The Church builds you
At the conclusion of my first homily, delivered in June of 2014 at Saint Wendelin’s Catholic Church in Luxemburg, I said something that resonates with me still:
"When you build the church, the church builds you."
When I spoke these words I was largely speaking to how it is in giving that we receive; how in helping others, particularly our church community, that we ourselves are better formed in Christian living. With the construction of the Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica these words have taken on added significance.
Idea and Inspiration
In February of 2015, while traveling in Ireland to visit Michael and Marie O’Reilley (personal friends and parishioners from the Catholic Church of Saint Charles in Herman, MN), I visited the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven in Galway. The architecture of this cruciform church captivated me. The stonework, the stain glass and the altar made a profound impression.
Early that next morning of my visit, still combatting the jetlag from my travels, I awoke with a clear conviction that I would one day build either a church or a chapel. The clarity and conviction of this thought felt profoundly inspired, characteristic of a private revelation. I spent the next three hours dreaming and drafting an initial design. Admittedly, it looked a lot like the Cathedral I had just visited, albeit with distinct characteristics. I left Galway behind that day, but not the memories of my experience.
Returning from Ireland with this conviction that I would one day build a church or a chapel still fresh in my mind, I did not share my experience with anyone since it was not something I understood myself. With time, the idea continued take form. It was on my parent’s property that I wanted to build a chapel with the wood pieces composing the sanctuary set. Sharing the idea with my father, George Bechtold, it became one of those things we would discuss during our occasional day’s end conversations.
Meanwhile, back in the rectory garage at Saint Mary’s in Melrose, MN, there sat three large stumps sourced from a fallen Basswood tree. I acquired these stumps during the Summer of 2013, the same time I met Michael and Marie, when I was assigned to the three Catholic Churches in Elbow Lake, Herman and Tintah. It happened that, during a fierce storm, a large basswood tree fell. Its fall was softened by an unsuspecting Dodge Ram pickup, which it thoroughly crushed.
Hearing of this fall I went to inspect the damage with other locals. It is then I first saw it. the shape of the tree caught my eye and captured my imagination. I saw in these stumps a church the makings of a sanctuary set: an altar, an ambo and maybe more. What I imagined as an altar had particular significance since at it base it formed a unified trunk but, at its head, became three distinct tree limbs. It was for me as an allegory, of sorts, to the Holy Trinity: One in His substance, distinct in their persons.
Asking that these stumps be spared, and set aside for me, local parishioner Curtis Peterman happily accommodated my request. Before summer’s end I stripped the bark from the trees and there they sat for a year, to dry. Eventually, they found a home with me in Melrose where they were sanded and refined to look much like they do today.
Location & design
There were difficulties with my initial design. A cruciform structure was possible, but time consuming and difficult. I wanted it to be a cordwood structure. Again, possible but time consuming to build and maintain. With George’s help, and the refining architectural touches of Ed Karls parishioner from Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Rockville, MN, a draft was finally decided upon. This new design was initially very difficult for me to accept but has proven to be wonderful for many reasons. But first, let me explain some details concerning the location and design. First, the land.
Whether by coincidence or providence, I was born and raised on the same land where Sister Joyce Iten, O.S.B., of the community of Saint Benedict's Monastery in Saint Joseph, MN, was also born and raised. Many religious brothers and sister have been born through the Saint Wendelin’s Catholic Church in Luxemburg, but the most recent religious were Sister Martha Bechtold (my aunt) and Sister Joyce Iten. I have often joked, “There must have been something in the water.” And since it was that George and Marshia now owned this land, it was thus decided to build the chapel there. This place carried with it the a generational connection and a Benedictine and Diocesan connection which seemed to befit the dignity of the chapel to be built.
I had originally considered locating it in the back field of this 10-acre property. However, it was moved to the front acreage where it would be closer to the public road, allowing it to be more easily accessed by visitors and attended to. This new location was altogether more simple and secure.
The chapel was to be built upon a preexisting foundation, where a 14 x 20 garage had long stood. By then, the garage was crumbling and decrepit, in need of either replacement or repair.
The siding of the chapel was to match that of the house and garage. As I had stated, this design was initially very difficult for me to accept as it lacked distinction from the other buildings. My upbringing in Stearns County taught me that chapels and churches generally have steeples and stone: This would have neither. Chapels are not designed to match a house. And this idea would have continued to be difficult for me to accept if not for something I remembered from my travels in Rome in January of 2014.
Many of the Roman churches, from the outside, matched the architecture of the buildings surrounding them which were built in that same era. From the outside they did not look like churches, they just looked tall. It was upon entering the church that it’s beauty, its magnificence and its symbolism would be seen. Many of these Roman churches were, simply put, celestial. And this reality, as one tour guide put it, provides an interpretation of the Church herself:
To those who are not a part of the Catholic Church, to the unbaptized, the Church can appear to be like any other community organization or business. From the outside, it can appear ordinary. However, upon entering the Church is her beauty truly known and experienced. The Church is no business: It is a family. The Church is no building: It is a home. And here it is where the children of the Church are raised and formed to know the world and our place in it.
From the outside, the chapel may appear to be like any other building. However, on the inside it would be something set apart.
The influence of the Benedictine sisters and monks, upon this diocese is profound. Mindful of this rich heritage, in gratitude for their profound influence in my own life, the Chapel was to be named the Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica: A name which was arrived at through prayer and in prayer was confirmed.
“Let’s build the chapel”
2020 is a year not soon to be forgotten. At the years beginning, the lethal impact of the Covid-19 virus was only just manifesting, and the extent of its dangers unknown. By order of Gov. Tim Walz, beginning March 27, bars, restaurants and other venues in Minnesota were to be closed to dine in guests and now could only serve takeout and delivery services.
George and Marshia, owners of the Granite Edge Café, were directly impacted by this decision. For nearly 15 years their café had been opened from 7 AM to 7 PM, 364 days a year. They reduced their operating hours from 11 AM to 1 PM. With this door closing, a window opened, and George said to me, “Let’s build the chapel.” Construction began in May of 2020.
In this phrase, “Let’s build the chapel,” is not forgotten the words of the Psalmist who writes, “Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build “ (Ps 127:1a). Our Lord’s holy guidance was sought in prayer throughout this effort. But in these words, "Let's build the chapel," was the realization that what had begun as an inspiration was to become a reality.
Not dismissive of the dangers of Covid-19, not inconsiderate of its effects, my family and I made the discretionary choice that we would work if we felt well, and not work if we did not. During the Summer and Fall of 2020, what we first naively envisioned was going to be something like a weekend barn raising event, was an extended effort to ready the site and establish the shell of the chapel. By winter of that year all but the interior was completed: Siding, shingles, windows, doors and more.
During many months and years, many people came together to help design and build this chapel. I would like to say a little about them here.
Gene & Kathy Bechtold helped to erect the shell of the building itself. He helped to shingle and side the structure. Most importantly, together with George, made sure the overall design continued to be structurally amid the ongoing modifications. Gene, together with his business partner Marty Reker, had already built over 1,000 houses with Reker Construction: This would be Gene’s first chapel. He also donated the doors: a crucial part in any church/chapel. Kathy … well, she helped take the photos. Lots of photos! Something which is very difficult to do when you are holding the windows and rafters in place.
Leonard and Millie (Bechtold) Brunn were instrumental, each in their own way. Leonard was a regular and willing worker, from the cutting of lumber to building the sanctuary floor to the installation of the windows and more. Millie’s tasteful opinions I sought regularly in matters ranging from the best location of the windows to the choice of the carpet to the design of the altar cloth. From my earliest days as a priest Leonard and Millie (who, themselves are parents of ordained Catholic priest Father Nathan Brunn, of the Diocese of Crookston) have been an ongoing source of good counsel and encouragement to me. And this project was no exception.
Roger Bechtold, despite his emphasis in business with the Overhead Door Company and beyond, never lost a love or a knack for the hands-on work auto mechanics and construction. Roger was our primary excavator in the early stages of the project, sculpting the land surrounding the chapel’s foundation.
Where do I end in this litany of talented contributors?!
Alan Stang, who helped with the clearing of trees and branches.
My siblings (Jesse, Jensine, Randy and Kate) who provided early assistance to the project, including the hauling of those shingles up the ladder (not an easy task when done by hand), and my nephew Gaege Bechtold-Schaefer who assisted with the project in an ongoing way.
Floyd Beumer, who dug our patio post holes through feet of clay and rocky soil with his skid-loader.
Jeff Bechtold, co-owner of Sentra-Sota Sheet Metal, who built both the copper tabernacle which houses the Blessed Sacrament and the brown metal flashing which covers much of the front patio.
Jerry Molitor, our long-time family friend, who installed the carpet (the same carpet which once decorated the sanctuary of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Rockville, MN – I know because he installed it).
Joe Gerads, whose expert CNC machining skills, created the sign which decorates the chapel.
Doug Albers, who hand-crafted the oak trim for the door, windows and floor.
Pat Gross, who modified and refurbished the chapel pews.
Butch Rice, who designed and built the ambo and Roman Missal stand. Butch also built the stand upon which the Regina Caeli statues stands, and provided the oak which trims the door and windows.
Bruce Conrad, who completed the unenviable job of Sheetrocking the interior.
Dino Kremers, who (beyond offering the great gift of prayer for the success of this project) was both excavator and patio builder.
Clement & Mary Kremers, who would not allow their age to prevent them from their habit of hard work, helping to move bricks and construct the patio.
Jim Coleman & Spartan Electric, who help us keep the lights on.
Joe Watrin & Granite Pest Control, for ensuring that our chapel is a house of prayer and not a house of pests.
Other contributors include:
Sheila McCallum, whose expert artisan skills, joined to her deep Catholic Faith and loving devotion to our Blessed Mother, refurbished the Regina Caeli statue which stands as a center piece to the Chapel.
Karen Reker, whose discerning taste and generosity provided the crucifix* which decorates the Eastern wall of the chapel.
Darrell Stahlecker, former president of Biesanz Quarry in Winona, MN who generously donated, delivered and helped to install the altar stone which is the heart of the chapel.
Darren Brunn, who donated the windows and doors which decorate the chapel.
Leroy Winter, whose love of faith and family, joined to his artisan handiwork, provided the black walnut crucifix which decorates the altar.
John Ludwig, who provided the steel siding for the chapel.
Ed & Brenda Molitor, who donated the culvert which runs beneath the patio walkway leading to the chapel.
The anonymous donor of the Regina Caeli statue, who entrusted me with the care of this distinguished statue.
And, not least of which, are my mom and dad, Marshia & George Bechtold, who both in their own way have been an ongoing source of love, encouragement and support for me in this effort. Mom, Dad: This would not have begun without you, this could not have been completed without you. I love you both.
There are other contributors to the chapel who are not here recognized. But a list of even this degree makes clear that God’s providence, joined to a large pool of talent, helped to make this chapel the dignified house of prayer it has become. To these here listed, and also those whose contribution has been to grace this place with their gift of presence and prayer, I say, “Thank you!”
So many firsts
Holy Mass was first celebrated at the chapel in Fall of 2020. No carpet. No insulation. No altar stone. Really, there was little more than the shell of the building, yet this was enough to mark our early efforts with the celebration of the Holy Mass. It was the first of many celebrations to come.
After a winter of interior designing, Mass was celebrated there again on June 21, 2021. This was the anniversary of my priestly ordination and, on that particular year, Father’s Day. By then it had been insulated, sheet rocked, painted, carpeted and more. It at least looked like a chapel. And it was on this occasion that the space was blessed as the Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica.
Fall of 2021, neighbors joined in a celebration of the Holy Mass. It now had a proper stone altar (not yet consecrated), housed the newly refurbished Regina Caeli statue and church pews. Most significant, however, the chapel now had the ongoing presence of the Blessed Sacrament present in the tabernacle, making it both a house of prayer and of our Lord’s presence.
August 22, 2022 will be remembered among the most notable days of the entire effort, when Bishop Donald Kettler led a gathering of the Catholic Faithful in the celebration of Holy Mass at the Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica. Since it was that the altar was now permanent, and since it is that Mass is to be ordinarily celebrated on a consecrated altar, and since it is that only a Bishop can consecrate an altar, Bishop Kettler accepted the invitation to celebrate Mass and consecrate the altar on this day. It is a gesture for which I will be forever grateful.
A Bishop’s Blessing
Fall of 2020, I presented to Bishop Kettler images of the work which had been completed on the chapel. Admittedly, this was the first he had heard of the project. It is not uncommon for Catholics to have a designated place of prayer within their own homes. There is nothing which prevents this noble practice. Yet it seemed important to inform him that efforts were being made to design this very intentional place of prayer. From that first presentation, Bishop offered his encouragement and approval to the project, asking that I keep him updated on the developments.
March of 2021, sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit within my own heart, I wrote to Bishop Kettler requesting if the chapel could house a tabernacle and the ongoing presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Days felt like weeks as I awaited his reply. Then, on the feast of Saint Joseph (March 19), he gave this permission. It was granted with the expectation that this chapel would be safe and secure for the Sacraments reservation, dignified and that our Lord would be visited (daily, if possible). I have taken great efforts since this day, too, to fulfill the prescripts of Canon 934 §2: celebrating Mass at least twice a month (usually on my days away from the parishes to which I am assigned).
And, as previously mentioned,
Monday, August 22, 2022, when Bishop Donald Kettler led a gathering of the Catholic Faithful in the celebration of Holy Mass at the Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica, will be remembered among the most notable days of the entire effort.
This celebration marked the consecration of the altar, the Bishop’s first visit to the chapel, occurred on the anniversary of the enshrining and blessing of the newly refurbished Regina Caeli statue the previous year and was celebrated on the 20th anniversary of Bishop Kettler’s episcopal ordination.
Bishop Kettler’s closeness to God’s people, a trait so evident during his time as Bishop of the Diocese of Saint Cloud (indeed his entire ordained life), was profoundly felt on this day and will not soon be forgotten.
For the Masses
From early in the chapel’s construction, it was a desire in my heart that, although this chapel would be privately owned and maintained, it would be open and available to the public as a house of prayer. It seemed important that it be at the service of the Diocesan Church. It was to be a compliment to the local parishes, not a competitor.
Monday has quite consistently been a day of rest for me. Occasionally, it is also a day to visit my parents. Since it is that public celebrations of the Holy Mass on Mondays are so found so few and far between these days, in this spirit of the chapel as a compliment to the local parish, a Mass calendar was created for the chapel website which indicates the days when the Holy Mass will be celebrated: Celebrations to which all people of goodwill are invited to participate.
Code of Canon Law Can. 906 states, “Except for a just and reasonable cause, a priest is not to celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice without the participation of at least some member of the faithful.” This public calendar, this invitation, helps me to fulfill this prescript even on those days I may be away from my assigned parishes.
Interior design and symbolism
I have had an instrumental role in deciding nearly everything about the chapel. The result of this is there is nothing without story or significance. Just some of those things I mention here.
The colors of the Regina Caeli statue define the color scheme of the interior. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, after presenting Mary as "pre-eminent and as a wholly unique member of the Church", declared her to be the Church's "type and outstanding model in faith and charity" (Lumen gentium, n. 53). Saint Ambrose saw Mary as a type of the Church because of her immaculate holiness, her virginity, her betrothal and her motherhood, characteristics which Holy Mother Church shares.
By defining Mary as a type of the Church, the Council invites us to see in her the visible figure of the Church's spiritual reality, and in her spotless motherhood, the announcement of the Church's virginal motherhood.
The light blue walls share the color of the inner folds of her mantel. Not unlike the words from Psalm 91:4, ”… and under his wings you may take refuge …”, so do we find protection and refuge against evil powers in the shelter of our Blessed Mother’s Mary and Holy Mother Church. The white of her vesture symbolizes her purity and sanctity.
The arched window on the southern wall presents Mary to visitors as they approach the chapel, giving the Chapel an added purpose of being something of a large grotto.
The altar base and tabernacle are two of the three tree limbs from the fallen Basswood earlier mentioned.
As scriptural precedent makes clear, altars were made of earth (Exodus 20:24) or unwrought stone (20:25). An unwrought stone chosen as a place of sacrifice bears the character of not something we has prepared for God, but something God has prepared for us.
The altar surface is smoothed to serve the practical need of a level space where the ciborium and chalice may safely rest, while the sides remain unfinished to provide both the character of an unwrought stone and (as fantastic as this image may be), the image of a tree’s canopy when set atop the altar base. While it may be a mystery what was the fruit of the tree of life at the center of the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:9), it should be no mystery to us now that the Eucharist is for us now this very fruit.
Many Church Fathers saw the Tree of Life as a prefiguration of the Cross, and the fruit of the Tree of Life as a prefiguration of the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, which hung from the Cross. Revelation says that God will grant people to eat from the Tree of Life (Rev 2:7). Pseudo-Hippolytus writes around the 4th century, “So in place of the old tree, [Christ] plants a new one… For me the cross is the tree of eternal salvation; from it I nourish myself, from it I feed myself” (On the Pasch, L-LI). Also, St. Augustine says, “We too are fed from the Lord’s Cross… when we eat his body” (On Psalm 100:9).
When considering whether I should repair the cracks in the altar base more than one person said these exact words, “Jesus died on a dead tree.” Thus, through the death of Christ and the mercy He has won for us, we may receive life anew.
A blessed relic stone also rests, in accord with tradition, within the altar base and beneath the stone where the sacrifice of the Mass occurs.
Concerning the tabernacle, Christian Tradition makes clear “The tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory which is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated, and suitable for prayer” (Can. 938 §2). The copper interior, complimented by its decorated door on which is emblazoned the monogram ‘IHS' for the name of Jesus, seeks to meet this need.
The church pews were sourced from the Saint Cloud Children’s Home. In Winter of 2021 the Children’s Home was sold to help provide a financial settlement for victims of sexual abuse within the Diocese. George Bechtold found these for sale, quite unexpectedly, on Facebook Marketplace. After repeated insistence that I check them out I did and quickly saw in these something of significance.
Bishop Kettler, during his time as Bishop, had the unenviable responsibility of navigating our diocese through a Bankruptcy reorganization with the goal of compassionately bringing some degree of justice and healing to victims of sexual abuse while maintaining operations across our diocese. One of the costs to this was the Children’s Home. To be able to refurbish and repurpose these specific pews in a chapel which had received his approval felt like a small token to remind us not all was lost and even something new may have been gained.
Decorating the chapel is an image of the saintly twins, Benedict and Scholastica. The scene depicts an encounter from their final days together, here on Earth. An account of this narrative can be found here.
There is more which can be said of the many other items:
The altar crucifix, made from the favorite black walnut tree of Leroy Winter’s father. This tree died within months of his dad’s passing. After which Leroy used this wood to make hundreds of crucifixes which he has given away over the years. Never did he know the crucifix he gifted me would one day rest upon a true altar.
The red carpet to distinguish the nave imitates the same red color scheme in the Catholic Church in Luxemburg and, until recently, in Rockville as well.
The globe lights were sourced from the Immaculate Conception Church in Osakis, MN. Purchased 20 years prior by George Bechtold, and shelved for as many years, they quite curiously, and even unexpectedly, were rehoused in a new house of our Lord.
And the stories go on, some to be appreciated by many, and others only by me.
One final detail which must be noted is the emphasis on the Holy Family throughout this chapel. Certainly our Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lady's influence is evident throughout. Yet the role of Saint Joseph has been more subtle, characteristic of the saint himself.
The predominate use of wood throughout and the carpentry skills needed in the chapel's construction may be more obvious allusions to his partnership, but more subtle and significant than these is the permission to house our Lord within this house of prayer, granted on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph (March 19), by Bishop Donald JOSEPH Kettler. Saint Joseph has been the silent patron of this effort, for which I am truly grateful.
Not the only chapel
The Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica is not the only chapel within this diocese. Indeed, it is one of at least four dedicated chapels in Southeastern Stearns County, each with their own story and significance. Some of these chapels, their names and locations, include:
(Old) Saint Nicholas Chapel, Cold Spring, MN
Assumption Chapel on Grasshopper Hill, Cold Spring, MN
Grasshopper Chapel, Saint Augusta, MN
Sacred Heart Chapel, College of Saint Benedict, Saint Joseph, MN
Stella Maris Chapel, Saint John's University, Collegeville, MN
Saint Cloud Hospital Chapel, Saint Cloud, MN
Perpetual Adoration Chapel at Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Saint Cloud, MN
Click on the links above to discover and learn more about many of these charming houses of prayer.
May this Chapel of Saints Benedict & Scholastica be for you a place of encounter with our Lord, where His peace may be found. Build up the Church, and may the Church, in Her Faith and Sacraments, build up and strengthen you.