FARGO-Lois Minette and her husband Ray are lifelong Catholics.
They held office in their former parish in the tiny northcentral North Dakota town of Rugby, and gave communion at the local hospital and nursing home for years.
After Ray was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, the couple came to Fargo and he was moved into the skilled care unit of a retirement complex, Bethany on 42nd.
Now 85, Ray is somewhat unresponsive. His wife says he perks up, though, when she gets ready to take him to the chapel there.
"I say 'Church is today. Mass. Do you want to go?' And he nods," Minette said.
Those services they were accustomed to, however, are becoming less frequent.
Once-weekly celebrations of Mass provided by a previous parish, which included cheerful greetings and music by a pianist, have turned into twice-monthly visits, with no music, under a different parish.
Chelsea Gentzkow, who coordinates activities at Bethany on 42nd, said some residents only take part in Mass.
"It kind of breaks my heart when our residents don't come out to activities and just stay in their rooms," Gentzkow said.
A few residents and staff have voiced concerns to the Catholic Diocese of Fargo and Holy Cross Catholic Church in West Fargo, which is Bethany on 42nd's new parish.
Paul Braun, communications director for the Diocese, said with an aging population in the state and more senior care facilities being built, priests can't do it all.
"They do the best they can but they have their parishes to take care of as well," Braun said.
Shortage felt on south side
Bethany Retirement Living is sponsored by 38 area Lutheran congregations and its chaplain is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, pastor.
Grant Richardson, a senior executive at Bethany, said just under a third of its residents are Catholic.
He said there's no shortage of Catholic services at Bethany on south University, near downtown, but the shortage is primarily occurring in south Fargo, at Bethany on 42nd.
Richardson feels for the residents and their loved ones.
"Their families want to make sure they get service when they need it the most," he said.
At least one other retirement center associated with Holy Cross also has limited priest visits.
While Eventide's Sheyenne Crossings in West Fargo is able to offer weekly Mass, Catholics at its south Fargo location can celebrate it only once a month.
Eventide communications director Carrie Carney said the chaplain is certain Catholics there would love weekly visits, but there haven't been any complaints.
At Touchmark at Harwood Groves in south Fargo, a priest from Sts. Anne & Joachim visits twice a month.
Life Enrichment director Anne-Marie Fitz said a deacon and parish nurse come the other weeks, and recite the rosary before a shorter service.
Staff fill in the gaps
While Braun said the Diocese could always use more priests, the primary issue is growing demand brought on by new retirement communities and the recent opening of North Dakota's largest hospital, Sanford Medical Center Fargo.
"That stretches the ministry for our priests very thin," he said.
Deacons and lay ministers are pitching in, and the Diocese arranges for locally televised Mass on Sundays for people who are physically unable to attend church.
The community life staff at Bethany on 42nd try to fill in the gaps where they can.
Gentzkow said several of them have become eucharistic ministers, so they can give residents communion during the off weeks.
The Minettes plan to attend an ecumenical service Easter Sunday at Bethany on 42nd, and Lois hopes someday to have a more prominent Catholic presence there.
"I just don't want the people in these nursing homes to be forgotten," she said.