FIRST RESIDENT PASTOR


Rev. William Crowley
In 1924 Bishop Michael J Gallagher appointed Rev. William Crowley to be the first resident pastor. Father Crowley had seen quite a bit of the world previous to his assignment to Utica. Born in Cork, Ireland, he had served as a chaplain in the British Navy and had visited many lands in his travels. He had been assistant in a New York City parish and later at Lebanon, Kentucky. Because of his musical talents, he was at one time on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame. On weekends he assisted at parishes in the Detroit Diocese in the western part of the state, particularly Sturgis. Incardinated into the diocese, he was sent to Rochester where he built St. Andrew Church. He came at last to Utica, where he would remain for eight years.

Building was Father Crowley's first concern for his growing congregation. In 1927, four acres of land-the Nichols's farm adjoining the Greeley Street railroad depot property-were purchased, and the rectory was built. The records of 1928 indicate $12,000 was paid on the rectory, and $1,850 was raided that summer at the annual festival. The following year, 1929, ground was broken for the new combination church-school. Mike Walsh cut the hay and Patrick Manning, Joseph Neurenberg, John Magan, Bernard Raska and Paul and Henry Malburg with their tractors and shovels dug the basement. With men working through the night, moving the pews, the altar and fixtures from the old church on Van Dyke, the building was completed for Easter Sunday, 1930. At 4:00 that morning, Peter Arts lit the sanctuary lamp, and the first Mass in the new church was offered by Father Crowley at 7:30 a.m.

The new building was blessed on a hot Sunday afternoon in July, 1930, by Bishop Michael Gallagher. parishioners recall that the day began with Mass at 7:30 a.m., followed by First Holy Communion, dedication of the church by Bishop Gallagher and Conformation, all on the same day! The clergy assembled at the rectory and the procession moved along the gravel path from the rectory to the church led by the cross bearer, followed by the acolytes, among whom were Leonard and Charles Malburg, Lawrence and John Ternes, and Frank Metter. The confirmation candidates followed the cross bearer. They numbered 62-34 girls and 28 boys. The bishop was assisted by a very young Father Edward DeKeyser who, no doubt, never dreamed that he would later return as pastor of St. Lawrence!

St. Lawrence School
In September of 1930 the school opened its doors with a registration of 149 pupils. Father Crowley hired four sisters of the Order of the Sisters of St. Dominic to lay the foundation of learning in the hearts of the children of Utica. Sister Rose Vincent, O.P., Superior, was the first principal.

The Depression Years
In some historical notes prepared much later by Fr. DeKeyser, he gives a closer insight into the problems which faced Father Crowley during the years of his pastorate.

"The Depression was being felt in the early 1930's. Financing was difficult. There were not sufficient funds to meet fuel bills. The congregation had accumulated a fuel bill with a local concern to so great an amount that the supply was cut off. The credit of St. Lawrence was nil; things became so bad that nothing could be obtained except on a cash basis.

"In 1932 the Depression had hit the bottom. Father Crowley had borrowed wherever he could in order to keep the creditors from his door. Some of the people of the parish who were blessed with more of this world's goods than others came to the rescue. Especially remembered are Mr. and Mrs. Herman Arts, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Malburg and Mr. and Mrs. John Esper. The Western and Southern Life Insurance Company had not received a penny on the principal of $50,000 which it had loaned to the parish. The closed Utica Bank held a $10,000 note against the property, and several individuals had loaned money to the parish at a reduced rate of interest in order that the payments might be met."

In the midst of this discouraging outlook, Father Crowley, worrying as to how he should meet his obligations, passed away at his sister's home in Boston on July 12, 1932. He was preparing to make his return to Utica when he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 56. Interestingly, Fr. Edward DeKeyser was visiting in Mt. Clemens at the time of Fr. Crowley's death and helped with the funeral arrangements. It was agreed that Father Crowley would be buried in St. Lawrence Cemetery where the flock to whom he had been shepherd could visit his grave and offer a prayer for the repose of his soul. Mr. Peter Arts was to see that the weeds were cut and that the cemetery should be fittingly prepared for their pastor's funeral. The tall grass which surrounded the rectory and the school was to be cut; the low spots around the parish builds were to be filled. Bishop Michael J. Gallagher offered the funeral Mass, and Father Dennis A. Hayes preached the sermon. It is said of Fr. Crowley that the very shoes in which he was buried were paid for by his friends.

On the day of Father Crowley's funeral, Bishop Gallagher appointed Father Joseph McIsaac as the second pastor of St. Lawrence. Records show that Father McIsaac's aim was to reduce the indebtedness of the parish, and this is exactly what he did. The oil burners in the school and rectory were replaced with coal stoker. Arrangements were made to pay a small amount on all debts until they were paid in full. Fr. McIsaac was known for his oratory; people spoke of his masterful sermons. His kindly manner and his love for children won for him a place in the hearts of his people. His time as pastor was short, however, for in 1935 he resigned his parish to enter the Order of Preachers.


 
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