St Alexius Parish had its beginning in the St. Cloud Diocese in 1881 at the St. Alexius Priory, which was founded by Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville and located near West Union. In 1899 the church building was moved to West Union, and that was the beginning of its current parish life.
There are 109 households in the parish. The following questions about the parish were answered by parishioner Julie Bottelberghe.
Q: What is the most interesting facet of your church building?
A: The stained glass windows. When the church was built in 1917, many families of the parish donated the windows. There were 25 windows in all. A parishioner is quoted as commenting that the church at that time would be lighted “chiefly by our windows.” The donors’ names are inscribed on them. “Almost every window in some way represents each member of the parish” and they stand as a constant reminder of the givers that have passed before us. Recently parishioners came together and donated to have the windows all restored.
Q: What is the most popular event or tradition at your parish?
A: Our Sausage Supper, which is held the first Sunday in October. Our church members all work together to support our parish in this annual fundraiser, a true example of stewardship, as people work as a team to financially support our church. It requires many talents and a lot of time in planning it; putting it on is a source of pride for our parish.
Q: What is an interesting historical fact or anecdote about your parish?
A: First, our church was built in 1917, when the Blessed Virgin Mary was appearing to the children at Fatima.
Second, in 1917 when our first church building was burning, some of our members were able to carry our entire Christmas crib set, with the statues of the Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the kings and shepherds and all the animals, out of the building.
This Nativity set was built at the Brotherhood farm, at the St. Alexius Priory, in the late 1880s. At Christmas, to the present day, we still use this historic manger scene.
Meet the pastor
Father Gregory Paffel grew up in Otsego, Minnesota, but always attended church at St. Andrew in Elk River. Spiritually he claims to be from the Diocese of St. Cloud.
He was ordained a priest June 2, 2001, and his first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Anthony in St. Cloud. He credits Father Bob Harren, his pastor at the time, as a wonderful role model. After a year he became pastor of St. John in Foley for six years, which laid the foundation of his priestly ministry.
Then he moved to St. James in Maine, Our Lady of the Lake in Battle Lake and Our Lady of Victory in Fergus Falls, where he discovered two very important things: there are good people everywhere and it is good for priests to live together. He lived with Fathers Dan Walz and LeRoy Schik; they were able to pray together, eat some meals together and support one another.
Father Paffel currently serves as pastor of St. Alexius in West Union, Our Lady of the Angels and St. Paul, both in Sauk Centre, where he has been for four years.
Q: What inspired you to become a priest?
A: I fell in love with Jesus Christ! The short story is, I had a good family, I attended the Assemblies of God youth group where I learned to pray, was driven to seek a deep faith and a strong foundation in the Catholic Church, and was willing to give up the intimacies of family life for the graces of priestly life. Priests that inspired me include Fathers Frank Ebner, Joe Vandeberg, Ben Walz, Mark Stang and a number of priests outside our diocese.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your daily life as a priest?
A: I could sit in the confessional all day. Where else can a man, in the name and person of Jesus Christ, change the course of someone’s life from hell to heaven? The forgiveness of sins is immensely rewarding. In addition, I honestly believe every single Catholic priest has more power and authority than the president of the United States. The president can effect changes on earth; a priest can make Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of the world, present at every Mass! Heaven is our destiny; priests lead the way. And finally, “If I had 100 lives to live, every one of them I would choose to be a priest.”
Q: What was the theme of a favorite homily that you preached?
A: How can I choose just one? Every liturgical season, each feast day, has its own emphasis. For Pentecost, I preached “Without the Holy Spirit, the Church is dead!” If you want to listen to some of my Sunday homilies all you have to do is go to our parish website at catholic-sc.org.