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.”
His Secrets for a Long Life
What is Deacon Girard’s secret to a healthy, happy life? “My dear wife helped me live long,” he said. “And we have good genes in the family, too. Our ancestors were from France and had escaped the French Revolution. They foresaw the revolution coming and came to Canada for the freedom of religion.”
Deacon Girard’s father was only 65 when he died from a heart attack attributed to a damaged heart from rheumatic fever. His mother lived to be 83.
The century-old deacon said he tries to eat healthy, has a little wine every day and rarely needs to go to the doctor. “I think I would have been healthier, though, if I had never smoked,” he admitted. “I smoked for around 40 years. I tried quitting twice, but it only lasted a few weeks. I gave it up when I retired at 62.” What was his secret to quitting? “I finally stopped buying cigarettes,” he said.
Hopes for the Future
Deacon Girard said he does not worry about the future, content simply doing what he is doing. “I hope to die in good standing with the Church and the family,” he said. “Standing up at the altar serving Mass helps me to pray. I think I help the priest by reading and giving Communion.” His own relationship with God is strengthened by reading Scripture and going to confession, he explained. “It draws you closer to God,” he said.
At age 100 does Deacon Girard think about meeting God soon? “I don’t spend time worrying about death,” he said. “I am not afraid. I don’t think much about how I am going to die, but I don’t think it will be in an automobile accident, since I stopped driving two years ago. The car broke down, and it’s nice to have kids that drive me here and there.”
While changing out of his vestments after Mass, Deacon Girard explained that after more than 40 years as a deacon, he still looks forward to serving on the altar. “As long as I am going to Mass, I want to serve,” Deacon Girard said. “I’m a little bit slower, but I like to help the priest at Mass. I’m the most happy when I’m able to help.”
Patti Armstrong writes from