Barely three years into his priesthood, Father Timothy Nolan was questioning his vocation and wondering if he should leave.
But a charismatic prayer meeting transformed his life and led to five more decades of Spirit-led ministry, including the founding of St. Paul’s in Ham Lake in 1981 and a key role in establishing a center prosperous retirement. It was on the grounds of this retreat center, Pacem in Terris near Isanti (just within the boundaries of the Diocese of Saint-Cloud), that Father Nolan died on August 20. He was 82 years old and lived at his retreat center.
Funeral visitation and wake have been set for 4-8 p.m. on August 27 and a two-hour visitation before a funeral mass for 11 a.m. on August 28, all in St. Paul, the parish he led for more than two decades. A night vigil was also planned in the chapel. The Vigil Service and Mass on August 27 will be streamed live on the parish website. Interment will be at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights.
In a video testimony he shared with St. Patrick in Oak Grove in October 2020, Fr. Nolan said he “ran out of gas” in 1970 and got “pretty discouraged” about the priesthood after he saw certain priests leave the ministry after the Second Vatican Council. . He was “not a happy priest at all” and felt that something more was needed.
He had heard of charismatic prayer meetings and the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and decided to find out for himself. He was prayed after a meeting that night, which sparked a ministry of living, broadcasting and discussing “one of my all-time favorite topics – the Holy Spirit”, he said. declared.
Her passion for the Holy Spirit and the fruit of her years of helping others experience the power of the Holy Spirit have been observed and admired by people like Tim Drake, Executive Director of Pacem in Terris. Drake began taking retreats at Pacem about 15 years ago, then applied for the position of executive director in 2017. Father Nolan, as chairman of the board, became his boss in September of the same year and eventually became a close friend.
“For the past few months, my wife and I have been seeing Father Nolan almost weekly,” said Drake, who discovered Father Nolan’s body on the afternoon of August 20, after the priest died that morning of natural causes. “And, we enjoy this program together called ‘The Chosen’. He just loved it because it told the story of Christ in such a vibrant and new way. And so, we found ourselves laughing together and crying together over the show. Father had such love for Christ. And it showed in everything he did, whether he was celebrating mass, whether he was just carrying on a conversation with you, or whether he share a meal with you.
Drake recalled a practice Fr. Nolan had at staff meetings where he asked employees to share “Holy Ghost moments.” For the life of Father Nolan, one of them started the parish of St. Paul in Ham Lake. After serving as Archdiocesan Liaison for Charismatic Renewal for four years, Bishop John Roach asked him to found a new parish in Ham Lake, which he did in 1981. With parishioners working side by side, he led the construction of a church in 1983. -84, a structure that continues to be the parish house.
Naturally, Father Nolan incorporated charismatic praise and worship into parish life, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the gift of tongues. He led the parish until his retirement in 2004, but continued to stay connected. The parish remains vibrant today, with many programs, including its annual Life Stations, which attract dozens of children and teenagers to play most of the roles in the performances held at the church each year. during Lent.
Trudy Swanson Schreier joined the parish early and remembers attending mass before the church was built. Father Nolan was installed as parish priest on June 21, 1981, the feast of Corpus Christi, a mass which she attended. After one of the first masses in the parish, he asks her to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.
“Afterwards he called me back to a quiet little corner and was like, ‘So tell me, how was it when you were holding Jesus?'” said Swanson Schreier, 75, who now lives in Perham with her husband, Glenn Schreier. . “Something just crossed me that I will never forget. It just brought tears to my eyes, like, ‘God, I was really holding Jesus in my arms, and it’s amazing.’ »
She was part of a group Father Nolan called together “to pray, worship and listen to what God might tell us.” Later, she helped form a Vacation Bible School at the parish and started the Family Training Program, a model of catechesis that received national accolades. When her first husband, Keith Swanson, died in 2006, Father Nolan celebrated his funeral mass, then traveled to Perham in 2012 to celebrate his wedding mass. Glenn was led to befriend Father Nolan, who led a group of people who prayed over him for the Holy Spirit. The couple continued to spend time with Father Nolan and joined a group of friends in Florida to celebrate his 80th birthday two years ago.
“Father taught me to love as Jesus loves, to pray as Mary prays, to trust like the Apostles, and to follow him like his disciples, and to be in the upper room and wait for Pentecost (and) let the Fall of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
Although Father Nolan retired from St. Paul in 2004, he was a frequent visitor to the parish, which was always a welcome sight for parishioners and the current pastor, Father Jim Livingston, who has been appointed to the parish almost five years ago. Father Nolan particularly enjoyed coming to the parish on Pentecost Day and was present this summer to celebrate the parish’s 40th anniversary.
“It is truly wonderful to have her constant support, encouragement and presence,” said Father Livingston. “In fact, when I arrived, I made sure I had his blessing. And, I felt really, really ready to start once I figured that out.
Father Livingston considered Father Nolan “not only a father figure, but also a big brother and a friend. In fact, I jokingly described him as Moses and I as Joshua.
One of his favorite things about Father Nolan’s visits was listening to his homilies, which were filled with “such depth, such peace, such wisdom, such kindness and such joy,” said Father Livingston. “It was, honestly, like you were at the master’s feet when he started talking. You felt like you were retired. That’s how I felt when he came back and gave a homily. Part of his expansive personality was coming out, and you felt there was endless possibility of grace as he communicated God’s love. It was just amazing.
Father Nolan, originally from St. Paul, was ordained in 1967 and had three sisters who all joined the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In addition to St. Paul in Ham Lake, he also ministered at Good Shepherd in Golden Valley, St. Kevin in Minneapolis, and St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas.
The “heartbeat” of St. Paul Parish
Father James Livingston likes to tell a story about the early years of the parish where he is now parish priest, St. Paul in Ham Lake. The parish opened in 1981 without a building, and founding pastor Father Timothy Nolan set out to change that.
Yes, he hired professionals to do much of the work, but he also attracted parishioners to work alongside the workers, with him. It saved over $300,000 in labor costs, but more importantly, it made those nails feel like it was really “their” church.
Father Nolan made this point clear with a simple gesture.
“When the guys were on the roof… hammering nails into the roof,” Father Livingston said, “he (Father Nolan) got up there with a tape recorder and he recorded the sound of the hammers pounding. And then, the following weekend (during mass), he played this tape recorder on the microphone. You could hear the boom, boom, boom, boom boom, boom boom, boom boom. And, he said to people, ‘Do you hear that? It is the heartbeat of this church.’ »
Spiritually, Father Nolan seemed to be the heartbeat of the church. He had a way of drawing people in and he intended to connect the life of the church with the mysteries of the faith. For example, he insisted that the first parish mass in 1981 be on the feast day of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ.
“He always looked at Corpus Christi as the first day of the church, of the parish (of St. Paul), Father Livingston said. “And, he loved that mystery. That’s where he lived. He lived this mystery of the body of Christ being on the altar, but the body of Christ being, I’ll call it, on the pews — the people themselves.
And, so many of these people have stayed in touch with their founding pastor over the years, and some even have a tangible and lasting connection.
“I’ll put it this way,” Father Livingston said. “There were a lot of boys named Tim – named after father Tim Nolan. There was just a whole generation of children named after him. This tells you the impact it had.