'Father Larry' will get back to his rural roots at St. Joseph's

June 30, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

"The Rev. Lawrence Joseph Gesy" is much too formal a name for the man visibly uncomfortable in his starched-and-pressed vestments who leaned deeply into an arm chair yesterday in the rectory of Our Lady of Victory in Catonsville.

He'd rather be called Father Larry.

"They had another priest here named Larry and we had to go to last names; the first time I've ever had to do that," said Father Larry, unconsciously pulling at a jacket sleeve. "In a smaller parish, I can get back to being informal."

Though Father Larry would have been happier in less formal garb, it's clear that nothing is more comfortable to him than his priest's collar.

And it's that enthusiasm for his work that Father Larry hopes to bring to Taneytown when he takes over tomorrow as interim pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church.

Moving from his associate pastorship of Victory's parish of 1,500 families to administering and leading St. Joseph's congregation of 300 families, Father Larry is getting back to the country and a simpler life.

"I'm the oldest of seven born to farming parents and raised on a 243-acre dairy farm in Iowa," said Father Larry, 45. "But I hate milk to this day. Yeck!"

He laughed, recalling his rural past and got back to the matter at hand.

"I'm just a down-to-earth individual when it comes to getting to know people," he said. "I like to embrace people, and I also like to embrace their lives."

Father Larry is coming to the Taneytown parish because the Rev. Paul Dolan -- for 20 years a cherished fixture at the St. Joseph's altar -- is retiring.

The Rev. Martin Fields, who is on sabbatical in Rome, will take over the parish in February.

Until then, Father Larry has seven months to place his mark in what he calls one of the most significant areas around for religion.

"This parish is so deeply entrenched in history. It's called the Valley of St. Joseph's," Father Larry said, his face growing serious as he discussed Mother Seton and the Taneytown-Emmitsburg area. "I call it the area where history marched and saints walked."

Father Larry brings a new kind of prominence to the area. He is the director of the Catholic Healing Ministry of the Archdiocese of Baltimore as well as a cult consultant for the archdiocese.

As a young priest, he joined Werner Erhard's controversial EST self-awareness movement, which he now likens to a destructive cult.

He has been studying fringe religious groups for about 13 years and published "Today's Destructive Cults and Movements," with foreword by Mother Teresa, in June 1993.

"I have talked to all kinds of people about these things, from being called by Ted Koppel and 'Evening Magazine' to 'Geraldo,' " said Father Larry.

He plans to integrate some of his areas of expertise into his work at St. Joseph's.

"Regardless of where I've gone, I've always found people who have gotten involved in destructive cults and movements," Father Larry said. "Its makes no difference whether you are on a farm in my native Iowa or living in metropolitan Baltimore -- people are the same."

Father Larry was ordained in 1975 -- realizing a goal he set for himself in the third grade -- after receiving his master's of divinity from St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park. He had received his bachelor's degree in philosophy and education in 1971 from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

He was a deacon at All Saints Catholic Church on Liberty Heights Avenue and spent a year at St. Mary's Church in Govans, where Father Dolan had once served.

Father Larry then spent 5 1/2 years at St. Lawrence Church in Woodlawn and four years at St. Anthony's Church on Frankford Avenue in Baltimore before going to Our Lady of Victory in 1985.

"It's very hard for me to leave here. The parish becomes your family," Father Larry said of Victory. He said he became emotional during a recent Mass. "Everything's integrated. It's a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week vocation where you live and breathe the people of the parish."

Father Larry doesn't know where he will be once Father Fields takes over the parish, but he feels there is always a deeper meaning behind why he does what he does, or goes where he goes. Regardless, he is excited about being placed in Taneytown -- and maybe some of it has to do with himself.

"I have a deep devotion to St. Joseph. My middle name is Joseph, I was ordained in St. Joseph's [Cresco, Iowa], I was baptized in St. Joseph's [Breda, Iowa], and my first parish as a seminarian was St. Joseph's [Fullerton]," he said.

"I say a daily litany to St. Joseph. Been saying it for nine years," he said, laughing. "I guess [St. Joseph] figured, 'Well, he likes me so much, might as well send him to a place called St. Joseph's.' "

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