GROWTH, CHANGE AND DEVELOPMENT


Father Edward J. DeKeyser
On July 1, 1935, Bishop Michael Gallagher appointed Father Edward J. DeKeyser pastor of Saint Lawrence Church. For the next 36 years, this man would touch the lives of thousands of people and lead a growing parish into further development.

Born March 12, 1899, Edward J. DeKeyser was the third child and only son of Vital and Romanie Van Landegham DeKeyser. He spent a happy childhood with his sisters, Edith and Mary, in a large home in Mount Clemens close to his father's blacksmith shop.

The third resident pastor to be assigned to St. Lawrence, Father DeKeyser took over a parish of some 200 families. The parish embraced 80 square miles, from 16 Mile to 26 Mile, and from Dequindre to Romeo Plank Road. There were two Sunday Masses-one at 7:00 and one at 9:00. The collection on the first Sunday that Father DeKeyser was in his new charge amounted to $86.51-small compared to present revenues, but a great increase over the meager weekly income of pioneer days.

A $54,000 debt faced young Father DeKeyser upon his arrival at St. Lawrence. Slowly but surely he brought his parish from the very edge of financial chaos. Saturday evening parties were inaugurated in the old church on Van Dyke, then used as a parish hall. Dancing upstairs and cards in the basement not only brought in money but helped to knit the parishioners more closely together.

The Depression
The dark clouds of the Depression were gradually breaking and the light of better days began to shine through. Farms began to change hands. Gardeners, forced out of the city of Detroit by high taxes and its expansion, gradually moved out towards Utica. It was not long before many new families entered the parish and the many new faces gave evidence of the change and increase of parishioners. The school's growth kept pace. Within two years (1935-1937) the need to expand the facilities of the school was seen.

The Sisters had lived in the school building after it was opened in 1930, and then, in 1937, the house across from the school was purchased and converted into a convent. Six classrooms were then made available instead of four.

In September of 1937 an 11:00 a.m. Mass was added to the schedule of Sunday Masses, and Father Michael J. Pickett, C.S.D., from Assumption College, Sandwich, Ontario, began to make his weekly trips to hear confessions and assist on Sundays. The additional Mass and the hearing of confessions began to show results…penitents and communicants increased noticeably.

A new interest in religion was evident in St. Lawrence Parish.
About this time many parishioners became interested in having a High Mass sung on Sundays so a choir was organized under the direction of Mr. Heinrich VanHusen, a well-known Detroit organist. Rehearsals were held by him until St. Lawrence found a director from among its own parishioners.* There was the problem of an organ, too, for the old organ was inadequate. As soon as the need was made known to the people it was solved. The children of John and Mathilda Malburg purchased a beautiful Hammond organ and donated it to the church. Everyone in the parish was extremely grateful. It was disappointing, though, that the old organ was removed before the new one could be installed, and John Witulski and Blanche Bernath had to walk up the aisle at their wedding without a note of music!

Societies began to flourish. In January of 1939, a number of Guilds were organized to assist in raising funds for the parish. Each had a chairman whose task it was to arrange for the place of the weekly meeting and the manner in which the funds were to be raised. The name of a Saint was chosen as patron for each group; thus there were five groups: St. Anthony, St. Elizabeth, St. Julianne, St. Lawrence and St. Rita. Once a year, all the Guilds would meet at one of the members' houses for a potluck luncheon.

* A former parishioner sends this note...
" Well that ...'director from among its own...' just happens to be my father, Phernam T. Smith, best know as P. T. Smith. He faithfully served as the Choir Director at nearly every Sunday 9:00 a.m Mass and every Tuesday night rehearsal from around 1935 until his death on October 13, 1964. In 1958 my parents moved from their home on Auburn Road to Lake Orion but it never stopped dad from being at Sunday Mass at St. Lawrence. He and my mother are just two of those many early parishioners that contributed to the solid foundation on which the current parish rests. Their names and the names of may always be found in the St. Lawrence Cemetery."
and...
"His picture hangs in the K of C hall as a Past Grand Knight.
Thanks to all who must have worked so very hard to put this all together."
Marlie B. Smith


 
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