On a recent weekday morning, Len Lorence got up early, as he always does, and prayed the rosary with Lucille, his wife of 67 years.
Then, he bundled up and headed into the subzero temperatures, got into his dark green Dodge Caravan and drove the mile to St. John Vianney in South St. Paul to get the church ready for daily Mass.
Lorence, who just turned 90, has been a member of St. John Vianney since 1946, the year the parish was founded.
He and his wife have been active volunteers for all those years, but it wasn’t until about 14 years ago that Lorence found his calling as a sacristan and altar server.
The priest assigned there at the time, Father Thadeus Aravindathu, didn’t want to take students out of class to serve at funerals, so he asked for volunteers. Lorence, who retired from his career as a maintenance supervisor in 1987, was available and jumped at the chance, even though he had never been an altar server before, not even as a kid.
“The first thing Father did was hand me his suit jacket. He said, ‘Here, put this on.’ I didn’t realize that I should wear a suit, but I did from then on,” Lorence said.
He has been helping ever since with funerals and daily Mass.
“He is one person that I can always count on,” said Father Terry Beeson, pastor of St. John Vianney.
Lorence describes himself as a morning person. He grew up on a farm and always had chores to do before school, so helping at the early Mass was a natural thing.
“I love it,” he said. “It gives me the feeling that I’m participating in the Mass more.”
Lorence has even been known to help kids learn the ropes. His own grandson asked him to serve alongside him because he was nervous the first time. He has helped a few others, too.
“I don’t mind doing it if it encourages them to come up and do it,” Lorence said.
He enjoys doing all kinds of other things around the parish, too. His background as a maintenance supervisor has come in handy many times over the years.
“If anything goes wrong, he can fix it, and he will,” said Liz Arend, a fellow parishioner for the past 44 years. “No matter what you ask of him, he does it.”
She described him as the backbone of the parish, someone everyone knows.
“He has a really happy heart,” Arend said. “When he serves Mass and walks out, he smiles at everybody in the pews.”
Arend nominated Lorence for the parish’s first Volunteer of the Year award, given in conjunction with the parish feast day celebration in 2010. “There was no question of who was going to get it,” she said. And, sure enough, he did.
The award honors people who epitomize what it means to be a good volunteer, Father Beeson said. “Len is a great example of someone who answers the call day and night, no matter what,” he said.
Lorence expressed mixed emotions about the award because he believes there are others who also deserve recognition. But, he did say it was an honor.
“He doesn’t do it for show, he doesn’t do it to be in the spotlight,” said Father Beeson. “He just does it because that’s what he’s called to do. He loves what he does, and it’s his way to serve.”
Category: From Age to Age