At 74, the 48-year veteran priest will do what he loves, minus the responsibility
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Father Gerald “Jerry” Dalseth will retire from his pastoral duties, Tuesday. And upon his retirement, he will leave the two churches he has served over the past 12 years — St. Joseph’s Church in Pierz and St. Michael’s Church in Buckman.
Father Dalseth came to the area in 2000, after Father Ken Brenny retired.
“Father Brenny puts it nicely, ‘I’ve retired from being a pastor, but I’ve not retired from being a priest.’ That’s a good line that I like to use.”
He said he will continue to celebrate Mass and fill in where needed, but there will be much less stress without the pastoral responsibilities of a parish and a school.
“As you get older, the stress of the administration becomes greater,” he said.
Father Dalseth was ordained May 30, 1964, at the age of 26, and recently celebrated 48 years in the priesthood.
During this time, he has been associate pastor or pastor with nine parishes.
The first 11 years as a priest, he was assistant or associate pastor at Our Lady of Victory Church in Fergus Falls; St. Mary’s in Breckenridge; Holy Spirit in St. Cloud and St. Mary’s in Alexandria.
The first parish he was assigned as pastor was St. Michael’s in St. Cloud. “One of the two parishes Father Mark (Innocenti of Our Lady of Lourdes) is going to,” he said.
Father Dalseth said he went to St. Michael’s when it was just six years old, “A very young parish,” he said.
He stayed for 11 years and was able to bring stability to that church. Before he came, he said, the two priests that were there for the church’s six years had left the active ministry. “So, what I was able to do there staying 11 years was to provide some stability to the parish,” said Father Dalseth.
Also during his tenure at St. Michael’s in St. Cloud, the congregation was able to pay off the debt incurred by building the new church, and he said with a smile, “We built the new house Father Mark will now live in.”
After St. Cloud, Father Dalseth was able to go to his home parish in Morris — Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His mother, an aunt and an uncle and a few cousins, still lived in the town of 5,000 people. Although he had few connections remaining in Morris, he said his mother loved that he was there. Once he left 12 years later, she moved to the Twin Cities area, where his five siblings reside.
Before coming to Pierz and Buckman, he spent two years in Browerville at Christ the King Church. “A small parish with a good school. It was the smallest town I’d every been in. It was almost like a vacation,” said Father Dalseth.
“Then I came here in the year 2000, as pastor of just St. Joseph’s,” he said.
But he had been told that after a year, there would be one less priest to take care of the parishes of St. Michael’s in Buckman, Holy Cross in Harding and St. John’s in Lastrup, and that he should get ready.
He said he called the trustees of all four parishes together to talk about how it could work.
What he found was that there “was a real relationship between Pierz and Buckman, and with Lastrup,” because of the largely German heritage. Harding was predominantly Polish, but closer to Lastrup.
Once it was figured out how best to pair the churches, Father Dalseth remained largely in Pierz and Buckman, with a priest serving Lastrup and Harding.
As in his parish in St. Cloud, building and paying off debt is an area Father Dalseth has had a lot of practice in with the parishes of St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s.
In Pierz, an addition was made to the church on the south side, including an elevator and handicapped accessibility — with a bill of about $400,000 — all paid for.
A new parish office was built and Father lived in the basement for four or five years. When Horizon Health built its new facility on the south side of town, in the place of its old offices near the parish office, a parish house was built and Father Dalseth was able to move into the new home.
At St. Michael’s in Buckman, the old parish center was demolished and a new parish community center, with seating for 350 – 400 people, was built. It too, has an elevator and is handicapped accessible — that came with a price tag of about $700,000 — all paid for.
“That’s the way Germans do it,” said Father Dalseth. And of the accomplishments at the two parishes, those building projects are the two of which he is the most proud.
When he first came to Pierz, Father Dalseth told the people that the name Dalseth is Norwegian.
“I’m also one-fourth Irish, one-eighth French and one-eighth German (his mother’s maiden name was Eisenmenger),” he said. “Then I asked the question, ‘Is one-eighth German enough to get by with in Pierz?’”
After these past 12 years, Father Dalseth feels that one-eighth is indeed enough to get by with in the area.
In his spare time, Father Dalseth likes to ride his bicycle, and until last year, rode 5,000 miles per year. Last year, however, he had both knees replaced, necessitated by 34 years of playing racquetball he figures. He played racquetball until he was in his early 60s.
He also enjoys a small garden and traveling. He and his siblings are going to Ireland in September. Three years ago, they traveled to Norway together.
In the 1960s, when one brother joined the Army after completing dental school, he was able to spend time with his siblings in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. He has traveled to Alaska, to Hawaii a few times, and went with four siblings to New Zealand.
Father Dalseth is number two of the six siblings. “Our parents were really good at making sure we got educations — you paid for it — but you went to school.”
He and his two brothers are graduates of St. John’s University, one brother a dentist, the other retired from work in Dakota County. His three sisters all became registered nurses.
In addition to biking, gardening and traveling, Father Dalseth also likes to write a good limerick.
“I’ve written limericks for many occasions,” he said, and can do so in just a few minutes he said.
In fact, he wrote a limerick for his congregations in Pierz and Buckman in a few short minutes. It is as follows:
There once was a priest named Jerry,
No ordinary Tom, Dick or Harry.
To Pierz he came,
And Buckman the same.
In both places his life was merry!
He likes to keep his congregations in a good mood. “I try to tell a little joke each Sunday,” he said. It adds variety. However, he has another motive.
“I try to tell one at the end of Mass; part of it is to get them going in a good mood — and the other part is to keep them from leaving church early,” he said.
Father Dalseth will miss the people he’s met, who have been both welcoming and kind. “I think we have a very good spirit in both parishes. There’s not a lot of anger and things like that. A lot of positive vibes about the parish,” he said.
“I think what I will miss most is the people. There’s a rhythm to parish life. The baptizing, the burying, the weddings — it’s a real rhythm in a parish, like there is to life,” he said. “That daily contact and leading people in worship is a wonderful thing to do each Sunday.”
His favorite part of being a priest is the variety, he said. “To lead people in worship, to visit with the people, to share their joys and sorrows,” he said.
When the two parishes hold their annual bazaars, Father Dalseth plans to visit. In Pierz, the parish bazaar is the first Sunday in August. In Buckman, it’s the third Sunday in September. “I will plan to be back for those,” he said.
An open house farewell will be held for Father Dalseth Sunday, June 24, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. at St. Michael’s Parish Community Center in Buckman.
“That’s a beautiful center there,” he said. “And it (the open house) won’t interfere with Father Mark’s celebration.”
Tuesday, as Father Dalseth heads to the priest retirement center in Sauk Rapids, the Rev. Kenneth Popp will move into Pierz as the new pastor of St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s. He comes from Presentation Church in Breckenridge and St. Thomas in Kent.