Speltz House: Former Sauk Rapids church is dedicated space for supporting the active lives of retired priests

Father Steve Binsfeld has served the Diocese of St. Cloud since his ordination in 1979. Now retired, he returned nearly three years ago to the church where he grew up — not to serve as pastor but to make a home.

Father Laurn Virnig visits with Father Frank Tomasiewicz after daily Mass. (All photos by Dianne Towalski)

“My siblings and I received all our sacraments here,” Father Binsfeld said as he pointed toward the altar in the Speltz House chapel. “I often worked in this church growing up.”

Speltz House, located in Sauk Rapids, is a retirement home for priests of the St. Cloud Diocese. It was the former Sacred Heart Church.

His parents married in the building, as well. A photo of them as a newly married couple walking down the aisle of the church is found on the wall in the kitchen, reminding visitors of the history and sacredness of the space.

Father Binsfeld also presided over his first Mass as an ordained priest of the diocese in the church.

He says making his home at Speltz House, “is kind of like going full circle.”

Father Binsfeld had purchased a house in Alexandria during his 14-year assignment as pastor at St. Mary’s and considered remaining in Alexandria after his retirement.

“An apartment became available at Speltz house, and I began to think about having to care for a home. Speltz House was a good fit,” Father Binsfeld said.

Currently 12 retired priests live in Speltz House, all men who continue to dedicate their life to serving the diocese.

Father Jerry Mischke takes Communion from Father Laurn Virnig during a Mass in the Speltz House chapel. Daily Mass is celebrated five days a week.

“We retire from active ministry, but not from the priesthood,” said Father Greg Lieser, who has lived at Speltz House since it opened in 2007 and served as its original manager.

“When I moved here, I filled in and helped at parishes when needed and assisted at a retirement center. I also presided at many funerals,” he said.

Father Frank Tomasiewicz, who retired in 2003, was grateful for Speltz House when he battled a cancer diagnosis.

“It was close to my medical appointments, and the location also allowed me to assist in parishes and serve as a chaplain at the VA Hospital in St. Cloud,” Father Tomasiewicz said. “This is my home.”

Father Laurn Virnig, who was ordained in 1963, still makes regular trips to Little Falls to provide Mass coverage at St. Otto’s Care Center.

It was Bishop John Kinney who desired to create a space for retired priests to make their home, and that is the exact purpose of this space.

“This is our home,” said Father Ralph Zimmerman, the current manager, as he provided a tour. “I call it a semi-intentional community.

 “As diocesan priests, we all lived independent lives. We can continue to do that each in our own apartments, but we can also come together.”

Father Greg Lieser, left, and Father Jerry Mischke talk in the Speltz House chapel.

Portions of the Speltz House, the chapel, great hall, library and dining hall serve as communal spaces where prayer, study and meals bring the priests, and at times, their visitors, together.

Meals for lunch are prepared for the residents five days a week.

“We have very good meals. Carrie (Ellis) is a wonderful cook. It’s always ready on time, hot and delicious,” said Father Jerry Mischke. “I’m glad we have the meals. Carrie even packs up the leftovers so we can bring it back to our apartment for dinner, if we choose.”

Each 900-square-foot apartment is equipped with a kitchen, living space, bathroom and laundry, and a room-and-a-half where they can retreat.

“I spend much of my time reading, exercising, praying, watching a bit of TV and trying to get outside,” Father Lieser said.

“I always put ‘nap’ on my list of things to do. Then at the end of the day, I can feel like I accomplished something,” Father Mischke joked.

The facility also includes an exercise room, common sunrooms and underground heated garage space.

Now, the 105-year-old building continues to show additional wear and tear since the addition of apartments and renovation over 16 years ago.

Father Ralph Zimmerman sits in the Speltz House entry. The residence, which opened in 2007, has 14 900-square-foot apartments and includes a chapel, great hall, library and dining room, exercise room and an underground heated garage space.

“There is a list of items that need repair. One of the most pressing is the tuckpointing on the church structure,” said Father Zimmerman. “If it isn’t addressed, it could compromise the structure.”

Aside from tuckpointing, larger building needs include review of the fire suppression system, installation of gutters, yard maintenance, including tree removal, repair of decking, awnings for building entries, additional outdoor lighting, replacing original church kitchen cabinets and other small projects.

“Some of the spaces are in really rough shape,” Father Binsfeld said.

The Speltz House Board of Directors is currently reviewing the potential costs associated with these improvements and the general maintenance.

“We know this building will continue to serve retired priests and our diocese long after we are gone if we keep it in good shape,” Father Zimmerman said. “That is what we are all called to support.”


The impact of its namesake, Bishop George H. Speltz, who served as bishop of the diocese from 1968 to 1987, is honored through photos and framed newspaper articles adorning walls in common spaces.

Learn more about the home’s namesake:


Donate for Speltz House building needs:

Donate online at https://bit.ly/SpeltzHouse.

Author: Amber Walling

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