Friday, January 20, 2012

Duluth's Bishop Sirba describes grief, acceptance of church closings

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In the end, Catholics came around to the realities facing the Duluth Diocese, Bishop Paul Sirba announced in a news conference Thursday at the Pastoral Center in Duluth.

In the end, Catholics came around to the realities facing the Duluth Diocese, Bishop Paul Sirba announced in a news conference Thursday at the Pastoral Center in Duluth.

The five-year strategic plan offered by Sirba has some harsh realities in it: the imminent closing and merging of up to 19 churches in the 10-county diocese, should the entire plan be implemented.

“People were very passionate,” Sirba said of a year of discussion on congregation sizes, the availability of priests, and the condition of churches physically and financially.

The downsizing is obviously a difficult turn for the diocese, Sirba said, “but some beautiful things happened as well.” He said the 45 families served by St. Phillip in Saginaw came to a realization that closing the church and melding into St. Rose in Proctor would serve them best.

“They said, ‘You know, there’s a bigger need,’” Sirba said, “and that awakened others in the deanery.”

While presiding over a Mass in Bruno, another church set to close, Sirba said he heard from 15 people in the congregation who came to the same conclusion — at one time it made sense to have a church, when the town was bustling.

“It’s different now,” Sirba said of Bruno residents’ sentiments. It was another example of a congregation that knew it was ready for a change, he said.

The long-range plan is also a reaction to a possible loss of 11 retiring clergy, a drop to 34 from 45. The good news, Sirba said, is that Duluth will have its largest-ever class of new priests when six men are entered through the diocese this spring.

The changes announced Thursday will be slowly implemented, Sirba said, but changes could come as soon as this summer. And the diocese will continue to review parishes across the five years, he said, meaning things could change. Another intensive long-range plan will be tackled in five years.

Some churches scheduled to close in earlier plans were spared: St. Joseph in Ball Club and St. Michael in Northome.

Major changes for the five regions within the diocese include:

Duluth: Our Lady of Mercy on Park Point closes and merges with St. Mary Star of the Sea; Star of the Sea shares priests with the Cathedral; in West Duluth, St. Elizabeth and St. Margaret Mary merge with St. James, with two worship sites retained; St. Joseph closes, with parishioners going to St. Lawrence; priests would serve St. Lawrence and Holy Family; west of Duluth, St. Phillip in Saginaw closes and merges with St. Raphael; priests would serve St. Raphael and St. Rose in Proctor.

Cloquet: St. Joseph in Finlayson and Sacred Heart in Bruno close and merge into St. Patrick in Hinckley; St. Isidore in Sturgeon Lake merges with St. Mary in Willow River with rotated services.

Brainerd: St. Joseph in Deerwood merges with St. Joseph in Crosby and a new church is built; churches in Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and Pine River move toward a merger; Our Lady of Fatima in McGrath closes and merges with Holy Family in McGregor; Holy Family in Hillman closes and merges with Our Lady Fatima in Garrison.

Hibbing: Sacred Heart in Federal Dam and St. Ann in Bena close and merge into St. Mary in Deer River; St. Joseph in Ball Club shares services with St. Mary in Deer River; St. Kevin in Pengilly and St. Mary in Keewatin close and merge into St. Cecilia in Nashwauk; St. Joseph in Taconite and St. Mary in Marble close and merge into Mary Immaculate in Coleraine; St. John in Hill City and St. Paul in Warba merge with St. Joseph in Grand Rapids.

Virginia: Holy Spirit and Sacred Heart in Virginia, and Sacred Heart in Mountain Iron merge; Queen of Peace in Hoyt Lakes, St. John in Biwabik and Holy Rosary in Aurora share services.

As part of the five-year plan, and following the vision of the Vatican, the diocese will concentrate on making sure people stay with the church, Sirba said. By pooling congregants, priests can serve them more efficiently with a stress on keeping youth programs strong, he said.

Pope Benedict has declared 2012 a “Year of Faith” for Catholics across the world, calling members to take a more active role in the church and its teachings.

Sirba believes the plan revealed Thursday puts the Duluth Diocese in a better position to work on that mission: “This process of pruning the vine allows for more evangelism.” Duluth News Tribune

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