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St. Francis breaks ground for expansion project

When the Rev. Tony Wroblewski first came to St. Francis Catholic Church 11 years ago, it took less than a week before parishioners were urging him to address what had been a thorn in the congregation's side for decades--the kitchen.

Father Tony Wroblewski leads a prayer before a ceremonial groundbreaking for the St. Francis Catholic Church expansion project, estimated at $3.4 million. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
Father Tony Wroblewski leads a prayer before a ceremonial groundbreaking for the St. Francis Catholic Church expansion project, estimated at $3.4 million. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

When the Rev. Tony Wroblewski first came to St. Francis Catholic Church 11 years ago, it took less than a week before parishioners were urging him to address what had been a thorn in the congregation's side for decades-the kitchen.

"The other thing I inherited was the project to actually renovate and expand our school," Wroblewski said Thursday, May 17. "So I had to tell them that came first."

But now, attention has once again turned toward the needs of St. Francis church.

The groundbreaking for an expansion project was Sunday, May 20, at the church-with events including a prayer, a few speeches, the actual groundbreaking, as well as refreshments served.

The groundbreaking represents a significant milestone in a planning process that started in 2010, Wroblewski said, though the project is intended to resolve deficiencies going back decades.

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"One of the things that's really important for any church is having space to have your programs, to be able to be a welcoming place for people, to have a decent social hall, places for people to meet for bible studies, meetings, other kinds of events," Wroblewski said. "We simply haven't had that at St. Francis. ... What we're starting now is the starting of fruitions we've wanted for a long, long time."

Estimated at 10,800 square feet total, the expansion features a 6,600-square-foot main level, with a lower level encapsulating a 4,200-square-foot addition to the church. The project is planned for two phases-parceled into two expansions planned for three to five years as funds become available. Much of the construction would deal with access points to the church. It is estimated to cost $3.4 million.

In addition to that, Wroblewski said, the expansion will overhaul the technological capabilities of the building, incorporate new offices, conference rooms and meeting rooms, as well as a new family room. The east side of the building will feature a covered walkway where people can be dropped off, at ground level and protected from inclement weather for the sake of families with little children and elderly parishioners.

Wroblewski noted the church now has a special ramp and lift to keep the building accessible during construction.

The age of St. Francis church means the building hasn't met requirements for parking in some time-a deficiency dealt, in part, by sharing parking with St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School to the west and some parking to the south.

Wroblewski said the first phase is meant to address the building. Once that is completed, he said, the church will look to garner the appropriate funds and authorization from the city, before embarking on its plans for expanded parking. Hy-Tec Construction and Widseth Smith Nolting are working on the project and incorporating the efforts of local suppliers, subcontractors and parishioners.

"We are really, really excited about this project. We put high importance on it," said Mitch Feierabend, owner/general manager/project manager at Hy-Tec Construction in Brainerd, during Sunday's groundbreaking ceremony. Feierabend said they had a great turnout on bids for the project and he described the efforts of people who want to complete the project as fun and heartwarming.

St. Francis Catholic Church serves about 1,300 families, Wroblewski said, serving roughly 1,000 churchgoers on any given weekend.

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The current Romanesque-style structure was built and dedicated in early 1934 --- though St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church has had a presence in Brainerd going back to the city's founding.

In fact, both the city of Brainerd and St. Francis trace their origins to 1871. The original wooden church was destroyed in a fire sometime between 1890-1892; a fate the second church would share, burning down March 9, 1933.

While the current building has avoided the fiery end of its predecessors, it hasn't been expanded or substantially updated its facilities at any point during its 84-year history, Wroblewski said.

Some ongoing issues have been sub-par bathrooms in the building-small, non-wheelchair accessible, bearing only one or two stalls, lacking the proper plumbing to accommodate the kinds of gatherings the church facilitates. The building has a lift-not an elevator, Wroblewski noted-probably installed 20-25 years ago by a company now bankrupt, so replacement parts are unavailable. And that's to say little of the ratty carpeting in some spots.

Then, of course, there's the kitchen.

"We actually need a commercial kitchen, they've never had a commercial kitchen," Wroblewski said. "They basically took what was a storage area and they created a tiny kitchen and they've been trying to use it, well, for 40 years."

Now, the church is taking its first tangible steps to meeting those needs after decades of waiting.

The 150th anniversary for St. Francis Catholic Church is to take place in 2021, with a year-long schedule of various celebrations for 2020.

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"This is a big day for all of us," said Erica Marcussen, a member of the facilities planning team at the Sunday groundbreaking. Marcussen is a parishioner and an architect at Widseth Smith Nolting. "This is a milestone for the parish. The result of a collaborative planning effort that has spanned nearly eight years and required hard work and effort by many parishoners, some who are with us now and others who worked hard for something that they believed in, but would not see.

"Over the years, many of you shared your visions of the great potential that an expansion to our church would provide. Your belief in and trust in each other and God's grace got us here today.

The project we are here to celebrate today is more than just stone and mortar, it is an important part of our greater effort to share our faith, not only with those who surround us now but with those also of future generations."

For an earlier story on the building project, go to " target="_blank">www.brainerddispatch.com/news/3860229-st-francis-details-expansion-plans

Related Topics: BRAINERD
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