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Big changes for area Catholic churches

Father Tony Wroblewski, pastor of the Brainerd Area Catholic Churches, took time Friday to explain the new proposed layout plan for Brainerd lakes area churches that was handed down by the Duluth Diocese. The diocese laid out its plan for its groups of parishes inside the Duluth Diocese (deaneries) at a news conference on Thursday in Duluth hosted by Bishop Paul D. Sirba.

“In every single diocese, demographic challenges play a role in our communities,” said Wroblewski. “And with that, the number of priests available to minister has been changing, so the diocese began the discussion of how to solve this problem and how to have a better distribution of clergy throughout the diocese and deanery in order to have a vibrant Catholic community.”

The plan, set to take effect as early as this summer and become implemented at Bishop Sirba’s discretion, places 19 churches into eight separate clusters. Each cluster will still maintain its own worship sites but will share one pastor and clergy.

“Having these clusters will help divide up the responsibilities and allow us to work with the parishes more effectively,” Wroblewski said. “It’s really going to set up a much better situation in an area that has been seeing growth and is going to continue to see growth. Now more direct contact with their pastor will be possible, something both the parishioners and myself have expressed an interest in having once again.”

While most churches survived the clustering, three sites will be closed, merging into surrounding parishes. St. Joseph in Deerwood will merge into St. Joseph in Crosby, Holy Family in Hillman will merge into Our Lady of Fatima in Garrison and Our Lady of Fatima in McGrath will merge into Holy Family in McGregor. The clusters proposed will layout as the following:

Cluster 1: St .Francis/Brainerd, All Saints/Baxter and St. Thomas/Pine Beach

Cluster 2: St. Joseph/Crosby and Our Lady of Fatima/Garrison

Cluster 3: Immaculate Heart/Crosslake and St. Emily/Emily

Cluster 4: St. Agnes/Walker and Sacred Heart/Hackensack

Cluster 5: St. Christopher/Nisswa, St. Alice/Pequot Lakes and Our Lady of Lourdes/Pine River

Cluster 6: Holy Family/McGregor and St. James/Aitkin

Cluster 7: St. Edward/Longville and St.Paul/Remer

Cluster 8: St Andrew/Brainerd and St.Mathias/Ft.Ripley

Set to unfold and become implemented over the course of the next five years, Wroblewski said the new clusters don’t place hard boundaries on people’s associations with the churches in their area.

“There has been a lot of sharing that’s taken place within churches here in Brainerd and Baxter,” said Wroblewski. “People have gotten to know each other over the last few years when we (St. Andrew, St. Mathias and St. Francis) started working together and people don’t want to see those walls go up between the churches despite the new clusters. We will continue to help and work with one another in areas where we can across cluster boundaries and I don’t anticipate to see any of those relationships between the churches to disappear.”