, families and youth. Programs include early childhood education, alternative education, after school youth development, adult education, community development and more. Since its inception, both the Center and the Parish have held care for creation as a pillar and components of green infrastructure, sustainability, empowerment and partnerships have served as guiding principles. The parish campus holds four large rain gardens, diverting 20 large building downspouts and an estimated 500,000 gallons of water annually from municipal combined sewer overflow systems. We are including more than 130 youth and adults in education and training programs to develop both educational pipelines into STEAM careers and employment/opportunities in these growing fields where our residents are underrepresented. St. Suzanne has an innovative and environmentally friendly outdoor classroom developed by students. There has also been removal of pavement and initial efforts at energy management including replacement of more than 1,500 bulbs to LEDs across three buildings, and recycling.

The parish offers a women's spirituality group, weekly community dinner church and other outreaches. New members and guests are always warmly welcomed. We are proud members of the Detroit 2030 Districts, Michigan Interfaith Power and Light, MOSES Michigan.

What is your congregation's spiritual or religious inspiration for practicing earth stewardship?

Pope Francis summed up the modern interpretation of historical underpinnings of care for God's creation through his insightful Laudato Si' document. Locally we practice the 5 E's: Education, Employment, Economy, Environment = Empowerment as a collective approach to this commission. Religious orders represented within the parish have also been financially supportive through ongoing grants, as have programs such as Sacred Places and Sacred Spaces. There is strong interest in networking and spreading this good news with other congregations and faith-based groups to ensure growth and synergy.

How do you understand environmental justice?

In our immediate neighborhood, issues of flooding, pollution and old infrastructure have been compounded by a lack of resources and education to empower families to become directly engaged in both practical and policy solutions. It is hoped our work directly moves the dial on this factor. Environmental justice and economic racism are dual issues we hope to continue to work to address.

What’s one key take away that you hope your congregation and/or community gains from your participation in Sacred Spaces?

We hope this can bolster an opportunity to join parish members and community members more fully in this work.

Environmental justice and economic racism are dual issues we hope to continue to work to address.

St. Suzanne's is poised to do great things for the Cody Rouge neighborhood in the years to come, in part through the Sacred Spaces project!