November 2015 Print

Clinging to the Church

Boyd Huppert

Here is a beautiful story of a man, who, desperately clinging to life and throwing himself into God’s hands, sought to finish his days by restoring a little church. This story has a ring of a Christmas fairytale, but it is directed to the Sacred Heart.

Some times in our lives, we are on the brink of giving up all hope, then something pulls us back on track. That time came three years ago for Greg Thomas. “When I found out that I had cancer, they told my family to go ahead and start planning my funeral.” Diagnosed at the age of 57 with stage 4 head and neck cancer, then released from his propane delivery job, Thomas began passing the hours alone on long walks from his home with his dog and his thoughts. “It’s a nightmare you can’t wake up from,” he recalls.

The daily walks down a gravel road soon led him to the wood-framed country church which would change his life. Built in 1868 by Czech settlers who later moved to a bigger parish in Montgomery, the Budejovice Church had been vacant and without a congregation for more than a century. The foundation was crumbling and the paint was peeling, but it was there on the church steps that a man, crumbling himself, came to pray and shed tears.

“I’ve been on a feeding tube now for three years,” says Thomas, lifting his shirt, “and this is how I feed myself.” Before Thomas started painting the church’s interior, he had asked for a key to the locked building. This is how Thomas now feeds himself—spiritually.

“One of the beads on my rosary is reserved for him,” smiles Blanche Zellmer, who has lived near the church for more than 90 years. Prayer is a work, and God has repaid his faithful restorer: the old church is newly clothed in white and Greg’s cancer is now in remission.

Greg Thomas is restoring the old church, that’s true. But it’s hard to discern who’s saving whom. “It’s what He’s done for me,” he says, glancing toward a statue of Jesus, “and this is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to Him.”

No doubt, God has blessed Greg Thomas with much devotion and faith in His Sacred Heart, as he spends his free time in fulfilling this lovely project of restoring one of the thousand little pioneer Catholic churches which were a living witness of the Faith in ages past. But it would be difficult for one to have had this story had he been going to the Crystal Cathedral of Los Angeles. And, may this fairytale-like story have its own lesson for us: like St. Dominic and St. Francis, and like Greg Thomas of this day, God wants us to restore and invigorate the true Faith within this poor country of ours.

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