Persons, places and things: At ‘home’ in the Church


By Barb Arland-Fye


Whenever we visit St. Paul, Minnesota I convince our family to attend weekend Mass with me in the parish where I grew up, Nativity of Our Lord, to satisfy my inexplicable longing. Each time, as we walk toward the church, I point out sections of the school building on the other side where I spent my formative years from grades one through eight. My husband and sons don’t need the reminders but listen thoughtfully to my reminiscing.

Last week, on a journey to a family reunion in northern Minnesota, my husband Steve and our older son Colin and I made an overnight stop in the Twin Cities. Nativity was not the closet church to our hotel but Steve agreed to attend Mass there anyway. Driving through the Nativity neighborhood, I recalled fond memories of the kids with whom I played and learned. The granite stone church reassured me of the solid foundation on which I built the faith instilled by my parents.

We entered the church, greeted by an usher who provided us with directions to the restrooms downstairs and probably assumed we were strangers since we needed directions! Years ago, the church’s lower level served as a second worship space to accommodate the concurrent celebration of two Masses, one of which began about a half-hour before the other, probably to avoid a traffic jam afterwards. It appears that this space now serves as a chapel, with portable chairs replacing the dark pews of my childhood.


As we headed back upstairs, I caught a glimpse of a portrait of Msgr. Clarence Steiner, the beloved pastor of our parish who served Nativity for a half-century, beginning in 1944. I remembered him as a kind, calm presence in the midst of a parish bursting with families.

We chose a pew toward the front of the long church. The pew creaked with every move we made and I noticed that the pews in the center no longer extend all the way to the pillars. I looked toward the pews behind me, hoping to catch a glimpse of at least a few familiar faces. Instead, I saw strangers.

Nativity has a new pastor, Father Rolf Tollefson, whose love for the liturgy enhanced my appreciation of the Mass that Saturday night. I recognized the melody of one hymn and we chanted the Sanctus and Lamb of God prayers in Latin, a language I did not learn or hear growing up in the Church.

After Mass, we exited the church and shook hands with Father Tollefson, who stood outside greeting Mass-goers with a warm smile. I told the pastor that Nativity was the parish of my childhood many years ago and he showed genuine interest. My son Colin, who is autistic, interrupted so that he could be a part of the conversation too, sharing details about our journey.

Later that evening, as I reflected on my experience at Nativity, I acknowledged a sense of sadness.  Nativity is no longer my church home and it hasn’t been for years. My sense of feeling welcomed and of belonging happens in a community of faith, not a church building. I understood that fact intellectually but my heart needed extra time to catch up. However, I can treasure the memories of that long-ago faith community where my faith journey began.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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