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'Get a feel for my spirit' — Former Austin priest pens memoirs

€œA Priest from the Prairies of Minnesota: The Memoirs of Father Paul Nelson" was published Nov. 4 in Rochester.

As the 50th anniversary of his priesthood approached, the Rev. Paul Nelson decided to tell a story.

Those who know him might expect a tale or two. He often inserts a true story into his homilies.

"I do believe that’s what touches people," he says.

This time, the Roman Catholic priest who served parishioners in Austin during his career was inviting them along on his own journey.

"A Priest from the Prairies of Minnesota: The Memoirs of Father Paul Nelson" was published early in November and now is entering a second printing. He'll be signing the book Saturday in Austin.


"I never dreamt I’d write my memoirs," the priest says.

It took a couple of years of encouragement from a close friend who owns a small publishing house for him to set down his life in print. The new autobiography traces the journey from its beginnings on a small farm south of Rochester, through decades as a pastor, high school principal and diocesan schools superintendent, and on to his current work at St. Pius X Parish in Rochester.

Through the years

Nelson, 76, said he wrote the book with his family in mind, as well as thousands of parishioners from churches in Austin, Winona, Owatonna and Rochester.

There are the memorable stories of those he’s met and comforted through 50,000 confessions, 25,000 hours of counseling, 18,000 hospital, rest home and private home visits, 2,500 baptisms, 1,500 marriages and 2,000 funerals.

Readers meet a penitent in jail who nervously hoped he made his first confession correctly — because he was Lutheran.

They look in on the 80th wedding anniversary of a 99-year-old couple, at which some 200 relatives and friends crammed into the small house and sat on the neighbor’s roof to watch them renew their vows.

They share Nelson’s surprise when two boys go fishing in the flooded basement of Queen of Angels Church in Austin, and come out with a catch.


And they hear about the commotion caused when a herd of pigs literally crashed through the front door of his country church during Mass.

But "A Priest from the Prairies" offers more than family lineage and events-in-the-life. "I hope that they (readers) get a feel for my spirit, what feeds me, what guides me, what contributions I’ve made," Nelson says.

A reflection of thought

As he reminisces, Nelson also reflects on spiritual, moral and societal matters. He is very much a thinker about his times.

He ponders his church in the modern world. He sees God’s spirit alive in its fold. At the same time, he doesn’t shrink from controversial issues.

Today’s church must examine "just why people are leaving our communion, why our financial support is falling off, why our social and political influence is diminishing," he observes in the book.

Nelson found the writing itself, which was done almost nightly over five months, to be a "very spiritual experience."

"You have to slow down and write all this stuff down," he says. "It forced me to reflect."


Nelson hopes the same for his readers — "that he or she will reflect on their own journey."

The local priest is working on a second book containing as many as 100 homilies, to be published in spring 2012.

Proceeds from "A Priest from the Prairies of Minnesota" will go to fund a scholarship at Lourdes High School in Rochester.

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