Future of Gentilly, Minnesota, church uncertain as parishioners decide how to heat building
Faced with an aging boiler in a 108-year-old building, parishioners of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Gentilly have to decide how to heat the church for future generations.
GENTILLY TOWNSHIP, Minn. – St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Gentilly Township, Minnesota, is at a crossroads. The church’s boiler, which is more than 60 years old, is in need of frequent repairs. Finding parts for the boiler is getting more difficult.
“We’ve come to Mass a few winter mornings with no heat,” said Tim Dufault, an area farmer and church leader. “Forty-two degrees inside is not fun to sit in.”
And during the summer, hot, humid weather takes a toll on the interior walls and artwork inside the church. According to Dufault, what the church needs is a new heating and cooling system to keep the temperature and humidity inside the church consistent, but bids for temperature control systems have ranged between $100,000 and $400,000. That's a lot of money for a parish of 70 families.
Now, the parish has to decide whether to go with a cheaper option that would heat the church for the next few years, or invest in a temperature control system for the long run.
“We could build for what’s happening now, just the number of regulars that come, or is it a case of ‘build it and they will come?’” said Dufault. “If we don’t have a church there, when a young family or a person decides they want to come back to church, it’s not there.”
St. Peter’s Catholic Church was built in 1914, and the church and adjacent rectory are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gentilly is about eight miles from Crookston, and St. Peter’s Catholic Church partners with the parish in Crookston to hold one Sunday Mass per week.
In 2014, the parish and surrounding community raised money for more than $400,000 in restorations at the church. During this restoration, the bricks and mortar outside the church were replaced and the roof was fixed.
“We were pretty proud of it when it got done, and thought we were good for the next hundred years,” said Dufault.
But even then, church leadership was aware of the need to address the aging boiler system. After the renovation, a committee was put together to find solutions for the boiler and research potential funding opportunities.
While a new heating system, especially a higher-end system, could cost the parish hundreds of thousands of dollars, Dufault believes the history of the church and its importance to the region will make people more willing to contribute. Dufault himself is the third generation of his family to worship in St. Peter’s Catholic Church.
“A lot of the families around here are in the same situation, and we look at it like we’d be letting down our forefathers if we don’t spend a lot of money to get it fixed, or contribute a lot of money,” he said.
Bryan Boll, a parishioner of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, says the church has been the center of Gentilly’s community for as long as he can remember. He grew up going to the church, and after college, bought and remodeled the old priest’s house across from it. Now, his children have been baptized and confirmed in the church.
He hopes to see a more expensive heating and cooling system installed to preserve a building that was important to past generations who built it.
“Most people that built a building like this considered it more important than their homes and more important than their farms, so it lends credence to the character and what they felt was important in their lives,” he said. “To keep that tradition going and to keep that alive, I think, is important.”
Dufault says the committee is waiting on one more bid for a boiler, and plans to hold a parish meeting in July. Once parishioners decide how much they are willing to spend on a new heating system for the church, fundraising will likely be conducted through a GoFundMe page.
Fundraising for the 2014 restoration was completed without any church bake sales or raffles — just direct requests for support to parishioners.
“We had several people that really stepped up in a large way, and I’m hoping this can work that way if we do it right,” he said.