A hidden gem

Volunteers at Minnesota’s sole Liberal Catholic Church offer a blend of traditional worship and diverse beliefs

Jon Robelia was raised Roman Catholic.

His wife, ReAnn Dargus-Robelia, was brought up Lutheran.

On Sundays, they stand together in a church that welcomes them both.

“Here, we can believe what we want to believe,” Dargus-Robelia said.

She and her husband attend the Liberal Catholic Church of St. Francis, a tiny, volunteer-run church nestled among single-family homes in the Lyndale neighborhood. The church, which has a congregation of about 15, mixes traditional Catholic worship with a variety of spiritual beliefs from different religions.

“We believe in preserving the classic seven sacraments,” Said St. Francis Rev. Richard Curney, one of two priests at the church. “But we also believe in opening up our minds and hearts to all the world’s scriptures from throughout the centuries. You find an awful lot of gold in the spiritual mine when you look at scripture from all the world’s beliefs.”

St. Francis is the only Liberal Catholic Church in the state; the nearest one outside Lyndale is in Stockholm, Wis. The Liberal Catholic Church is independent from the Roman Catholic Church, but practices a traditional-style mass that includes a robe-clad priest who faces the altar during most of the service. Curney said the church is Catholic in the universal sense of the word, and its “liberal” designation comes from respect for the individual conscious and acceptance of other faiths, including Buddhism.

Curney and six others who make up the clergy at St. Francis are all volunteers who spend several hours a week at the church preparing and providing mass, keeping the building maintained and offering programs. Individual donations pay for church utilities and construction projects such as a recent bathroom revamp.

Each clergy member puts in what time they can. Curney is a retired food-business manager who drives 52 miles from Zimmerman, Minn. each Sunday. He has even performed services solo for no congregation.

“Those were some of the most spiritual moments I’ve had in church,” he said. “I was totally alone, but I didn’t feel alone.”

Rev. Lee Dunn, a Deacon at St. Francis, is a bricklayer five days a week. He also teaches Chi Gong, a practice similar to Thai Chi, at the church on Saturday mornings.

Rev. Judie Cilcain, a subdeacon, works at the University of Minnesota when she’s not at the church. She said she’d like to see the congregation grow, but it takes a certain type of person to appreciate the unique blend of tradition and open-mindedness.

“The people here are thinkers and seekers,” she said. “Seeking self-awareness and spiritual growth.”

St. Francis attendee Elic Llewellyn, whose deep voice is easily heard throughout the cozy pine-walled church during hymns, is a member of the Society for Buddhist and Christian Dialogue. He said he likes the mystical tradition and religious freedom the church allows.

Congregation member Mary Shoquist said everyone knows each other at St. Francis, and everyone feels love for one other. The Sunday services give her a boost each week, she said.

“Sometimes we get caught up in this soap opera world,” she said. “We need to come here to remember who we are.”

The congregation spends plenty of time getting to know each other after mass, when Cilcain’s husband, David Cargo, bakes fresh pastries from scratch in the church basement. The parishioners move silently each Sunday from the sweet-smelling incense swirling around the wooden pews upstairs to the rich-smelling baked goods below.

Dargus-Robelia and her husband can be found there most Sunday mornings. “It’s like a little gem hidden in the neighborhood,” she said.


Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 and [email protected].