Looking out the window of the Church of St. Philip in north Minneapolis, the Rev. Greg Tolaas saw the pain and suffering in the neighborhood and decided to do something about it.
So he started programs to help children with their schoolwork, single mothers with raising their children and men with being there for their families.
"Everyone loved him," said Cindy Boggs, a pastoral associate at St. Philip. "He's touched a lot of lives here."
Tolaas, the pastor of St. Philip, died Sunday afternoon at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis. The cause of death had not been determined Sunday. He was 47.
The Rev. Dale Korogi, Tolaas' friend and housemate, said he had had a series of complications after lung and kidney transplants in June.
Tolaas also had been fighting a lung infection, Korogi said.
Tolaas had cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes glands to produce thick secretions that plug passageways in the lungs. Two of his sisters who were born with the disease died long ago.
In 1997, he left his job as director of campus ministry at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul because he wanted to learn about different people.
He joined St. Philip in August of that year. At the time, Sunday mass drew only about 40 people, mostly elderly Polish-Americans who had moved to the suburbs.
So he started walking through the neighborhood to meet people, Boggs said. "We've got to get something for these kids to do," she recalled Tolaas saying after seeing so many neighborhood kids playing in the streets.
By November, he'd started the Kids Club to give kids a safe place to hang out after school. Then came College Bound to help kids with homework. Soon followed the Women of Great Hope and Vision program and the Men About Change group.
Today, about 350 families are members of the church.
"He wanted [the church] to be a place of welcome and support and growth for the people who lived in the North Side," Korogi said.
Tolaas also helped revitalize the praise and worship service in the church, said Korogi, who also is chaplain at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. "He brought a lot of energy and life to the church, and it became a great source of life for this part of town," he said.
Korogi called Tolaas his "best friend," and said Tolaas didn't waste a single day of his life being bitter or angry. "If he was discouraged at all, he would just take a deep breath" and look at the brighter side of life. "He was a man of deep faith, and he met every challenge with the knowledge that God was with him."
Beth Tolaas of St. Paul said her brother, who was born and raised in St. Paul, was a leader.
At 10, when their mother died, he helped take care of his younger siblings.
"That's a role that he's carried on into his adulthood," she said. "He wasn't someone who just sat idly and let life happen around him. He truly grasped life and got the most out of it" despite his health challenges.
Besides his sister, survivors include another sister, Maureen of Denver, and a brother, Tim of St. Paul.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Lucy Y. Her is at firstname.lastname@example.org.