"It's exciting to be here," Father Blake Rozier said of his new post as pastor at Immaculate Heart Catholic Church in Crosslake and St. Emily's Catholic Church in Emily.
Rozier began his fourth year as a priest with an assignment in Crosslake and Emily, following in the footsteps of Father Ryan Moravitz, who moved to Duluth in July to become the pastor at three parishes there.
Rozier is no stranger to the lakes area. After spending eight years in the seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, he served as associate pastor at St. Francis and All Saints churches in Brainerd and Baxter for two years. He then spent a year in Duluth - closer to his hometown of Virginia - but found his way back to the lake country in July.
"When I got the call to come here then as pastor, I was definitely excited because I knew what a beautiful area it is," Rozier said.
The natural beauty of the lakes area certainly appeals to this avid outdoorsman.
"I really love the outdoors. I don't really hunt or fish, but I spent a lot of time growing up on Lake Vermilion with my family in northern Minnesota, and I just like to be outside," he said, adding that he also likes to play golf and basketball when he can and is a loyal Minnesota sports fan.
This area has more to offer for Rozier than just outdoor activities.
"Also, it's a really faith-filled area," Rozier said. "A lot of great things are happening in the Catholic churches in this area, and the people are just amazing."
The people, Rozier said, have helped make for a smooth transition into his new role.
"I love being around people, so what I'm really enjoying is getting to know them ... meeting them, hearing their stories, hearing about their experiences of coming to know the Lord in a deeper way. That has been such a blessing," he said. "To come to know them, day in and day out, through these different experiences, it gets me excited for the days, months, years ahead because I know I'm going to continue to grow in my relationships with them."
Having made the jump from associate pastor at his previous parishes to pastor in Crosslake and Emily, Rozier has had to get used to a little more work.
"I'm working hard, and I'm putting in long hours, but at the end of the day, you feel like you've spent your day in service to the Lord and his people, and that's very rewarding," he said.
Unpredictability is another challenge the priesthood deals out.
"That's the thing about priesthood - I don't know what's going to happen each day. Yeah, I've got my scheduled meetings, but then you've got emergencies that come up or random people walk into the office," Rozier said. "I go from praying with somebody who's passing, and then a half hour later I'm in a Catholic school, and all of the sudden these little kids are running up to you. ... It's just a crazy life, but it's great."
Rozier started on the path to this "crazy" life toward the end of high school when he received his confirmation in the Catholic church and had to deal with the death of an uncle.
"I started asking the big questions, like 'What's the meaning of life, death?' 'Why are we here?'" he said.
Also around that time, Rozier said his pastor invited him to a dinner with several priests and the bishop, where clergy members told stories of their journey to the church. This experience got him thinking even more.
"It wasn't even so much I started thinking about the priesthood and seminary, but it was to just start praying and living this relationship with Christ," Rozier said. "I started to understand the good news of Jesus that he shared with us. And once I understood that ... I realized the hope that we have that life is much more than this life here on Earth, but it involves a lived and blessed relationship with our God for all eternity (and) I wanted to share that with the world."
Sharing God's word is exactly what Rozier has done since his 2014 ordination, and he believes those three years as associate pastor prepared him well for his new post.
"I am so grateful for my first couple assignments. I wouldn't have the confidence that I have today to lead these parishes without those experiences," he said.
While Rozier believes he has the tools he needs to serve the Crosslake and Emily parishes well, he doesn't plan to make any drastic moves in the near future.
"For the first year, because there's so many good things going on here, I've told the people I hope to really just absorb everything and learn as I go," he said. "It's not like I need to come in and initiate all these different programs and stuff because it's already happening. I'm just going to continue to pray with the people and be with them on their journey."