Nestled among the trees and greens, near the seventh hole of Madden's Pine Beach West Golf Course, is a small church on the verge of permanently closing its doors unless a priest is found.
Because of a shortage of Catholic priests around the United States, area Catholic churches are being forced to share their leaders. Four Catholic parishes in the Brainerd area -- St. Francis, St. Andrew's, St. Mathias and St. Thomas -- have two resident priests who rotate around the community to lead Mass on the weekends. When the two resident priests aren't available, St. Thomas of the Pines in East Gull Lake relies on St. John's Abbey in Collegeville to send a priest.
In an effort to secure their own priest for this seasonal church, open May through October, St. Thomas parishioners are raising money to build a home for a prospective priest. Brian Thuringer, president and CEO of Madden's Resort, along with his wife, Deb, donated a plot of land on Madden's Pine Beach West Golf Course. And parishioners set a goal to raise $100,000 to build the home. More than half already has been raised by people pledging money over a four-year span.
"I don't think we're going to have any trouble getting a priest," said David Van Lear, campaign fund chairman, adding this would be an ideal job for a retired priest.
Once a priest is hired, all home expenses would be paid year-round, and a stipend given.
"If the new priest wants to live here year-round, that'd be great. If they want to go South for the winter, that'd be OK, too," Van Lear said of the benefits of working at a seasonal church.
St. Thomas' goal of raising $100,000 is not far from being reached, so Van Lear said he hopes construction on the home will begin next fall.
An architect and a construction manager have volunteered to design and help build the home. Van Lear said people who don't have extra money to donate can offer their services to help plan or construct the house.
"We are happy to work with anyone who can give any contribution," Van Lear said.
Although St. Thomas of the Pines has fewer than 50 members, attendance averages about 15,000 people per year. Because the church is seasonal, most of the church-goers are vacationing in the area. It is a popular spot for weddings and family reunions, Van Lear said, because Madden's Resort will cater and set up tents for the events.
St. Thomas of the Pines is closed for the season, but donations are still being taken. Contact Van Lear at 820-2751 for information on how to pledge to the St. Thomas of the Pines rectory fund.
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