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Paynesville Press - July 13, 2005

St. Anthony Catholic Church in Regal to close

By Melissa Andrie

After 72 years, a decision has been made to close St. Anthony Catholic Church in Regal. A final Mass, dinner, and celebration will be held on Sunday, July 31, with Bishop John Nienstedt of the New Ulm Diocese.

The parish - which is comprised of 53 households and 138 people, according to 2003-2004 data - will be closing after July. On Sunday, June 26, a final Mass was held with Father Fred Fink, who is retiring. A new pastor is continuing services at St. Anthony until its closing at the end of the month.

An 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday, July 31, will be followed by a program to recognize past priests and to honor the parish community. A catered chicken and ham dinner will be served at the social gathering. All past and present members of the parish are invited.

stanthony church This winter, after Father Fink announced his plan to retire, church assets were inventoried and members were given the option of having the church close or stay open as an oratory. The latter would mean status as an official church, with devotions such as rosaries and distribution of the Eucharist, but without regular Sunday Mass.

St. Anthony Catholic Church in Regal, which has been open for 72 years, will close after Sunday, July 31, due to population decline and a shortage of priests. Its 138 parishioners voted in March to close the church.

St. Anthony was on track to become an oratory by 2008, according to a plan put together by the Diocese of New Ulm. This is because of the population decline in the area and the shortage of priests, according to Father Fink, but the parish had to make a choice sooner than expected because of his decision to retire.

If designated as an oratory, the church would be fiscally independent. Parishioners decided at a meeting in mid-March that it was "not financially feasible" to become an oratory, according to Mike Braun, Sr., one of two parish trustees and a member of St. Anthony since 1952.

Parishioners also feared a lack of participation in devotions, since families would be traveling to other parishes for Sunday Mass, Braun continued.

There has never been an oratory in the diocese, though one parish given the same option as St. Anthony has chosen to become one.

The "number of priests we have available has declined much more rapidly than we had envisioned," causing the diocese to form a new model of parishes that share resources within areas, said Mark Kemmeter of the Diocese of New Ulm's pastoral center.

By a hand vote at the March meeting, members decided to close the church, which has been served by 14 pastors in its more than 70-year history.

The first parish Mass was said in the Regal Community Hall in 1933, and a basement church was built later that year, combining the volunteer labor of parishioners to keep the costs down to $2,500.

The church was originally a mission parish of St. Patrick of Kandiyohi, but in only 12 years, it became the main parish, with the priest at the time moving to Regal and traveling to Kandiyohi when necessary.

A cemetery was added to the parish in 1950, when land a quarter of a mile west of the parish was donated by the late Robert Weidner.

Flooding of the church became a problem, since it was below ground, and in 1952, the Regal Community Hall, which had been donated, was moved onto the old basement church and renovated.

After a short time as an independent parish, St. Anthony sponsored Our Lady of the Lakes in Spicer as a mission parish in 1962. In 1969, the roles were reversed when St. Anthony itself became a mission of Our Lady of the Lakes. This is still the official designation of the church, which has shared a pastor with Our Lady of the Lakes since that year. The new pastor of Our Lady of the Lakes will serve St. Anthony until the end of July.

Pastors who came to Regal often grew to love the small town life, according to a history of the parish, and Father Schreiner, who served the parish in the 1950s, was even manager of the Regal baseball team.

This life was loved by parishioners as well, said Jack Kotten, who has been a member of the parish since 1951, except for seven years after he turned 18, and has been a trustee since the early 1980s. He remembered playing cards after men's society meetings and said the card playing often lasted longer than the meetings themselves.

Kotten has also felt the welcoming parish community while gathering out on the lawn after Sunday Mass. This can only be enjoyed half the year - temperatures 20 degrees below zero are not conducive to outdoor socializing, he acknowledged - but he emphasized the small size and close-knit membership that he said is a strength of the parish throughout the year.

Helen Mueller, a parishioner for 22 years, has always loved the Christmas gatherings, with old-fashioned socials, caroling, and St. Nick, and believes a strength of the parish is the involvement of its older members.

Father Fink said that the parishioners have been "very dedicated to their church and to maintaining the life of the parish,"and he treasures the "mature heart" they approached the present situation with. Even while struggling with difficult decisions, they avoided bitterness, which he applauded.

A recommendation was sent to Bishop Nienstedt to close the parish, and a committee of church members is working with the diocese on preparations to do so.

Parishioners will determine what is to be done with the church building, said Fink, but no decisions have been made yet.

A memorial marker will be placed in the parish cemetery to honor the existence of the church with a picture of it on a tear-shaped piece of granite. Along with the picture, a dedication to the pro-life cause will be etched on the stone. By doing this, the parish can "go on record to say that life in all of its stages is a precious gift from God," said parishioner Tom Weidner.

Current plans also include a bench honoring two parishioners - both of them Weidner's sisters - who have dedicated their lives to God's service as nuns, along with the 15 priests who have served the parish, according to Weidner.

When asked what parishioners would be doing after the parish closes, Father Fink replied, "I don't know if they've gotten that far yet in their own planning." Indeed, Kotten joked that he will be a free agent, and added that for families with children living at home, much will depend on where their children attend school.

Four area churches have been identified by the diocese as likely for St. Anthony's members to join: Our Lady of the Lakes in Spicer, St. Louis Catholic Church in Paynesville, St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Lake Henry, and the Church of St. Francis de Sales in Belgrade. Church members who choose to attend church in Paynesville, Lake Henry, or Belgrade would be leaving the Diocese of New Ulm to enter the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Due to its close proximity, many parishioners are likely to transfer to Paynesville, Kemmeter said.

Now, with the date for the church's closure announced, the diocese will be working with members to help them transition to the area parishes.

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