In July, the congregation at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hackensack said a somber farewell to Father Francis Kabiru and gave a hearty welcome to Father Timothy Lange.
Since it is not uncommon for priests to arrive in the lakes area from far away (Kabiru was from Kenya), it may be surprising that Lange isn't far from home in Hackensack. He grew up in Brainerd, and some parishioners may know his name because his grandfather lives on Woman Lake, where Lange visited while growing up.
"It's a blessing to be closer to my grandfather," Lange said. "Grandma died in December, but now it's a blessing to be closer."
Hackensack residents with connections to Brainerd might be more familiar with Lange because of his success in athletics and academics.
"The Triple A award is one of the awards they give away for arts, academics, athletics," Lange said. "The year I graduated (from Brainerd High School), I was the guy that got that. I was in band and choir. I did fairly well with academics and studied hard. With swimming, that was helpful too. You stay out of trouble, otherwise you don't get to swim."
He grew up near the Essentia Health-Brainerd Clinic just south of town. They were close enough to school, he said, that he could wake up at 6:45 a.m. and be there by 7 a.m. He has an older sister and a younger sister. During school he played soccer and golf, and ran track, but his passion was swimming.
"I had too much energy and Mom didn't know what to do so she put me on the swimming team," Lange said. "That was a good thing. It's still something I enjoy doing, especially with all the lakes."
He grew up in the Catholic church, but it took serious contemplation for him to find his way to the priesthood. Contemplation may have begun in ninth grade with mission work and a retreat in Steubenville, Ohio, where Lange joined thousands of people his own age who shared the Catholic faith.
"In our culture today, not trashing the culture, but it's not very easy to live your Christian beliefs and morals," Lange said.
His faith grew stronger as time went on and he continued a daily prayer routine. Lange said praying the psalms was a powerful tool that helped guide him, along with serving at Camp Survive.
"As I began to wonder what I was made for and what life was all about, asking the big questions, I was seeking answers," Lange said. "I began to grow in my faith as well, coming to believe that it is most rational to believe God exists, and if he does, he made me and has a plan for me, as I entered more deeply into my relationship with Jesus Christ and what that means to try and listen to what God had in store. As I spent more time in prayer, God was revealing himself to me. He loved me and he gave himself to me."
Lange said it wasn't one single event that directed him toward the priesthood, but rather several signs over several years starting while visiting potential colleges. In the beginning, he was considering seminary, but he was also considering studying engineering at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana where he had been accepted.
Believing he couldn't make a truly informed decision without at least visiting the seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, he visited both schools.
"I lost my voice when I visited my seminary," Lange said. "I had never lost it before or since. I took a nap on the way home and my voice came back. My mom said, 'Maybe you were supposed to listen this weekend.' That was another way the Lord tried to get my attention. He doesn't treat us as dogs on a leash. It's more like, 'Here is a proposal.'"
While still deciding on his college, he prayed for guidance at the Chapel of St. Andrews almost daily for a month.
"I did a pros and cons list for Notre Dame or the seminary at St. Thomas in the Cities," Lange said. "They came out tied. It was forcing me to kind of see what was in my heart. A really big moment was in the adoration chapel. Another man was in there. I said, 'Lord, maybe this man will say something to me.' He turned to me right then and asked, 'Are you discerning the priesthood?'"
The man had watched Lange return again and again to pray, but said he didn't have an answer for him. Lange took that as a sign to choose St. Thomas over Notre Dame.
"I didn't go to seminary knowing I was going to be a priest," Lange said. "I went to seminary knowing I was open to it with an inclination I might be called that way. I knew I wasn't going to be able to take engineering or dating seriously if I went into that first."
Lange made his decision just before entering graduate seminary when he accepted celibacy, and his future as a priest was settled.
"To be celibate is not a life that lacks joy," Lange said. "It's a very joyful life. It's not just a no, but a big yes to the Lord."
Lange served two years as an associate priest in Grand Rapids and another year in Duluth before coming to Hackensack. He's happy to be closer to home and more permanent.
"As an associate priest, you get moved around a bit more," Lange said. "As a pastor you aren't moved so much. I look forward to being a little more planted. I had dinner last night with my dad. That's good. I love lake country. I really do."
Lange said he has tried to make as smooth a transition as possible since arriving. To that effect, he plans to listen to God and his parishioners.
"We all belong to the Lord," Lange said. "He is the shepherd of our parish and all of us should try to hear where he is leading us. I don't intend to change a ton of things, because that's hard on me and the parish. I just intend to be attentive and listen as best I can to the Lord and to the people. As far as pastoral plans, The Lord is our Shepherd. We have to stay focused on him. I do know that right now, especially in Walker, we are clustered parishes. I want to give a bit of attention to the youth ministry. It's hard to fill a position like that in a small town like that. I do want to be attentive to the needs of younger people and to continue to build that program."
Though a lot has changed since growing up in Brainerd, Lange wants people to remember that not everything has changed.
"I look forward to getting to know more of the people and just to enter into the community and support everything going on here," Lange said. "We're just normal guys with a calling to serve."