A former church employee has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $33,000 from a historic Mendota house of worship in part to fund his gambling habit.

Christopher Paul Seiple, 48, of New Brighton, entered his plea Wednesday in Dakota County District Court to three of the four theft-by-swindle counts filed against him in August. He wrote fraudulent checks to vendors but instead he deposited them in his own bank account.

When asked why he stole the money, Seiple told law enforcement he was behind on his mortgage and had been buying up to $400 worth of scratch-off tickets daily, according to the charges.

The embezzlement targeted Church of St. Peter, considered the oldest Catholic church in what is now Minnesota.

It was founded in 1840 by a group of 185 in a log cabin in Mendota.

Seiple had been the Church of St. Peter’s director of operations but was no longer employed there at the time the thefts were discovered during a financial audit in July.

The thefts were discovered relatively quickly, and St. Peter’s had insurance to cover the loss, parish officials said in a statement.

Sentencing for Seiple is scheduled for March 5 in Hastings.