The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will announce significant changes to its parishes over the weekend.
A strategic plan, 20 months in the works, will recommend some parishes merge and close churches, and others will cluster and share priests.
Father John Bauer, pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, helped lead the strategic planning. He said declining enrollment in the core cities, priest shortages and financial strain made the changes necessary.
"As we look at our numbers, we see that 32 percent of our masses are less than one-third full, so we need to do something to have the masses where the people are," Bauer said.
The archdiocese has laid out the case for contraction on its website, saying more than 25 percent of its parishes have serious debt and budget issues.
It also points out that fewer priests will be available to serve in parishes in the coming years.
"There are currently 182 priests eligible to be pastor, in 10 years that number is projected to be 163," according to the archdiocese.
The reorganization comes even as the archdiocese projects a 7.5 percent increase in the number of households registered with parishes over the next five years.
But that growth is unevenly distributed, with most of it occurring in exurban areas -- outside of the core metro area.
Nearly all of that growth is fueled by immigration, according to the archdiocese, which adds that a significant number of Latinos live within a five-minute drive of every parish. The biggest changes are expected in parishes that are located in the core cities.
Bauer said parishioners will learn about the changes at Saturday evening and Sunday morning masses.
"We want to assure people that they're not going to show up next week and find the doors locked and barred," Bauer said. "But there will be an opportunity for those parishes that are affected to plan how they want to merge or how they want to begin a clustering arrangement with another parish."
Parishioners will also learn which parishes are affected through the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' website at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Catholic schools will also likely see changes ahead. They are 20 percent under capacity, and 20 percent of the schools rely on subsidies from the archdiocese.
A spokesman from the archdiocese said there will be no announcement about school closings over the weekend. That will likely come later, after more evaluation.