A few months after becoming the pastor at St. Sebastian Church in Dearborn Heights, Father Walter Ptak found he was a bit embarrassed whenever he walked in the entrance procession at a Mass with Deacon Larry Girard ’58.
It wasn’t that Ptak was ashamed of his permanent senior deacon. It was just difficult to swallow that Girard, 97 years old at the time and 43 years Ptak’s senior, sped down the aisle.
“I had to pull him to the side and say, ‘Deacon, do you mind walking a little slower? You’re making me look bad because you walk so fast,’” Ptak said with a laugh. “He would be at the altar and there I am hobbling up behind him.”
But that’s always been Girard, now 102 years old and full of more energy than many men half his age. Such vigor has allowed the Detroit Mercy alumnus to sustain a life of service for more than 80 years, much of it in greater Detroit.
Born on Nov. 21, 1918, in Windsor, Canada, he entered the world in the middle of the Spanish Flu pandemic. He likely survived that deadly virus because a doctor advised his mother to deliver him away from a hospital full of sick patients.
“I’m the oldest of five, and we were all born in Windsor,” Girard said. “We lived there, went to church there and everything.”
As a teenager, he studied with the Christian Brothers in Montreal and considered the priesthood before becoming a teacher. By 1947, Girard moved to Detroit to teach at St. Joseph High School but soon felt called to serve in a different capacity. After receiving an undergraduate degree in social work followed by a master’s from University of Detroit, he began volunteering with the Capuchins at St. Bonaventure and worked for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. A few years later, he went to work for Wayne County, which is where he spent the next several decades.
Along the way, he met and married his wife, Jean Faucher, and the couple raised five children together.
As he neared retirement, he began to contemplate how he could continue to serve his community even after his career in social work came to a close. Pope St. Paul VI brought back the permanent diaconate in 1968, which allowed Girard to begin the arduous process of becoming a deacon for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
“I just wanted to help in the church,” Girard said, “and I had time to share.”
He was ordained a deacon on April 25, 1976, and retired from Wayne County shortly after, keeping as busy as possible with his new commitment to his parish. He took on several responsibilities, such as reading the gospel at Mass and bringing communion to the ill.
“He definitely has the vocation to serve the Lord in those various roles: as a Christian Brother, as a teacher, as someone involved in social work and then, of course, as a deacon,” said Ptak. “He internalized the message of the Lord to go out and make disciples of all nations. There’s no doubt about it. That is rooted in his heart.”
He also witnessed the profound impact his commitment to service and his faith impacted others, including his own children. For example, his daughter Clare Girard went on to become the athletic director and track and field coach at Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Riverview, serving in this role for 36 years.
“We saw serving others and volunteer work as the norm,” Clare Girard said.
Until 2020, Girard was very active with the parish, which recently had its name changed to St. Maria Goretti. He still assisted at eight masses a week and attended nearly every parish event or activity.
His mere presence inspires parishioners, who see a man who refuses to allow age and any of its accompanying ailments to prevent him from worshiping the lord or serving others.
“This is especially true for our older people,” Ptak said, who is now the pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Parish in Farmington. “Usually with old age comes a lack of mobility and maybe some hesitancy that as they grow older they think ‘maybe I can’t go to Mass any more; maybe I’m too old to do this.’ Then here we have Deacon Larry, who on his 100th birthday was at Mass proclaiming the gospel and was as sharp as tack.”
Today, with his 103rd birthday right around the corner, his routine has undergone significant alterations, most due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been extra careful since the initial statewide lockdown occurred.
“I don’t make many house calls anymore,” Girard said. “I don’t assist on the altar right now.”
But despite giving up driving a few years ago, Girard still finds a way to attend mass at least three times a week. He often receives rides from Clare Girard or other parishioners happy to give him a lift.
At Mass, his powerful singing voice is still on display. Even if the pandemic has slowed down his usual day-to-day pursuits, he still kneels from his pew and could probably still beat men and women half his age to the altar. No matter his stage in life, he’ll continue to serve others and praise the Lord in the ways he’s able.