Fr. Bala Reddy Allam, sacramental minister for St. Theresa Parish in Three Lakes, is pictured with the Canada family. Barb and her husband Robert (not pictured) are members of the parish with their children (from oldest to youngest) Dominic, Jocelyn, Claira, Elyse, Hazal and Wallace. (Photo credit: Dan Tomasoski, Tomasoski Photography)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

As preparations were made in 2018 for building improvements at St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Three Lakes, a time capsule was discovered. It had been placed by then-pastor Fr. Joseph Himmelsbach when the current church was built and dedicated in 1956.

The time capsule contained issues of the Catholic Herald and U.S. currency coins from that year.

While the parish itself dates back to 1894, with Mass being celebrated in private homes, a small wooden church was built in 1899. The current church had an addition finished in 1969 to accommodate summer crowds.

In assessing the needs of the parish, its facilities and its current demographics, the parish began a fundraising campaign called “Raise Us Up.” Building improvements were planned, which included adding an elevator, accessible modern restrooms, an updated heating and air cooling system, as well as a new narthex with gathering space.

St. Theresa is representative of many parishes in the diocese – mostly retirement-age parishioners and populations that swell in summer months.

Their majority demographic are adults older than 50, particularly those in their 60s and 70s, and they have accessibility needs. Mass attendance that fluctuates seasonally presents its own facility and space challenges.

Fr. McConnell estimated parishioners are an equal mix of year-round and seasonal residents. Data collected by the parish since 2017 shows an average of 815 persons at weekend Masses during the first four months of the year.

That number doubles in May and June, then triples in July for an average of 2,500 at weekend Masses. It steadies again from 1,600 to 1,700 through October and drops back to 800-900 in November, with an uptick again in December.

While this creates challenges for a parish, it also became an opportunity for the “Raise Us Up” Campaign. The parish tracked registered parishioners’ giving and was pleased with more than 30 percent participation.

However, the parish’s secretary, Celia Schwarm, said it is hard to get an accurate count.

“A lot of people that have donated are actually brand new on the radar,” she said. “They weren’t in our system before this started. Seasonal people, and some have been very generous.”

Through regular bulletin insert updates, campaign organizers kept parishioners apprised of the progress and made their appreciation known. By August 2018, there was already 20-percent participation and about $130,000 pledged.

In the update, they wrote, “We need gifts large and small to make our goal. What is more important is not the size of the gift, but that we all make the same size sacrifice.”

Two parish member testimonies were shared.

From Pam Berdal: “This is our Church family, and we take care of our family members. With these improvements, it will give everyone the opportunity to enter our worship space to celebrate together at the table of our Lord.”

From John Karnes: “I’m glad to contribute to such a needed addition to our church. My health has declined over the years, and I feel the elevator will help our aging parishioners and the main-level bathrooms upstairs will allow me to stay throughout the Mass.”

When contractors were ready for the groundbreaking in early September, 38 percent of the goal had been raised. And as trusses were being set in December, they were just shy of the 50-percent mark.

Diocesan Director of Development Steve Tarnowski congratulated efforts made by both the campaign committee and the parish at large.

“Fr. Patrick McConnell put together a great campaign team with some very talented and generous people,” Tarnowski told the Catholic Herald. He said he was initially consulted regarding the capital campaign plans other parishes have successfully facilitated and also said the parish worked with the Diocese of Superior on the approval for the architectural building plans.

Bishop James P. Powers dedicated the new addition June 2 as part of a celebration Fr. McConnell described as “beautiful” and “great.” He said he was grateful for the bishop’s presence and the crowd in attendance.

Once this article is published, it will be added to the time capsule and replaced near the cornerstone. Additions will include a copy of the Catholic Herald, a print copy of Bishop Powers’ homily from the dedication, and letters from both Fr. McConnell and the parish’s sacramental minister, Fr. Bala Reddy Allam, as well as dated coins from 2019.