When Greg Thomas was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he needed something to take his mind off everything. So, he threw himself into fixing up a dilapidated old chapel. But while he was saving the church, it turned out that the church might have been saving him, too.
Thomas lives in Montgomery, Minnesota. Now in 2009, at the age of 57, Thomas was given some terrible news. Doctors told him that he had stage-4 cancers in his neck and head – and that he would most likely die from them.
“When I found out that I had cancer they told my family to go ahead and start planning my funeral,” Thomas revealed to Minneapolis news channel K.A.R.E. 11 in 2012. “It’s almost like a nightmare that you can’t wake up out of,” he added.
And to make matters worse, Thomas then lost his job as a propane delivery man. So, in a bid to combat his stress, he began journeying into the nearby countryside where he would spend hours strolling around with his pet dog. And it was then that something caught Thomas’ attention.
Thomas had stumbled upon a crumbling old church in the middle of a prairie. Now, although the church would have been a perfectly pretty little building when it was built by Catholic Czech immigrants in 1868, by the time Thomas encountered the building it had certainly seen better days. In fact, it hadn’t been used for over 100 years. Neglected and abandoned, then, the church had slowly fallen into disrepair.
Intrigued, Thomas attempted to enter the church but found that it was all locked up. Suddenly, he had the urge to pray, so he sat down on the church steps and began to talk to God. And after that, the former delivery man couldn’t get the decaying structure out of his mind.
Later, then, Thomas returned to the area and began making enquiries with locals to learn anything he could about the building. Thomas had, in fact, spotted an opportunity. He thought that if he could help repair the church, it would take his mind off his terrible diagnosis.
“He went to a neighbor and said he wanted to paint the church and who does he talk to, so the neighbor sent him to talk to me,” Don Rynda told K.A.R.E. 11. Rynda acts as the treasurer for the foundation that attends to the church’s accompanying cemetery. He was astounded by Thomas’ offer and decided to allow him to paint the building.
So Thomas soon began work on the forgotten church. First, he stripped away more than a century’s worth of paint which was 15 layers thick in some places. However, the work was tough and was no doubt made harder by the effects of Thomas’s cancer and subsequent treatment.
“I’ve been on a feeding tube now for three years,” Thomas explained to K.A.R.E. 11. Indeed, the illness also caused him to lose his saliva glands, his teeth and much of his energy. But despite everything, Thomas was determined to restore the church to its former glory.
So, once he had finished work on the building’s exterior, he was finally able to access the inside of the church. And what he found was like a portal to another time. Yes, the 1860s interior was still very much intact and the church bell was still working.
However, despite the church’s cosmetic splendor, some structural issues needed addressing inside. Indeed, the floor was rotting, a new roof was needed and the church altar and fireplace needed some T.L.C. So, without stopping to rest, Thomas began fixing up the inside as well.
But it was then that Thomas was given news of something almost miraculous. In 2012, he was told that his cancer was in remission. So after he’d put his heart and soul into restoring the old church, Thomas was sure that this good news had been a blessing from God.
And although Thomas had been given his future back, he still continued to work on the church. “This is my way of saying thank you,” he told K.A.R.E. 11. By this point, moreover, his project to take his mind off his cancer had not only become his passion, but also his savior.
Consequently, Thomas continued working on the church until late 2015, when he was given some bad news once more. After a growth was found on his throat, Thomas was told that his cancer had returned. “It was the same cancer I had before,” he told K.A.R.E. 11 in 2016. “But now it’s in my voice box and has metastasized to the lymph nodes in my neck.”
Thomas’ only treatment option now was surgery. But even that, doctors warned, would leave him disfigured and might not be successful. Thomas subsequently decided against treatment and has since thrown himself into finishing his restoration project on the church. However, doctors warned that his cancer was moving fast, so it would be a race against the clock to get everything completed.
After learning of his story, a woman named Tracy Tomczik-Loso set up a crowdfunding campaign to help Thomas realize his dream of completing the church. Indeed, Tomczik-Loso hoped to raise enough money to help Thomas replace the eight windows in the chapel and install electrical power. “I can attest to both the beauty of the chapel, and the beauty of Greg Thomas,” she wrote on the GoFundMe page in 2016. “They are both beautiful inside and out and both have a new chapter to write.”
Meanwhile, Thomas himself wasn’t worried about what the future had in store for him. “I firmly believe He’s not done with me yet,” he told K.A.R.E. 11. “If He takes me home, He takes me home. I’m a winner either way.”
And aside from finishing the chapel, Thomas had one more final wish. He is currently enrolled in a two-year program to become a pastor with the New Day Church in New Prague. What’s more, according to Tomczik-Loso, it is his sole aim to preach in the chapel that he has spent seven years lovingly restoring.
While Thomas has been praised by many locals for his work on the chapel, the work has given him so much in return, he says. Indeed, while he was saving the church, he felt that he was also being saved – by God. As Thomas said, “It seems like while I was restoring the church, He was restoring me.”