Priest helps construct new chapel near his childhood home

Tucked away amid the miles of open farmland, dirt roads and lakes that dot the picturesque countryside of central Minnesota is a quaint house on property just off of Ahles Road, a 20-minute drive from downtown St. Cloud.

The exterior of the chapel

At first, the house and its surrounding land seem nothing out of the ordinary. It’s shaded by tall trees. Garden gnomes decorate the lawn.

But upon closer inspection, one notices a beige building of modest size off to the right side of the lawn. A brick walkway is in front of the building, allowing for easy access.

It’s there, on the facade, where the building’s true nature is revealed. Above a pair of white, French doors and below a rustic, wooden cross is a sign reading: “Chapel of Saints Benedict and Scholastica.”

The small chapel just east of Rockville features an altar, tabernacle housing the Blessed Sacrament, statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and an image of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. It was inspired by Father Mitchell Bechtold, pastor in the Five Star Area Catholic Community of Browerville, Long Prairie, Swanville, Clarissa and Grey Eagle.

The chapel, whose altar was consecrated by Bishop Donald Kettler during an Aug. 22 evening Mass, is located on Father Bechtold’s parents’ property, just steps from his childhood home.

Father Mitchell Bechtold speaks during the dedication Mass for the chapel Aug. 22.

“Well … if you build it, they will come!” an attendee at the blessing was overheard saying, as providential and fleeting as Ray Liotta’s famed character said in the movie “Field of Dreams.”

And like the Field of Dreams, the Chapel of Saints Benedict and Scholastica was also built from the ground up, inspired by a thought just as mysterious and providential.

The idea for the chapel came when Father Bechtold was in Galway, Ireland, in 2015. He had just visited the Galway cathedral, where something about the church had “captivated” him.

“I went to bed, and I woke up with this clear thought of ‘I’m going to build a church or a chapel,’” Father Bechtold said.

At first, he wasn’t really sure what to make of it, he said. He wasn’t sure if it was a private revelation from God or his own personal thought. Yet, he had had this thought on at least one other occasion before: when he knew he was supposed to become a priest.

“That was shortly before I thought about leaving the seminary, and it was in part that very thought that kept me in the seminary,” Father Bechtold said.

So Father Bechtold began the process of building the chapel, and it was the COVID lockdowns of 2020 that really put his plan into gear. His parents’ restaurant, the Granite Edge Cafe, had to reduce hours, which gave Father Bechtold and his father, George, the perfect window to begin.

Bishop Donald Kettler celebrates the dedication Mass for the chapel Aug. 22.

“My dad and I had talked about this from time to time, and we had put together a draft, but we didn’t really have a plan as to when it would start or if it would start,” Father Bechtold said. “Because his hours were reduced, we saw a door closed and a window open, and my dad said, ‘Let’s build the chapel.’”

Soon, Father Bechtold’s dream began to come to life.

“We largely got the shell up that first summer, finished the interior throughout the winter, and then we’d been making finishing touches really since that time,” Father Bechtold said.

The interior of the chapel itself is “rich with symbolism,” Father Bechtold said. In a website detailing the history and creation of the chapel, Father Bechtold wrote that nothing in the chapel is “without story or significance.”

For example, the sky-blue interior, a sharp contrast against the dark green trees outside, is meant to match the chapel’s Regina Caeli (“Queen of Heaven”) statue, which was refurbished by local restorationist Sheila McCallum. The pews, which George Bechtold found for sale on Facebook Marketplace, are from the former St. Cloud Children’s Home.

The altar base and tabernacle were built from the same tree that had fallen years ago when Father Bechtold was a deacon in Tintah. He said when it fell and was cut into pieces, it seemed “quite distinct.”

“The three different parts, it really seemed like a sanctuary set … I asked if I could have the pieces, and I was saving them away because you never know if we would find some church to put them in,” he said.

The interior of the altar houses a relic stone, and the tabernacle is housed in a copper case made by Father Bechtold’s cousin, Jeff Bechtold.

The altar was consecrated on the feast of the Queenship of Mary. The day also marked Bishop Kettler’s 20th anniversary as a bishop as well as the anniversary of the enshrinement of the chapel’s Regina Caeli (“Queen of Heaven”) statue one year ago.

And as baseball fans flock to the former cornfield in rural Iowa to see the Field of Dreams movie site, so too did family, friends and more come to the countryside to see and celebrate the construction of the chapel.

One of those present was Father Bechtold’s aunt, Kathy. Her husband, Gene, who is George’s brother, helped to build the structure.

“From how it began to how it is now is totally amazing. … It just turned out more than we thought it would be. We can come anytime. It’s just very personal to us and it means a lot to us,” Kathy Bechtold said.

The interior of the Chapel of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, near Rockville, Minnesota.

Numerous times throughout the night, which included the Mass, meal and fellowship, Father Bechtold thanked the many people who helped contribute to the chapel.

“Just to see the way that so many people really brought their talents to it … I would invite people into assisting with the project, whether it was my uncle Roger Bechtold who was good with a skid loader or whether it was our neighbor Pat Gross who was good with refurbishing pews,” Father Bechtold said.

Father Bechtold’s expectation is that the chapel will be a place for private prayer and Mass. He noted, however, that while Mass can be celebrated there, there are no baptisms or weddings at the chapel, as those sacraments are proper to parishes.

Father Bechtold said the location of the chapel was picked so more people could access it. He originally planned to place it in the back field of his parent’s property but felt its location in the front “was going to be a better place, where people could share in it as a house of prayer.”

“From the beginning I really envisioned that, although it would be privately owned and maintained, it would be open to the public,” he said.

Father Bechtold plans to celebrate Mass at the chapel at least twice a month on Mondays, his day away from the parishes. The rest of the time, the chapel is open to visitors who wish to come and pray.

For Father Bechtold, the whole process had come “full circle.”

“It truly is a gift from the Lord,” he said. “To see the way that at every stage and every step, God provided, and then it fulfills itself in a way in this: with Bishop Kettler not only allowing such a permission [reservation of the Blessed Sacrament] but then also being here to celebrate Mass in this place with us, on this day. … There were so many things about it that came full circle.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

To read more about the chapel’s history and to view a schedule of when Father Bechtold will celebrate Mass, visit csbsmn.com/home. The listed chapel hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is located at 8334 Ahles Road, St. Cloud. There is designated chapel parking just off of the driveway.

Author: Gianna Bonello

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