Growth in the 1950's and 1960's

The St. Lawrence Players
In April 1951, assistant Fr. Thomas Collins formed an adult dramatic group called the "St. Lawrence Parish Players." They produced several plays in Utica and Romeo. Mr. Douglas McKay, Sr., was the first president and not only were the productions well received, but it was a first step for some of the finest lectors and commentators on the 1970's team.

A New High School
In 1953 yet another building fund was begun. This time it was for a new high school - the crowning glory for Fr. DeKeyser and a necessity for Utica. Key parishioners began in January to form the St. Lawrence Building Fund, led by Mr. G. J. "Jiggs" Lenzi. The amount of $237,000 was raised by the committee, and the groundbreaking took place that same October. Professionals contacted by Fr. DeKeyser to direct the Building Fund Drive quoted a fee of $15,000; the committee did the job at a parish cost of $900. The completed project, a $450,000, 22-room facility providing 18 sorely needed classrooms, established St. Lawrence High School and opened its doors in September, 1954. The assistant at that time, Fr. William Brennan, said that the parish activity centered mainly on the high school and its support groups the Dads' Club and the Athletic Boosters.

Fr. John Canavan arrived as an assistant in 1956, and an interesting census was taken. A house-to-house canvas revealed that almost one-third of the Utica community was now Catholic.

More expansion came in 1957, again to the convent. Renovations were made to double its existing size. The parish promoted a fund that purchased a new Ford station wagon for the sisters. Also in 1957, St. Isidore Parish was founded and branched out from St. Lawrence.

In June 1958, 42 students became the first graduating class of St. Lawrence High School. In the first annual yearbook, The Jewel, the graduates' dedication was to Father DeKeyser: "Because of his wise counsel, we were encouraged by his friendship and inspired by his priestly virtues."

In August 1958 the parish held its forty-third annual festival and homecoming. More than 150 women prepared ham and chicken dinners. The "Young Ladies Sodality" prepared a hope chest filled with linens for one of the raffle prizes.

A second high school building fund was begun in 1959 for the proposed gymnasium/auditorium and cafeteria. This $350,000 project was an impressive addition that would house the facilities needed to complete the high school. It was completed in the fall of 1960.

Fr. Canavan recalled the fun and excitement of the new gym, the temporary football field near the railroad tracks and the "dumb looking" fence that Fr. DeKeyser had built. He also remembered the "professional touch" added with the hiring of a University of Notre Dame athletic coach. He said, too, that that these years saw the beginning of the Christian Family Movement which would flourish. "All in all, I think I can say that the people of the community continued to grow as Christians under the leadership of Father DeKeyser," writes Fr. Canavan.

Fr. DeKeyser -- respected and loved
In 1960, the parish celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Fr. DeKeyser's pastorate. A booklet published in his honor that year says, "To this community Fr. DeKeyser is known as the promoter of St. Lawrence's well planned building expansion, but to his parishioners Father is respected and loved as the promoter of sound rules of life." Father DeKeyser was named Dean of the North Macomb Deanery (the forerunner of the Vicariate), and Mrs. Alice McKay of the parish was its first president. In this year, too, a Mass Station was begun at (Sterling Bemis Junior High, and St. Matthias Parish was established from part of St. Lawrence. Later, in 1962, St. Kieran Parish would also be established from part of the original St. Lawrence boundaries.

On September 30, 1962, Father DeKeyser was elevated to Monsignor by Pope John XXIII. He was invested with the purple robes of his office by Archbishop John Dearden and was among 14 newly appointed monsignors in the Detroit Archdiocese elevated to that position.

Between 1962 and 1963 the rectory was enlarged. The new addition consisted of four garages, two bedrooms, a sitting room, three bathrooms and a screened porch. A completely new roof of Spanish style covered the rectory. With the population boom in the Utica area, new and better facilities were needed to accommodate the incoming priests.

Vatican II
The opening of Vatican II in 1963 was to have many effects on St. Lawrence. The Archdiocese informed parishes of the need to update the Church and for Christian Unity. Bishops returned to their dioceses convinced that many changes were needed; however, parishioners' spiritual lives were ordered according to traditional norms and policies. In an effort to make the transition for the parishioners easier, educational programs were run in parishes to explain changes in the liturgy. Emphasis was placed on lay involvement, and at St. Lawrence the many parish organizations were growing and in full swing.

The parish was growing rapidly, and in 1964 another new parish developed from the original St. Lawrence boundaries-St. Ephrem Parish was established.

By the time Frs. Rene Desmarais and Sidney Eckert arrived as assistants in 1966, there were 2,000 families registered in the parish. To honor Monsignor DeKeyser's 40 years in the priesthood, a new St. Lawrence Church sign was erected near the rectory garage bearing two bronze commemorative plaques bearing his likeness. In April of that year Monsignor suffered a major heart attack. With proper care, his health steadily improved, and after recovery it was "business as usual." Just after his recovery he decided that he wanted to take a census of the new Chateau Estates Mobile Home Park located just south of the church. He organized a team of workers but then bicycled himself to the park and completed his share of visits before anyone else!

Professional publication of The Forum, the weekly church paper, began in 1967.

In 1968 plans were drawn up to include two additions for St. Lawrence School. The new library and teachers' lounge were completed in 1969 in the final phase of a 30-year building program that saw the original $50,000 investment develop into the multi-million dollar plant it is today. At the height of its enrollment, St. Lawrence School facility was one of the best in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Fr. James Wieging
Fr. James Wieging arrived in the spring of 1969 as the new assistant and was to remain until 1971. Fr. Wieging probably witnessed more changes at St. Lawrence than any other assistant. His first project was working with the parish in formulating its input for Synod '69. All activities were suspended as the laity and priests developed their ideas and suggestions in the post-Vatican II transition period. The faith of the parish was being tested as never before as social issues demanded moral decisions. The application of Christian values to the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, public aid to parochial schools and the pro-life movement were difficult issues for all Catholics at this time.