Sharing the Light

Sharing the Light 2011-2012

St. John's Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ about St. John's

  1. What is the background of St. John's?
  2. What happened after the St. John's seminary was closed?
  3. How much money has the Archdiocese put into the St. John's complex?
  4. Where did the AOD funds come from?
  5. Why did the Archdiocese invest in redeveloping St. John's?
  6. Who owns the buildings and land at St. John's?
  7. Why did the Retreat Center at St. John's close?
  8. What revenue does the Archdiocese realize from the for-profit hotel, conference center, and golf course operations?
  9. Who is overseeing operations at St. John's?
  10. Did the funds invested in St. John's cause the Archdiocese's financial troubles?
  11. What has the Archdiocese done to be more careful about entering into such ventures in the future?
  12. Is the Archdiocese considering closing St. John's?

1. What is the background of St. John's?

Located in western Wayne County off Five Mile Road between Sheldon and Northville Roads, St. John's Provincial Seminary was established in 1948 as the major seminary in Michigan by the bishops of the state under the leadership of Edward Cardinal Mooney. At the time, there were not enough seminaries in the Midwest and the bishops decided to establish a major seminary, a designation that reflects the institution conferring graduate degrees.

St. John's provided graduate-level theological education and spiritual formation for diocesan priesthood candidates from the dioceses of Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Gaylord, Kalamazoo, and Marquette.

Founded in 1919 as a minor diocesan seminary, Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit was attended by high school and undergraduate college students. From 1948 into the 1980's, it was common for men graduating from Sacred Heart Seminary to attend St. John's for their graduate studies. St. John's continued its mission for forty years, expanding into the education and formation of laity and religious.

As the number of seminarians in Michigan declined in the 1970's and 80's, the Archdiocese of Detroit obtained sole possession of the St. John's property and facilities.

The Archdiocese designated Sacred Heart as its major seminary in 1988 when it added a Graduate School of Theology to its College of Liberal Arts. Seminarians at St. John's transferred to the newly established graduate program at Sacred Heart, after which St. John's was closed and its buildings and land put up for sale.

2. What happened after the St. John's seminary was closed?

St. John's remained unsold and dormant for several years. In 1994, the Archdiocese began to revive the complex as a family and youth center with retreat and conference facilities to serve teenagers, young adults, engaged and married couples, as well as Catholic support groups.

After extensive renovations and construction, the Archdiocese reopened the 245,000 square-foot former seminary building in 1996 as the St. John's Center for Youth and Family with approximately 180 dormitory-style rooms for overnight guests. A new retreat center building made the facility the largest of its kind in southeast Michigan.

Renovation and construction included a 10-acre purchase of land from Northville Township that facilitated the expansion of the 18-hole golf course to the present 27-hole public course and driving range. The opening of the for-profit St. John's Golf & Conference Center in 2000 continued efforts to transform the campus into a conference center.

The Center for Youth and Family was later renamed the Retreat Center at St. John's and rededicated to the service of God, Church, and community. The nonprofit Retreat Center developed an emphasis on evangelization and hosting various religious groups while continuing its ministry to young adults as well as its wedding ministry.

In 2006, a privately financed, for-profit hotel—The Inn at St. John's—was opened to complement and serve visitors to the St. John's Golf & Conference Center.

3. How much money has the Archdiocese put into the St. John's complex?

Between 1994 and 2006, the Archdiocese invested approximately $30 million in renovations and construction to repurpose the former seminary into a conference and retreat center.

The Archdiocese allocated an additional $25.3 million from its reopening in 1996 through 2009 to operate several youth and family ministries from St. John's as well as to operate the Retreat Center. At various times, about 30 archdiocesan Central Services staff members were based at St. John's, including personnel engaged in family life ministries such as marriage preparation and support.

No archdiocesan funds were used to construct or operate The Inn at St. John's and no archdiocesan funds are supporting conference center or golf course operations.

The Archdiocese continues to support a Catholic wedding ministry at St. John's as well as regular use of the St. John's chapel for Sunday evening Mass and other occasions.

4. Where did the AoD funds come from?

Funds for renovations and Retreat Center operations at St. John's were invested from the archdiocesan Loan Deposit Program (LDP), which is an internal financial platform that the Archdiocese created more than 70 years ago to facilitate savings from parishes, schools, and other Catholic organizations in southeast Michigan and to make loans available to those same depositors.

The majority of the $30 million invested in repurposing the St. John's complex was committed in the late-1990s when archdiocesan investments were performing well amid a strong national economy and high returns on LDP investments.

5. Why did the Archdiocese invest in redeveloping St. John's?

The archdiocesan master plan for St. John's was to retain the religious purpose of the complex and support youth and family ministries at the nonprofit Retreat Center with revenue generated by the for-profit enterprises located onsite – the conference center, golf course, and hotel.

While weekend bookings were consistently good, the Retreat Center did not attract enough activity during the week, and its expenses outpaced revenue from the for-profit operations at St. John's.

The Archdiocese provided operating subsidies to the Retreat Center for several years until suspending operations at the facility in November 2009.

6. Who owns the buildings and land at St. John's?

The Archdiocese of Detroit owns the buildings and land at St. John's (approximately 200 acres) except for the hotel building, which is owned by a private investor.

Under a contract with the Archdiocese, the Troy, Michigan-based Hotel Investment Services Inc. (HIS) operates the hotel, conference center, and golf course. Carl's Golfland has operated the driving range and golf store since 2000.

No archdiocesan funds were used to construct The Inn at St. John's, which is connected to the northeast side of the St. John's Conference Center and opened in January 2006 as part of the St. John's Golf & Conference Center. That phase of the St. John's redevelopment project was entirely funded by a private investor.

7. Why did the Retreat Center at St. John's close?

Developed as a regional resource for the Archdiocese, its parishes, councils, and staffs, as well as for state and national organizations holding workshops, programs, and retreats, the volume of weekend bookings at the Retreat Center was strong, but there was little residential overnight use of the facility during the week.

Cash flow from the for-profit hotel, conference center, and golf course operations at St. John's proved insufficient to subsidize Retreat Center operations and building maintenance.

Because the Retreat Center did not attract the level of usage anticipated and required significant ongoing subsides, the Archdiocese suspended Retreat Center operations in November 2009.

The Retreat Center facilities are being maintained while the Archdiocese, HIS, and the St. John's Board of Directors evaluate options.

8. What revenue does the Archdiocese realize from the for-profit hotel, conference center, and golf course operations?

HIS-managed operations at St. John's are generating cash flow sufficient to maintain the buildings, facilities, and grounds at the complex including the shuttered Retreat Center.

The hotel and conference center hosts about 200 weekend weddings and receptions annually and corporate conference center bookings during the week are strong.

However, the revenue stream from these operations has not yet resulted in the Archdiocese recouping its cumulative investment in renovating and repurposing the former seminary complex.

Options are being considered to utilize the mothballed Retreat Center to advance the archdiocesan mission and generate more cash flow for the Archdiocese.

9. Who is overseeing operations at St. John's?

A five-member board of directors appointed by and reporting to Archbishop Vigneron provides oversight on operations at St John's. Two ex-officio appointees to the St. John's board help ensure operations are consistent with Catholic teaching and values.

10. Did the funds invested in St. John's cause the Archdiocese's financial troubles?

The cumulative investments made by the Archdiocese to renovate and repurpose the St. John's complex, as well as to operate the Retreat Center, were a contributing factor to the Archdiocese's financial challenges that worsened during the recession.

Shortly after arriving in the Detroit Archdiocese in January 2009, Archbishop Vigneron responded to mounting financial challenges facing the Archdiocese, its parishes, schools, and institutions by appointing commissions to study the finances of the Archdiocese as well as its Central Services administrative operations.

The two commissions concluded that archdiocesan finances in September 2009 were in need of immediate and substantial reform. Archbishop Vigneron accepted a recommendation to cease subsidizing the Retreat Center at St. John's, which totaled $1,197,039 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. Retreat Center operations were suspended in November 2009.

The Archbishop also accepted a recommendation to assess future utilization of the former Retreat Center at St. John's to advance the archdiocesan mission and to maximize cash flow to the Archdiocese. This analysis is underway.

11. What has the Archdiocese done to be more careful about entering into such ventures in the future?

Archbishop Vigneron has implemented new policies and procedures regarding the management of archdiocesan operating funds, endowments, and other accounts.

The governance of financial management at the Archdiocese has been strengthened by reorganizing archdiocesan financial operations and the Finance Council, which is a nine-member committee comprised of lay leaders and clergy that provides oversight and advice to Archbishop Vigneron on archdiocesan financial matters.

12. Is the Archdiocese considering closing St. John's?

The Archdiocese has no plans to close or sell the St. John's complex, and is satisfied with its relationship with Hotel Investment Services (HIS). Hotel, conference center, wedding ministry, and golf course operations at St. John's are stable.

HIS is attracting new business to the St. John's complex including the Concours d'Elegance of America, an annual weeklong celebration of automotive history and heritage.

The Archdiocese, the St. John's Board of Directors, and HIS are considering options to utilize the former Retreat Center to enable the Archdiocese to advance its mission and recoup some of its investments in St. John's.