Fr. Larry Pettke set welcoming tone as longtime pastor of St. Louis Parish

Fr. Lawrence Pettke, who has served as pastor of St. Louis Parish in Clinton Township since 2007, died Nov. 9 at the age of 74. (Archdiocese of Detroit photo)

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Mark Tapp remember the first Mass Fr. Lawrence Pettke celebrated at St. Louis Parish in Clinton Township. Rather, he remembers the first procession, how it set the tone for the parish.

“The first time he processed into the church, I remember we were singing ‘All Are Welcome,’ which speaks volumes of the setting of the parish,” Tapp, a parishioner at St. Louis, recalled. “As he said his hellos, he sat in the front pew of the church, not (in the sanctuary). Fr. Larry was a humble servant of the Lord, putting himself on the level with us.”

Fr. Pettke, pastor of St. Louis Parish, passed away Nov. 9. He was 74.

Known for his casual demeanor and down-to-earth priestly service, Fr. Pettke preached a Gospel of inclusivity and service to others, parishioners say.

St. Louis parishioner Ruth Sullivan first met Fr. Pettke more than 10 years ago, after she came to St. Louis from her Hamtramck parish after the passing of her husband of 41 years.

“My sister invited me to St. Louis, so I went there for a month and thought, ‘I want to join this parish,’” Sullivan told Detroit Catholic. “When I would watch and be at Mass I thought, ‘This is something I’ve never seen before.’ He was such a humble priest, so inclusive. You could see everyone was welcome, and when he knew you were a stranger, he would walk up to you and introduce himself.”

Fr. Pettke made a habit of inviting parishioners to participate in the liturgy, making everyone part of the celebration, Sullivan added.

“When I went to the morning liturgies, I learned so much from the homilies, his reflections and our interactions,” Sullivan said. “I feel very blessed, after the sorrow of losing my husband, that I was sent somewhere I felt so welcomed.”

Lawrence Anthony Pettke was born to August and Jessie Pettke in Detroit on July 28, 1945. Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit on Jan. 17, 1981, Fr. Pettke served as associate pastor at St. Michael Parish in Monroe (1981), St. Mary Magdalen in Melvindale (1981-85) and St. Peter the Apostle in Harper Woods (1985-91).

He was pastor of St. Bede Parish in Southfield from 1991 to 2007 before beginning his time at St. Louis in Clinton Township in 2007, with a brief stint as administrator at St. Valerie of Ravenna from 2008 to 2009.

During his time at St. Louis, Fr. Pettke instructed his parishioners to live out Micah 6:8, “You have been told, O mortal, which is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

“When Pope Francis became pope, he instructed the priests to smell like the fold,” said St. Louis parishioner Colleen Burke. “He was big on community. We felt just as much part of the liturgy as he was. He said, in liturgy, we all actively participate, the whole congregation. He stressed that in the end, we’ll be judged by how we treat our fellow man and woman.”

Colleen’s husband, Dan Burke, got an early impression of Fr. Pettke during a Thursday morning liturgy, when, after Fr. Pettke finished reading the Gospel, he asked the small congregation what they thought about the readings, leading a discussion.

“I’m a therapist, and he has a degree in counseling, so over the years we became very good friends, probably the best of friends, I think,” Dan Burke said. “It didn’t matter who you are, where you came from, or what your background was. He taught us that the Eucharist began at the beginning of the assembly, and it led up to what he did at the altar. You really followed what was going on, and it was amazing.”

Fr. Pettke was actively involved in MCREST — the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team — and organized parish picnics, setting the tone for the service-oriented parish.

Fr. Pettke is survived by many cousins. Visitation will take place on Thursday, Nov. 14, at St. Louis Parish, 24415 Crocker Blvd., Clinton Township, from 2 to 8 p.m., with a vigil service at 7 p.m. Fr. Pettke will like in repose on Friday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. funeral Mass. The family will have a private interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.

Even with Fr. Pettke's passing, Tapp still thinks of that first Mass at St. Louis, adding Fr. Pettke’s impact will be felt going forward.

“I think the parish is going to miss his infectious smile, his laughter, but I believe the parish will continue to live his example of loving every human that walks through that door,” Tapp said. “We are going to miss his example, but I believe his presence in the parish is not gone.”