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Several Catholic churches to close, consolidate in the Diocese of Duluth

Some Catholic churches in the Diocese of Duluth could find out today that they are officially slated to close, with congregations melded into nearby churches.

Consolidation is just one of many issues discussed by members of the 10-county diocese the past year as it formalized a five-year strategic plan. Bishop Paul Sirba will present the final plan at 3 p.m. at the Pastoral Center next to Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, 2801 E. Fourth St.

Sirba could announce the closing of Our Lady of Mercy on Park Point and merging its members with St. Mary Star of the Sea, 325 E. Third St. in Duluth. That "deanery plan" for Duluth was submitted in August.

Under the plan, the number of priests in Duluth would drop to six from 11, with other closings and changes on how duties are shared among the churches. Creators of the plan said it's an effort to equalize priests' duties and deal with infrastructure and financial positions of the churches.

The Duluth Diocese currently serves 71,531 Catholics at 93 parishes in the region.

Diocese communications director Kyle Eller said many of the suggestions for changes in the deaneries could be finalized today.

Among the changes in the Duluth region under the proposed plan:

Star of the Sea would share priests with the Cathedral.

In West Duluth, St. Elizabeth and St. Margaret Mary would merge with St. James, with two worship sites retained.

St. Joseph would close, with parishioners going to St. Lawrence. Priests would serve St. Lawrence and Holy Family.

West of Duluth, St. Phillip in Saginaw would close and merge with St. Raphael. Priests would serve St. Raphael and St. Rose in Proctor.

The strategic plan is an attempt to deal with shrinking congregations along with fewer priests to draw from. It also takes into account aging infrastructure in churches. In late 2010, at the outset of the study, Sirba put a moratorium on any new building projects.

The other deaneries are based around the cities of Virginia, Hibbing, Brainerd and Cloquet.

The major changes outlined in plans for those regions, aside from restructuring for pastoral duties, include:

Cloquet: St. Joseph in Finlayson and Sacred Heart in Bruno close; St. Isadore in Sturgeon Lake merges with St. Mary in Willow River with services remaining at both sites.

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.

Hibbing: Sacred Heart in Federal Dam, St. Joseph in Ball Club and St. Ann in Bena all close and merge into 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. Michael in Northome closes and merges into St. Catherine in Squaw Lake.

Virginia: Holy Spirit and Sacred Heart in Virginia, and Sacred Heart in Mountain Iron merge.