Centenarian deacon reflects on 100 years: 'I always wanted to serve the Church'

Deacon Lawrence Girard reads the Gospel during a weekday Mass at St. Sebastian Parish in Dearborn Heights in October. Deacon Girard, who continues to serve up to eight Masses a week at St. Sebastian, will turn 100 years old on Nov. 21. He was ordained in 1976, five years after the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate in the United States. (Photos by Dan Meloy | Detroit Catholic)

Deacon Lawrence Girard celebrates milestone birthday with friends, family at St. Sebastian

DEARBORN HEIGHTS — A lot has changed during Deacon Lawrence Girard’s 100 years on this earth.

With a lifetime that has spanned two countries, two career paths and a vocation as a pioneer in the permanent diaconate, the centennarian has countless stories of service.

But the story that gives him the greatest joy still, he maintains, is the Gospel story that he continues to proclaim as a deacon at St. Sebastian Parish in Dearborn Heights.

“I like helping the priest; whatever they want me to do, I try to do,” Deacon Girard told Detroit Catholic while vesting in the sacristy of St. Sebastian before a Friday evening Mass in October.

Deacon Girard offers Communion to a daily Massgoer at St. Sebastian Parish in Dearborn Heights.

Despite his advanced years, Deacon Girard strives to assist at eight Masses a week, serving at the altar during most of the 11 Masses throughout the week at St. Sebastian, proclaiming the word of the Lord to the people.

“When I was more active, I visited the sick and made home calls, because there was a lot for the priest to do in person,” Deacon Girard said. “But now I’m a little bit slower – 'senior deacon' is what they call me, I think. But when I was active, I went to hospitals to bring Communion. Sometimes (patients) would start confessing their sins, so I stopped them and said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ll get Father.’”

Ordained a deacon by Cardinal John F. Dearden on April 25, 1976, Deacon Girard was among the trailblazers for the restored diaconate in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

The permanent diaconate was re-established in the United States by Pope St. Paul VI in 1968, and the first permanent diaconate class in the Archdiocese of Detroit was ordained in 1971.

In 1972, Deacon Girard was a lay parishioner at St. Sebastian, married to his wife, Jean (Faucher), with five children: Anne, Paul, Mary, Clare and Tom.
“I thought I could use some of my talents to help the Church in different ways,” Deacon Girard said. “I thought I could help the Church, help the priests in the parishes – they always need help. I guess I had a call from the Holy Spirit.”

It wasn’t Deacon Girard’s first time discerning religious life.

Born on Nov. 21, 1918, to William and Marie (Rondot) Girard in Windsor, Ontario, Deacon Girard grew up at Immaculate Conception Parish in Windsor before attending De La Salle College in Toronto, St. Michael’s College and Toronto Normal School at the University of Toronto to earn his teaching certificate, and the St. George Institute at the University of Montreal for his licentiate.

Deacon Girard serves at the altar as Fr. Luke Iwuji consecrates the Holy Eucharist at St. Sebastian.

Deacon Girard was studying and discerning with the Christian Brothers, whom he joined in 1932, taking his initial vows in 1936 while teaching at the Brothers’ schools in Toronto and Montreal.

In 1947, he moved to Detroit to teach at St. Joseph High School, but the then-Holy Redeemer parishioner felt it was time for a career change.

“I started to get into social work and left teaching, getting my degree in social work from Wayne State and then a master’s at the University of Detroit,” Deacon Girard said. “I started volunteering with the Capuchins at St. Bonaventure, doing social work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. At the time, St. Vincent took care of the children in the court system, assigned them to foster homes and would do home visits.”

Deacon Girard eventually became a social worker for Wayne County, working there for 25 years before retiring and earning his pension. His new career led to a new vocation, as he met Jean Faucher, a teacher at Detroit Public Schools, at Holy Redeemer, where the two were married in 1951.

The couple stayed in Detroit for their first three children, before moving to Dearborn and joining St. Sebastian.

“When we moved out here to become parishioners, we got involved in the Christian Family Movement, where were would meet at each other’s houses to discuss issues in the Church and ways we can help our families,” Deacon Girard said.

When the opportunity to become a permanent deacon opened up, Deacon Girard knew it was his calling to serve the Church.

“I always wanted to serve the Church, but I just knew I didn’t want to be a priest,” Deacon Girard said. “I was a witness to many weddings, and I baptized quite a few in the early days. I used to go out to Oakwood Hospital to bring Communion, sometimes visiting 20 sick people a day or bringing Communion to them.”

Deacon Lawrence Girard, left, smiles with Fr. Luke Iwuji, a visiting priest at St. Sebastian Parish in Dearborn Heights, on Oct. 19. Deacon Girard will turn 100 years old on Nov. 21, but he still says he loves serving at the altar and "being able to help the priest any way I can."

Parishioners at St. Sebastian say the parish wouldn’t be the same without Deacon Girard; there’s hardly a Mass at the parish in which he’s not involved.

Deacon Girard admits he can’t make the house calls and hospital visits he used to anymore. His wife passed away 10 years ago, and he now lives with his daughter, Clare. His other children live in southeast Michigan, except his daughter Mary, who lives in Ottawa.

Deacon Girard said the family had planned to be at St. Sebastian on Nov. 11 for a celebration of his 100th birthday following the 10 a.m. Mass.

Celebrating the century mark doesn’t mean Deacon Girard is thinking about giving up his responsibilities of being a deacon — far from it.

He still looks forward to every Mass at the parish, assisting the priest in whatever capacity he can — a devotion to the Church and the Mass that doesn’t dim with age.

“When you think back on a century, or even 10 years, you see a lot of change in the Church,” Deacon Girard said. “But being able to help the priest, connect the laity to the priest or be there when the priest is busy, that’s what I like the most. It’s why I became a deacon in the first place, and that’s why I still like being a deacon, to help the priest when he celebrates Mass. That’s when I’m the most happy, when I’m able to help.”