Kids Construct Backyard Chapel


HOLY PLACE. Andrew Lehnen and Mary Marsolais in their chapel. Susan Klemond photo


Standing outside a cottage in a St. Paul, Minn., backyard with three small altar servers on the feast of the Visitation, Father Lenny Andrie prepared to process in for the inaugural Mass in a chapel that the servers and other children had built themselves.

As the procession entered, about 20 kids and adults rose from diminutive handcrafted wooden benches, singing Immaculate Mary in the pale-yellow chapel that Father Andrie, parochial vicar at St. Joseph in West St. Paul, had just blessed.

Inside, white sheets covered the walls and ceiling, and 14 squares of wood, some bearing faint images of the Stations of the Cross, were promises of a more permanent chapel interior. But everything was in place for Mass: a wooden altar covered by a white cloth, crucifix, candles, pictures and cruets.

During the Mass, children in Sunday clothes lectored, cantored and brought up the gifts in the chapel that they had conceived, built, decorated and named “Visitation Catholic Church,” with the goal of pleasing God.

Four summers ago, Andrew Lehnen and his next-door neighbor, Mary Marsolais, looked at the dilapidated shed — formerly a pigeon coup — that Andrew’s parents planned to remove from their backyard, and the two young friends thought, “Why not turn it into a chapel?”

Andrew, then 8, and Mary, then 9, drew up the first plans on a sheet of paper. They wanted a real chapel because Andrew was inspired after making his first Communion, and the children, with their siblings, had grown up “playing Mass.” 

“It just sounded amazing,” Mary said. Their parents consented, neighborhood families helped, and, after four years, they were ready at the end of May to welcome Father Andrie.

Nearly every material for the chapel, except the siding, was donated or found. Family and friends donated windows, rugs, a keyboard and skylights. Local parishes offered U.S. and Vatican flags and a kneeler. A garage sale brought in funds the kids hope to use for future additions, such as statues. Also on their wish list: heating and electricity, materials for the interior, a bell tower and a tabernacle. In the meantime, the kids talk about the chapel as their own place to pray.

Susan Klemond writes from

 St. Paul, Minnesota.