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Last prayers at WRTC chapel offered on Sunday

WILLMAR -- The 9 a.m. worship service this Sunday in the cozy St. Alphonse Chapel on the campus of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus won't be easy for the Rev. Marlyn Sundheim.

It will be the last time the Lutheran pastor will lead the clients and staff of the WRTC in prayer and song in the chapel.

It will be the last time he'll deliver a message of God's love in the chapel.

It will be the first time in nearly 29 years that he won't be looking forward to the next worship service in the chapel.

With wood paneling and a simple decor, the small chapel -- located in the historic, grand administration building -- will no longer be used as a chapel after Sunday.

The administration building, along with a majority of land and buildings on the WRTC campus, was sold as part of the transaction between the state, Kandiyohi County and MinnWest Technology.

The state will vacate the building, and the chapel, by May 31.

It will be taken over by MinnWest for offices for their new technology campus.

The chapel will likely be left as it is, for the time being, and used as a meeting room until a new layout of the office space is determined, said Steve Salzer, general manager of MinnWest Technology. He said he doubted that the room would be used as a chapel again.

"We were very comfortable there. It's been a room of many blessings," said Sundheim of the chapel.

"If the walls could talk, they would speak of God's love and Jesus Christ and our call to love God and love one another," said Sundheim, who is employed by the state as a chaplain for the campus.

Monsignor Francis Garvey, who was instrumental in getting the WRTC chapel started, will be providing an 11 a.m. service on Sunday for clients, staff and former staff members. Garvey, who is contracted by the state as a part-time chaplain on the campus, could not be reached for comment.

Like the campus and the state programs operated there, the chaplaincy program has changed.

In the early years when the population on the WRTC campus was larger and stayed for a longer time, the clients formed a choir, had weekly practice and provided music during worship services and in the community.

The choir is long gone, but Sunday and mid-week services by Protestant and Catholic chaplains have been maintained, as well as the strong ministerial support the chaplains have provided to clients and staff.

Sundheim said there are no future worship services scheduled on the campus after Sunday.

That doesn't mean the work or ministry is over, however.

The chaplains will continue to offer visitation, sacraments and individual and group sessions. Without a chapel and weekly services, Sundheim said "We're going to have to be creative in our ministry."

He said he's done so many services at the chapel for so many years that he doesn't know how he's going to react come Sunday morning.

"It's going to be exciting. It's also going to be a sad day," he said. "I'm thankful for the years that I could serve as the chaplain and serve in that chapel on the campus."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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