Lake Country Parishes’ Father Bruce Engen will be remembered for a quick wit and a down-to-earth demeanor.
Engen, 74, died Tuesday morning, April 9, of complications from heart issues after being taken to Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd on Sunday morning, April 7.
Engen came to the Lake Country Parishes in July of 2003. He presided primarily over Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Pine River, though he also presided over Mass at St. Alice Catholic Church in Pequot Lakes and St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Nisswa. Engen presided over many weddings in the area, including that of Daniel Soukup, son of Kathy Soukup.
“I liked that he was very ordinary. If you would see him walk down the street you wouldn’t realize he was a priest. He just looked like an ordinary farmer that just came in off his tractor and came to town for a part,” said parishioner Kathy Soukup.
Engen was a man of many regular interests. He liked old cars and tractors and used to discuss them with parishioners. With the help of parishioners he grew and harvested hay near Deerfield Township and even raised honey bees. This everyday demeanor likely stemmed from his past.
“Everybody who knows Father Bruce has very fond memories of him. He was very down to earth. The fact that he wasn’t ordained until he was 50, he had so many life experiences,” said Mary Bruemmer, good friend and parishioner. “He could really relate to people and everybody loved him.”
Parishioners from Our Lady of Lourdes know that Engen used a quick wit to amuse and engage his parishioners, especially the children. He is known for his love of children.
“He was a jolly fellow. He liked to tell jokes. He very often had a joke at the end of Mass and he enjoyed the kids,” Soukup said. “He used to have a joke or riddle for the kids and if they could answer the joke or riddle they could either get a dollar or a jar of honey because he raised honey bees.”
He was not afraid of being the butt of a joke, either. Following a case of mistaken identity with police in 2004, Engen happily shared the story with his congregation.
“When the Backus bank got robbed, the guy that took off was using a red van and Father Bruce at that time was driving a red van. Later in that day he was driving down 371 and the cops pulled him over,” Bruemmer said. “They had him spread eagle on the outside of the van because they thought he was a bank robber. It got to be a pretty good joke.”
Engen was well known to his congregation, and finished most Sunday Masses by walking out of the church, row by row, shaking hands with people as he passed. He often worked alongside parishioners doing repairs on his tractors or other machinery and sometimes even hired youth from the area to help him with work in his field, among other things.
“If he had something that needed done where he kept his tractors he would get some of the younger kids that needed a job and give them a little extra money,” Soukup said.
“A very loving man, very kind to everyone. I never ran into anyone that didn’t like him,” Bruemmer said. “He’s going to be missed very much.”
Engen was ordained in 1989 at age 50. Before being ordained, he ran a hardware store in Remer, acted as a foster parent and farmed on the side. People always told him he should become a priest. He presided over Masses in various places, including Cass Lake and Walker, before coming to Pine River.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Saturday, April 13, 2013, at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Pine River. Visitation will be on Friday evening from 5-7 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. Burial will follow the funeral at Fairview Cemetery in Remer.