Father Ken Thielman, 90, was honored Oct. 3 with CentraCare’s LaGratitude 2019 Service to the Foundation Award at the River’s Edge Convention Center, St. Cloud. He was recognized for his commitment and generosity of service — for 21 years.
A short video, shown at the award ceremony, was created by a team from CentraCare-Melrose to highlight his passion for volunteering.
“Father Ken has celebrated Mass most days for the last 21 years and is on call 24/7 for residents and patients at the CentraCare-Melrose Care Center and Hospital,” said Anita Arceneau, communications specialist for CentraCare-Melrose.
Father Thielman clarified how he began. “I retired 21 years ago, after 40 years of serving parishes across central Minnesota — at Waite Park two different times, Verndale, Clear Lake, Little Falls and Browerville. The year before I retired, I learned that CentraCare-Melrose was looking for a priest, so I interviewed with them. Then in 1998, as soon as I retired, at age 70, I moved right in.”
His mornings start with preparation in the chapel, Mass and chatting with residents in the activity room.
“After Mass and my breakfast,” he said, “I bring Communion and a friendly word to people who aren’t able to participate in the Mass — those in assisted living at Park View Place and those in memory care at the Care Center.”
Then he heads over to the hospital where he offers Communion to patients and visits with staff members. On any given day, Father Thielman estimates he interacts with 50 to 60 people at Mass and another 50 or 60 individuals.
“On Sunday Masses, we have between 100 and 125, so we use the dining room as overflow.”
The residents appreciate Mass, he explained. “Many were farmers who didn’t have the opportunity to attend Mass on a daily basis during their working years. [Serving people] is my favorite part of the day. It’s very fulfilling.”
His attention to their concerns lightens the load for all who are hurting. The residents and patients ask what they would do without him, Father Thielman said, but he modestly turns the question back to them. “I say, ‘What would I do without you?’”
In the video presented to the CentraCare Foundation board of directors and audience, four people from the Melrose housing and medical facilities — a resident, a hospital administrator, a CentraCare Clinic physician and a senior housing supervisor — describe the role Father Thielman plays for them and the impact he has made on each of them personally and on others.