Old churches and old cemeteries are nothing new to rural areas in Iowa and Minnesota. Most every township has its own final resting place and even smaller plots with a handful of graves crop up here and there in the countryside. But few can match the compelling story of Budejovice church and cemetery located a couple of miles west of Montgomery, Minn.
Graves in the Budejovice cemetery date back to the 1800s — some so worn with time the names and dates are barely discernable. Other headstones are much newer with their gleaming granite providing a stark contrast with the older section of burial sites. It doesn’t take long to figure out this sacred ground was a Czech settlement with names on the headstones like Kotek, Jindra, Staska and Brabec.
The small church on the three-acre site stands pristine and white; but that wasn’t always the case.
Back in 2008 a gentleman by the name of Greg Thomas was walking his dog past Budejovice. Thomas had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He had lost his job and was losing his life. A devout man, Thomas tried several times to go inside the church, but it was always locked. One day, sitting on the steps of the weather-beaten church with his dog, Thomas decided to walk to the neighboring farm to see if there was a way to get inside.
The neighbor put Thomas in touch with the cemetery’s caretaker. Thomas offered to paint the church and work on the 1868 structure’s crumbling foundation. The owner of Budejovice, Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montgomery, gave Thomas its blessing.
For the next three years Thomas labored (as his health permitted), scraping off layers of old paint and giving the church a new white sheen. Not only was Budejovice regaining its youth, Thomas’ cancer went into remission and in 2011 he was deemed cancer free.
A Minneapolis television station caught wind of Thomas’ story and its 2012 report went viral on the internet. Thousands of dollars were donated by people throughout the country. A Kansas company supplied free roof tiles and another company provided labor at cost. The tiny church, which hadn’t held a service in over a century, was getting ready to receive visitors once again — or so it seemed.
After Thomas installed electric service and a fireplace in the church, Holy Redeemer told him to stop all work on it. Holy Redeemer trustees felt all of the improvements would require the parish to insure Budejovice and that was something they were unwilling to do. In 2016 Holy Redeemer changed the locks on the church and once again, Thomas was back to sitting outside.
Oh, and his cancer was back — with a vengeance. Thomas decided to forgo cancer treatment and passed away in 2017. Near the entrance to the church is a granite marker dedicated to Thomas and his contributions.
Budejovice is located on a narrow gravel road in Le Sueur County at 35430 181st Ave.