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Archives Father, brother to all: Msgr. Deno celebrates

June 8, 2022

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing Writer

PLATTSBURGH – “I want to thank God for my vocation and for all the many people like yourself. I’m a father and brother to all the families that invited me to their homes to have a meal, or when someone died, or when someone was baptized or got married,” said Msgr. Lawrence M. Deno as he celebrated 63 years as a priest.

Msgr. Deno celebrated the anniversary of his ordination on May 16 at Meadowbrook Healthcare in Plattsburgh, with Msgr. Joseph G. Aubin, who celebrated 67 years on May 21, concelebrating. Deacon Kenneth Lushia, Msgr. Deno’s cousin, also assisted at the Mass.

Msgr. Deno used the chalice that was given to him by his parents. They came from Canada and his mother spoke primarily French; the original spelling of his last name was Daignault.

“My mother and father were very active at St. Joseph’s Church in West Chazy, and I was an altar boy,” recalled Msgr. Deno. “My mother cooked at the church. I went to dances in the old parish hall as a teen. The whole hall would shake. Many young people met their spouses there.”

When Msgr. Deno was a senior at Mount Assumption Institute (MAI) in Plattsburgh, Father Leon Legault was the parish pastor. Father Legault said that he was going to visit his parents in Ogdensburg and asked Msgr. Deno to accompany him. Msgr. Deno had never been to Ogdensburg before and accepted the invitation. Father Legault dropped Msgr. Deno off at Wadham’s Hall Seminary for the night instead.

“Somehow he knew I should become a priest,” Msgr. Deno related. “I never did meet his parents.”

The next morning, Msgr. Francis Devan talked with him at the seminary.

“I’d like you to come to Wadham’s,” Msgr. Deno recalls Msgr. Devan saying.

Msgr. Deno said he thought about it and didn’t have any college plans yet, so he said, “Maybe I’ll go.” He attended for four years and then was one of our first seminarians to attend Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland. “And here I am a Catholic priest,” he said.

While studying at the Mount, he also taught at Maryland School for the Deaf, using sign language. In 1959 at 27 years old, Msgr. Deno was ordained with Father Philip Allen, Father William Muench, Father Joseph Sestito, and two other priests, who attended Wadham’s Hall together.

Then, Msgr. Deno celebrated his first Mass at Saint Joseph’s in West Chazy.

“It was a very different world then,” he noted. “Mass was in Latin, I offered Mass facing the tabernacle, the people never said anything. They went to Communion at the altar rail and received on the tongue.”

With a smile, Msgr. Deno added, “The only thing that is the same today is the collection basket.”

He wore many hats over the years, as a teacher at Wadham’s Hall and Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Ogdensburg for nearly 30 years. During this time, he would also offer Mass at local parishes on weekends as needed. He also attended Notre Dame University, where he received his doctorate.

“I am happy to be in assisted living,” Msgr. Deno explained, “but assisted living doesn’t mean I am retired. People come to see me every day. I am thankful to be called ‘Father’ by them, but I am also a brother, a member of their families in a sense. I am thankful for my students. I was spiritual director to many in our diocese and the Buffalo diocese. I just wrote to some yesterday about the sad killings. I am thankful for the North Country Catholic and enjoy seeing Deacon Ken Lushia to talk about religion and spirituality.”

Msgr. Deno is beloved by many of the Meadowbrook residents, including his first cousin Jean Depo.

“He’s always been close to us, to our family,” Depo said. “He was my neighbor and best friend. When he was at Saint James in Cadyville, he used to come to our house every Saturday after Mass. I just love him. When we were kids, he used to play stick ball and card games with us.”

Depo attended Msgr. Deno’s 60th anniversary Mass along with her daughter.

“We enjoy having him here very much,” reflected Joyce Mayo, a resident. “We don’t have Masses like before due to the virus but get together with him and he prays the Rosary with us. He can’t wait to be able to do the Mass downstairs like they did before. That’s very important to him. He’s striving for that.”

Mayo said she her family knew Msgr. Deno when he was a teen.

“He went to school with my brother at MAI,” she said. “My brother said ‘No one can beat that man. He is a very, very intelligent man.’ His mind is very, very good. He loves his computer and writes a weekly prayer that he emails to the activities department here. They copy it and get it delivered to the residents. He’s doing very well. We’re lucky to have him. He’s always fixing my Rosary. He gets it fixed in no time. He’s such a kind man.”

“As long as there is a Catholic Mass, I come,” commented Margaret Gooshaw, a resident who attended the Mass. “It was good to see him [Msgr. Deno] again. It was a nice Mass.”

“I appreciate the people that came to the Mass today,” said Msgr. Deno, reechoing his attitude of gratitude. When asked if he had any advice to share, Msgr. Deno quoted Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “‘We’re like pencils in the hand of God,’ that means priests as well as lay people.”

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