St. Lawrence celebrates 150 years in the ‘big city’ of Utica

Parishioners pose with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and Fr. Roman Pasieczny during St. Lawrence Parishs's 150th anniversary Mass on May 1. Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Parishioners pose with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and Fr. Roman Pasieczny during St. Lawrence Parish’s 150th anniversary Mass on May 1.
Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic

Utica — Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron took a trip to the “big city” May 1, to celebrate Mass and the 150th anniversary of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica.

That’s right, “big city” Utica.

Utica’s “urban sprawl” is a matter of perspective for the archbishop, a native of small-town Anchorville, who during his homily expressed congratulations to the parish community on reaching the 150-year milestone.

“This parish has been around for almost one-twentieth of the Catholic Church’s history,” Archbishop Vigneron said to a packed church. “This is a parish established not long after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Really, this parish has been around for much of the history of the community, and there is so much to be thankful for.”

St. Lawrence Parish was established in 1866 when Bishop Peter Paul Lefevre decided to establish a mission church associated with Roseville’s Sacred Heart Parish to serve the 45 Irish-Catholic families living in the upstart crossroads village of Harlow (the town changed its name to Utica when the city charter was established in 1833).

The parish community grew by leaps and bounds since 1866 and today looks quite different from its original self; and that’s before accounting for a $450,000 renovation in 1989-90, which included an extension of the church in the form of a multi-purpose room and a loft to provide additional seating for the growing community.

Fr. Roman Pasieczny, the 11th pastor since St. Lawrence had its own pastor in 1924, said the parish has been celebrating its 150th anniversary all year.

“We’ve had one year of celebrating every month since September with Christian service and charity projects,” Fr. Pasieczny said. “This is a really close community; we have parishioners from the surrounding towns that come here to the center of the area. We’re a great part of the Utica community, and we pride ourselves on being welcoming.”

After Mass, the St. Lawrence community gathered at the school gym for a banquet, an opportunity for parishioners to remember all who have walked through the church’s doors.

“The people here make it a special atmosphere,” said Marion Lelito, a 73-year old parishioner who has been part of the St. Lawrence community all her life. “The church looks completely different after the remodel 20 years ago.”

St. Lawrence is as much a part of the fabric of Utica as anything, Lelito said, pointing out that even the name of one of Utica Community Schools’ campuses, DeKeyser Elementary, was named after longtime St. Lawrence pastor Msgr. Edward J. DeKeyser, who as pastor from 1935-71 was a strong proponent of education in the area.

“The church is a big part of Utica, and in many ways, the church makes the city,” Lelito said.