A decade ago, when Catholic tenant Lois Kern moved into Mill Street Residence, a part of Lake Region Health Care in Fergus Falls, her first question to director Mick Siems was, “Where is the chapel?”
Siems noted that a chapel had not been in the floor plan, but that services and Bible studies were offered in places such as a basement multi-purpose room and a second-floor lounge.
As former Activities and Community Relations Coordinator, social worker Tara Wagner said, “We moved tables, chairs, podiums, pianos and other equipment to make a worship space. The folks who live here are active, but it is difficult to get out to their home church in the community.”
With that in mind, Wagner went to work to find support for creating a chapel within the walls of Mill Street and found such help from tenant Rollie Viger. Viger, 84, became a chief visionary and fundraiser of this project along with providing free manual labor. Viger’s religious background is a mix of various traditions, including Lutheran and Baptist. His vision for the chapel was that it would become a place where all could come together.
“We all worship the same God, and Jesus is the Son who died on the cross for us. We have that common interest,” he said.
Lois Kern, also 84, echoed Rollie.
“No matter what church, we are coming more together, and that is good,” she said.
Before retirement, Viger worked as a financial advisor. His background in fundraising led to forming a committee with Lake Region Health Care’s Foundation. The set goal was to raise $100,000.
Deb Forstner, a certified chaplain through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, became part of this effort as well. She served at Mill Street as their chaplain for approximately seven years and knew the value a chapel would bring to the community. Knowing she would soon retire, she contributed $5,000 toward the project. In total, $110,000 was raised.
Forstner said, “My time at Mill Street provided one of the most special and important ministry opportunities of my life. I loved being able to lead ecumenical Bible Studies and Worship Services. Because I learned so much from the scriptural knowledge and spirituality of the residents, I wanted to give a gift to honor the past and present tenants I was privileged to know, and to ensure that pastoral care would continue to be an important part of Mill Street’s future.”
Construction on the chapel project began in September 2022. About 8,000 pounds of demolition was taken out of the building by wheelbarrow and up the elevator. Viger noted that 2,000 pounds of that was steel which went to a local steel and recycling center.
The architectural design time and expertise was donated by Vetter Johnson Architects, who have family members who have lived at Mill Street. Current Mill Street Chaplain Kevin Patch, an ordained Lutheran Brethren minister, reached out to local Catholic pastor Father Alan Wielinski for his ideas regarding what the chapel would need. With Father Wielinksi’s input, an altar and holy water fonts were added.
The first Mass in the new chapel was celebrated with Father Wielinksi on Jan. 24, assisted by Our Lady of Victory’s pastoral assistant Jennifer Dummer. Catholic tenants of Mill Street, some parish community members, and Forstner also were present.
“We had a wonderful inaugural Mass in the new chapel, and everyone appreciated the spacious and beautiful worship environment, complete with holy water fonts at the entrances,” Father Wielinski said.
Both Viger and Kern often visit the new space. Kern makes a habit of going to the chapel to pray the rosary before morning exercise class begins. For Viger it is more than a place to pray. It is a place to celebrate in both joy and sorrow.
“We are a family,” he said.