Woodrow Wilson was president, people drove their Model Ts to see Charlie Chaplin movies, and World War I had just ended when Deacon Lawrence Girard was born on Nov. 21, 1918. Since his birth a century ago, the world has not slowed down, and neither has he — or at least not much for a century-old deacon.
Deacon Girard serves eight Masses a week at St. Sebastian Church in Dearborn Heights, Michigan — one a day and two on Sundays — reading the Gospel and intentions and helping distribute Holy Communion. According to his pastor, Father Walter Ptak, “He’s not only 100, but he is full of life and so active.”
Walking back and forth between the sacristy at the back of church to the altar for a recent Sunday evening Mass, Deacon Girard moved at a brisk pace. When asked about the centenarian’s liveliness after Mass, pastor Father Ptak laughed. “I have to grab onto him and say, ‘Hey, wait up! You are making me look bad!’” he said. “I’m 57 and I can’t keep up with him.”
In addition to serving Mass, Deacon Girard attends almost every parish event. “He’s always on the go; a real witness, especially to older people,” Father Ptak said. “He has such a positive spirit and keeps going forward, proclaiming the Gospel and living it.”
Others have noticed Deacon Girard’s enthusiasm for service, too. “The deacon is a wonderful, wonderful man,” said parishioner Ken Krach, who helps out in the sacristy after Mass. “He is very prompt — always one of the first ones here — and he always has words of wisdom. He is a very inspirational, prayerful, gentle man, and his memory is very good.”
Deacon Girard slowed down long enough in an interview before Mass to explain that he began life in Windsor, Canada. He earned a teaching degree, joined the religious congregation of Christian Brothers in 1932, and taught at their schools in Toronto and Montreal. “When I felt called to the married life, I left the Christian Brotherhood and moved to Detroit in 1947, where my parents lived then,” he explained.
He initially continued teaching at Catholic schools and then went back to school for a degree in social work from Wayne State University in Detroit and then a master’s degree at the University of Detroit.
For 25 years, Deacon Girard worked as a social worker for Wayne County, where he met his wife, Jean, a public-school teacher, at Holy Redeemer Church in Detroit. They married in 1951 and were together for 60 years, until she died at the age of 93 in 2012. They had five children who today range in age from 58 to 65. Deacon Girard now lives with his daughter Clare. Three of his other children live in southeast Michigan, and one lives in Ottawa.
When the permanent diaconate was re-established in the United States by Pope St. Paul VI in 1968, the Archdiocese of Detroit opened up a diaconate program in 1971. Deacon Girard entered in 1972 and was ordained on April 25, 1976.
“I never thought I was called to be a priest, but I thought I could use some of my talents to help the Church,” Deacon Girard said. He used to visit the sick and bring them Communion at Oakwood Hospital — and even made house calls, often visiting as many as 20 people a day in their homes.
“They would tell me their stories about their families and problems,” he said. “I would talk with them about God and pray with them. Sometimes I had to advise them to go to confession. Then I would ask a priest to come, and he could also give them the Last Rites if the person wanted.”
Read more at National Catholic Register.