Parish profile – St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Elizabeth

Categories: Around the Diocese

st_elizabeth

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish, Elizabeth

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish was founded in 1875. The townsite, which is just a few miles northwest of Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County, was first named Nigglerville. Shortly afterward the name of the town was changed to Elizabeth, named for Elizabeth Sha, (without a “w”). She and her husband “German” and their family settled farms around the area. There are currently about 266 parishioners. The following questions were answered by the pastor, Father Jeff Ethen.

Q: What is the most interesting facet of your church building?

A: The most interesting facet is that, like the Luxemburg parish, it is unplumbed. There is no sink in the sacristy, no toilets (and, amazingly, no kids needing to run to the bathroom during services). The other feature is the dent in the ceiling where Father Kenneth Brenny lost the top of his holy water spritzer during Easter and it ricocheted off the ceiling.

Q: What is the most popular tradition at your parish?

A: Folks mingle after church every Sunday for coffee and families rotate this “ministry of doughnuts.” Parish meetings can also be called during this time (like the Christian Mothers, youth group and, occasionally, the parish council). The popularity of the parish is that it has a definite family feel — you cannot hide here.

“What I love about St. Elizabeth Parish is the size,” said Marla Kunz who, along with her husband, Nick, and their seven children, travels from Fergus Falls to attend. “This has a family feel and everybody is welcomed and approached. Larger parishes don’t have the same feel.” The Kunz family is involved in the parish religious education and youth programs.

Q: What is an interesting historical fact or anecdote about your parish?

A: “Lil’ ‘Lizabeth,” as I call it, has a big heart for hospitality. The famous 1919 Fergus Falls tornado damaged Elizabeth, too, but the parishioners were quick to offer aid to Fergus Falls. Brenny Hall, erected in 1974, became a very important church and community center — an extension of the parish’s hospitality. Most of our young people go on to college confident of mingling with new people.

Meet the pastor

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Father Jeff Ethen

Father Jeff Ethen grew up in Elk River. He was ordained in 1988 by Bishop Jerome Hanus (along with Father Rich Walz, who also served in Elizabeth). He has been at St. Elizabeth for about two years and also serves Pelican Rapids and the Hispanic ministry there. Previously, he was at Belgrade, Brooten and Elrosa for eight years; prior to that, 13 years at Parkers Prairie, Urbank and Belle River; and he was an associate in Alexandria for three years.

Q: What inspired you to become a priest?

A: Looking back there were little things that added up. I was always for the underdog, because I was usually among them myself. In the rare event I got to be the captain of a pickup ball game at elementary school recess, I picked the scrubs first. As a newspaper reporter (my work before entering the seminary) I could get close to the action and suffering, but had to keep a professional, objective distance. I found myself wanting to cross the line from reporting to involvement. I covered a lot of the human drama as a reporter, which was good exposure for my ministry.

Q: What do you enjoy about your daily life as a priest?

A: That it has changed from being a “job description” to being a lifestyle. There is a familiar rhythm to the weeks, but also the variety of human dramas.

Q: What is the theme of a favorite homily that you preached?

A: That there isn’t any room for volunteers in the Catholic Church — only servants. Volunteers can step forward, if they feel like it, but servants are expected to do so. We use the word “volunteers” hopefully, and wonder why no one shows up. The word is banned in my parishes.