Holy Family Catholic pastor's passion for acting 'is contagious'

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Donning clothing of his character in "It's A Wonderful Life," Andy Thuringer gave it his best during dress rehearsal earlier this week.

Thuringer had double duty, as he also is serving as the director of the classic holiday tale, which is set to debut this weekend in the Pepsi-Cola Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Mitchell Area Community Theatre.

For the past couple weeks, theater has filled Thuringer's nights with practices and prep work for opening weekend. But during the day, the 26 year old plays an entirely different role: Father Andy.

It's not an acting gig, but his job as an associate pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church in Mitchell.

"I love the life of the city and all the community. I feel blessed to be part of a beautiful church with so many great people. I've really enjoyed my time here so far," said Thuringer, originally from Sioux Falls.

But while he loves his job within the church, he also loves theater, and when he heard of a need for a director of "It's A Wonderful Life," he jumped at the opportunity.

While attending O'Gorman High School in Sioux Falls, Thuringer became active in theater. So much, that his first year of college at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, he studied the subject. But it was at that same time he felt a calling for priesthood, and he set aside his theatrical passion for the seminary.

Thuringer spent seven years studying at The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in Saint Paul, Minnesota, before being being ordained on June 2 by Bishop Paul J. Swain in Sioux Falls. From there he was tasked to serve at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Mitchell, beginning July 1.

And since he has family in the Mitchell and Parkston area, he was eager to give it a try.

Describing his job as similar to being a "first mate," Thuringer said he works alongside Pastor Kenneth Lulf, who is also new to Holy Family. Daily masses fill up the schedule, but the two also take turns going to John Paul II Elementary School and various nursing homes for mass. They also have marriage prep courses and teach RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes, which allows non-Catholics to enter the Catholic Faith.

But his main responsibility is to learn how to celebrate the sacraments and learn from Pastor Lulf, Thuringer said.

While his first couple months on the job have been exhausting, Thuringer said he's learned a lot. And his love for storytelling in theater wasn't lost either. It was easily translated into his gig as a priest, Thuringer said, helping him become even better at his job.

"I did (theater) a ton in high school and that's where it became a passion for me," he said. "I've always loved the storytelling side of it ... And some of that stuff I get to use now as a priest. I particularly like telling that story."

Becoming part of a theater family

Every Christmas Eve, "It's A Wonderful Life" plays in the Thuringer home.

It's become a family tradition, Thuringer said, and the film has since become his "favorite movie of all time." And now he has been given the chance to direct the production all on his own.

"I wasn't too worried about it being a classic or anything like that. That's actually why I wanted to do it. I know it entirely too well," Thuringer said.

"It's A Wonderful Life" began Friday and runs through Dec. 10 at the Area Community Theatre. Thuringer is confident in its success, and his fellow theater volunteers are confident in him.

Noel Ahlers is serving as the ACT board liaison for the production, helping Thuringer in any way she can. And in the small amount of time he's been with the ACT, Thuringer has shined, she said.

"He's not afraid to jump up on the stage to show exactly what he's envisioning. He is so passionate about this show in particular and when someone is leading with their heart, they bring everyone else with them," Ahlers said.

For now, Thuringer said this is the only show he plans to be in. But should he feel a calling to help again in the future, he definitely will.

And Ahlers hopes he does, adding that Thuringer has quickly become one of the theater's family.

"None of us felt like we had to be on our best behavior. He was one of the group," Ahlers said. " ... His passion for acting is contagious and he brought fun energy to the show."