Monsignor DeKeyser's Last Years
Closing the High School
While the parish was experiencing growing pains, another problem arose. After a period of deficit spending with no solution in sight, Monsignor and his parish made the difficult decision to close the high school which could no longer be maintained under the Archdiocesan guidelines. However, the grade school would remain open. This first back step in over 100 years of continuous growth for the parish came with much heartbreak for all concerned in making the decision, especially for the families with children in the school at the time. St. Lawrence High School's thirteenth commencement in June of 1971 was also to be its last.
Fr. Francis H. Burns -- New Pastor
On July 1, 1971, His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden named Fr. Francis H Burns as the new pastor of St. Lawrence Church. He served the parish for the next 20 years and led a parish, now over 3,700 families, into even further development.
When Fr. Burns arrived at St. Lawrence in July of 1971, the parish was experiencing a turmoil which grew out of the changes in the modern parishes such as new liturgies, English in the Mass and revisions in the Sacraments. A crisis hit the Catholic school when Parochiaid was defeated. The financial burden became too great, and St. Lawrence High School closed one month before Fr. Burns became pastor. These were very tense times, and the new pastor faced the task of rebuilding-not buildings this time but the faith and the community of his new congregation. Fr. James Wieging was transferred, Fr. Lawrence Nawrocki remained as an associate pastor and Monsignor DeKeyser remained in residence as Pastor Emeritus.
In the autumn of 1971, a two-week parish mission was given by two Redemptorist priests entitled "Renewal Mission". Also in late 1971 the Parish Council proposed to purchase a new church organ with money set aside by Msgr. DeKeyser for this purpose. The Council voted in the first pipe organ for the parish-a Wicks organ with over 500 pipes. The old organ went to another Catholic church.
Continuing Religious Education
In 1972 a new religious program was initiated under the leadership of Mrs. Harley (Fran) Bickford. The Department of Continuing Religious Education (C.R.E.) was coordinated for the parish, providing formal religious classes for its community children and adults. Grade school students were taught religion once a week in 12 public schools after classes. Preschool and special education classes were held on Sunday mornings. High school religion classes were held Sunday evenings from 5:00 to 7:00 every other week. This gigantic task grew with exceptional strides for the next three years, which involved organizing and teaching teachers and making detailed plans for each public school. The Utica Public School officials and principals were most generous and cooperative. With our school children and the public school students, we were teaching almost 2,000 students, with over 100 personnel. Mrs. Fran Bickford was a pioneer and a giant in her profession who was called on frequently to train teachers and staff in other parishes. The same high standard of success and quality continues in the C.R.E. of St. Lawrence Parish today.
Adult religious education became the hallmark under Fr. Burns, and Bible Study Classes were held on a regular basis. Fr. Burns' approach included staff development and instigating and supporting special interest groups as well as pulling the operating finances from red ink to blank ink.
In June, 1973, the St. Lawrence Educational Fund, Inc., began. "SLEFI" was developed by the Administration Commission, the School Board and the Parish Council under the direction of Fr. Burns and Mr. G. F. Lenzi. This charitable trust was designed to aid in the preservation of the system of religious instruction on all levels of elementary and adult education. After one month the fund had over $100,000 in pledges. It is interesting to note that the students of St. Lawrence High School who would have graduated in 1972 donated $100 to SLEFI from what was left of their treasury.
On October 14, 1973, Fr. Francis Burns celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary - a Silver Jubilee for a man of God. The day began with a Mass of Thanksgiving and climaxed with the presentation of a new automobile. Nearly 1,000 people gathered to present Fr. Burns with his surprise car. A secret post office box in Utica was used to keep the surprise from being disclosed. In honor of Fr. Burns' anniversary, the City Council of Utica proclaimed that week to be "Fr. Francis Burns Week".
The parish Ethnic Festivals were approved by Fr. Burns in 1973 and proved to be very successful-another total parish growth experience. Fr. Burns always supported these Ethnic Festivals as well as the annual Christmas Festivals.
The grade school survived the turmoil of the high school closing and after several cautious years returned to steady ground. Fr. Burns constantly looked for ways to promote interest. An art contest was held at the school to design a new crest or logo; Sue Kraemer of the seventh grade was chosen the winner by the art instructor at Dominican High School of Detroit. The school got involved in the area's recycling program and placed fourth in the competition among area schools. The prize of a tree was awarded and planted in the school yard. Also, Congressman James O'Hara came to St. Lawrence School and spoke about the importance of our flag; he presented St. Lawrence with a flag which had flown at the top of the Capitol Building on October 24, 1974.
The new "suburban" nature of the parish brought new issues to be faced and The Forum addressed such topics as the "Dangers of Mass Media," "Drugs" and "Abortion." In 1974, St. Lawrence began circulating Human Life Amendment petitions, and many parishioners participated in the Archdiocesan "Church, World and Kingdom" discussion groups. "Singles," "Youth" and the newly formed women's group "SHARE" developed.
In 1975 the Holy Father declared it to be the International Holy Year for the Universal Church. The parish was encouraged to give new life to the issues of prayer, charity and worship, to visit the Blessed Sacrament and to participate more fully in the celebration of the Mass. A men's retreat, organized at the Capuchin Retreat House in Washington, set attendance records that year. The officers were Frank Boehmer, Dick Duncan, Joe Drader and Vic Dutchik.
In the fall of the same year the enormous project of a parish census was undertaken-not just a count this time but an "outreach" program to welcome new parishioners, help those in need and open the lines of communication. This totaled over 3,500 households and brought back some of those fallen from their faith.
Monsignor DeKeyser dies
Monsignor Edward J. DeKeyser celebrated his golden anniversary May 9, 1976, his last celebration with his flock. On Wednesday, December 29, 1976, Monsignor DeKeyser died at the age of 77, after suffering the rigors of hip surgery. He lay in state on a bier in the center aisle of his church, robed in the gold vestments of his 50 years, amid the red, green and gold decorations of the holiday season. The Forum of January 9, 1977, said, "Monsignor DeKeyser was a great man in many respectsin his unusually long service in the work of the Lord; in the great number of people who were touched by his goodness; in the obvious mark he made on the community of Utica and surrounding areas; and above all in his humble and constant devotion to the will of God." Each of the assistant priests who worked with him remembered him with fondness as a kind, wise, gentle man, "a man of peacewho never wanted to be anywhere else."
He served St. Lawrence for 36 years as pastor; ever to be remembered as a beloved friend. In his honor the gymnasium was dedicated in September of 1977 as the Monsignor Edward J. DeKeyser Center.
Also in 1977, the Archdiocese became organized into regions; St. Lawrence Parish now belonged to the Northeast Region with Bishop Arthur Krawczak as our Regional Bishop.
The Era of Personal Responsibility
The church entered a new era of personal responsibility in the late 1970's. "Respect for Life" discussion groups were organized. The Sacrament of Penance was renamed the Rite of Reconciliation, giving people the option of having confession heard face to face. Communal penance services began and were well attended. When receiving the Holy Eucharist people had the option to receive in the hand. Pre-baptism and pre-marriage classes were offered to give more insight into the sacrament being received. The constant goal was to make Catholics more aware and active in their faith and worship.
Fr. Burns began a column in the St. Lawrence parish paper, The Forum, entitled "Dear Father." Questions could be submitted by parishioners regarding their parish, church, or religion. His goal was to inform people and promote interest in the church and its teachings.
St. Lawrence began celebrating a Baccalaureate Mass for all the St. Lawrence Parish high school graduates from the Utica Community Schools as well as those grading from a Catholic high school. Students gather from many different high schools: Eisenhower, Steven, Henry Ford II, Utica, DeLaSalle, Bishop Foley, Notre Dame, Regina-all uniting as one. After the Mass, a congratulatory breakfast is held in the parish activities building. Mrs. Marion Lelito dedicates hours of her time collecting pictures of all the graduates for publication in The Forum.
A Mass Station was established in 1977 at Shelby Junior High School. It held two Masses every Sunday, serving as an "overflow" location for St. Lawrence. The Mass Station existed for four years and finally became the new parish of St. John Vianney, located on Schoenherr Road just north of 24 Mile Road. Other changes for the parish included the renovation of meeting rooms in the school center. The St. Francis Room and the St. Dominic Room became available for various organizations to hold meetings. Also, the retired Fr. John Foley became a resident priest at St. Lawrence.