St. Francis leaders seek feedback on Catholic high school possibility

A survey about the potential of a Catholic high school in Brainerd is open to the public through Friday, Feb. 17.

St. Francis Catholic Church in Brainerd.
St. Francis Catholic Church on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Could a Catholic high school be in Brainerd’s future?

Leaders at St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School are exploring just that. A communitywide survey is available until Friday, Feb. 17, to garner the level of interest in a Catholic high school in Brainerd. The survey is available at by clicking “Potential Catholic High School” under the “About” tab.

The Rev. Michael Garry, superintendent of St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School and pastor at St. Francis Catholic Church, said the idea has been floating around for several years. The last time it came up, he said the middle school program did not seem quite strong enough to support a high school, but it has since been built up. Right now, St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School serves students in preschool up through eighth grade and had an estimated enrollment of 245 students at the beginning of the school year. The closest Catholic high school option for those in Brainerd is St. Cloud.

“We’re calling it the exploratory phase where we’re just gathering data and doing research into what it would take,” Garry said, encouraging everyone in the community with school-aged children — whether Catholic or not — to take the survey.

“Just because it helps us get a gauge,” he said. “Even if they have no desire for Catholic high school, if they take it and we get that, that’s information.”


After the survey closes, Garry said he and school leaders will get together with various stakeholders — parish trustees, local school boards, finance councils and families — to assess the information. If they wanted to move forward with the new school, they would present a proposal to the bishop and, with his approval, begin the planning phase.

Michael Garry - City Council, Dec. 5, 2022
The Rev. Michael Garry, of St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic Church, addresses the Brainerd City Council Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

So far, the feedback has been favorable, Garry said, as a community meeting last year brought out about 100 people.

“A lot of people are interested in just seeing where it goes. A lot of people are very supportive, so there’s a lot of enthusiasm about it,” he said. “But I just want to make sure we have a plan.”

While there is still more work to do, Garry said the classrooms at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Brainerd might be the best location.

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One of the biggest points Garry said he strived to make during this process is that the project is not about running away from something but running toward something.

“Catholic education has always been part of our tradition, and it’s not about running from public school,” Garry said. “We support public school; I support public school. I’m a product of Brainerd public high school myself, but at the same time we always value and believe that Catholic education has something to offer. We’re interested in a total formation of the human person — body, mind and spirit — and that’s what we have to offer.”

It is not a part of Catholic tradition to be separatists, Garry added.

“We’ve always been fully engaged in the community. We’re here to be a leaven — a salt of the Earth,” he said. “That means we want to form good citizens that are fully engaged in the wider community and be a blessing for all people — Catholic and non-Catholic.”


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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