‘He touched our hearts,’ couple moved by sacristan’s story

Carol and Bruce Wenner (photo submitted)

On the morning of Good Friday, Carol and Bruce Wenner from Alexandria decided to hike around Sauk Lake near Grey Eagle. On their way, they saw a well-maintained, solid brick church, Holy Cross in North Prairie.

“It was covered with a beautiful blanket of snow, and we stopped to check if the doors were open. Amazingly, it wasn’t locked,” Carol said.

Inside they saw a man cleaning the church, preparing it for the upcoming Good Friday service.

Gerald Pasch, the sacristan, was busy making sure everything was in order and in place in the sanctuary — the kneelers in position, the font filled with holy water, the extra papers gone, the microphone the priest would need.

“I usually enjoy Holy Week,” Pasch said, “but this year was different. It was tough. I told them that my wife, Colleen, an Iraqi war veteran, had been the full-time sacristan for five or more years, but when she had gotten sick, I took over for her,” Pasch said.

“She put hours into making sure everything was just right, even precisely ironing the altar cloths. With her military background, she was the perfect sacristan.”

The Wenners learned that just days earlier Pasch’s wife had passed away from pancreatic cancer and that he was also caring for his father, recently diagnosed with dementia.

“I was in the middle of planning her funeral for the week after Easter, and running late to prepare the church,” Pasch said. “But they asked to look around a little and were friendly. Holy Cross is very peaceful and pretty. It’s the second oldest Catholic church in the diocese and Colleen spent hours there, aware of redemptive suffering with Christ on the cross. She found the work calming. I’m learning that now.”

The Wenners asked about the church, noticing its beauty in the ornate statues, the Stations of the Cross and the confessional. Pasch told them what he knew.

Carol said, “We were pilgrims who happened on this church and he touched our hearts. We knew he had work to do and a father to see to, but he was also open to chat with us. He was so humble and kind, living out the Gospel as he took the time to visit with us while experiencing loss and personal pain in his life.”

Earlier that autumn, Carol and two women friends had hiked El  Camino de Santiago in Spain. She felt again the sense of being a pilgrim.

“Priests along the Camino had opened up their lovely churches for us,” she said. “While I was there, Bruce’s mother was very ill so I prayed for her and found solace. Being at North Prairie brought me back to my time as a pilgrim.”

Pasch has opened Holy Cross for other chance encounters — among them, a bicyclist who asked for water and one who needed shelter during a violent hailstorm.

He said, “I live across the street from the church on a little farm and I think of how many I’ve talked to. Jesus said, ‘If they’re a stranger passing by, help if you can.’ It’s neat to be able to help — it always works out.”

Carol said, “He was carrying with humility and grace the legacy that his wife had left. His dedication and love, his presence and spirit — they were like gifts to us. We were moved to tears by this conversation, this lovely church kept beautiful by this humble and selfless man.”

Pasch said, “After they left, I remember feeling happy. Bruce said he’d lost his mother in February and we connected on that. I felt better and probably could have talked another hour. I still got my church readied for the service in plenty of time.”



Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.


Great to read, and good to know how people connect, and how one “job” leads to another and more friends….

Beautiful, Nikki. Thank you for capturing this story with so many of these beautiful people’s words.

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