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The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in St. Jean sur Richelieu, Que., has been taken over by the Doicese of Longueuil, which has also assumed the cathedral’s debt from renovations it could no longer afford. Photo from Google Maps

Longueuil diocese takes on cathedral’s $300,000 debt

By  Alan Hustak, A Catholic Register Special
  • February 19, 2018

The future of an historic cathedral in Quebec has been secured by a transaction that saw the local bishop trade away a former convent and his diocese assume the cathedral’s $300,000 debt.

In a deal brokered by Bishop Lionel Gendron, the Diocese of St.-Jean-Longueuil outside Montreal has taken over the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. 

The cathedral had formerly been operated by a fabrique, a civil corporation unique to Quebec which acts like a trustee to manage assets on behalf of the parish.

To secure the deal, Gendron, who is also president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave the fabrique title to a former convent in the nearby city of St. Jean that was vacated in 1998 by the Servants du Tres Saint Sacrament.

The Diocese of Longueuil will now be responsible for the cathedral, which was founded as a parish church in 1828 and was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1866. The building has undergone several renovations and the most recent work left the cathedral with a large debt and no practical way to pay it off.

“There is no question of the cathedral closing,” said rector Richard St. Louis.  “If there is no cathedral there is no diocese.

“All of the former bishops are in the crypt. It can’t close.”

The transaction is the latest in a series of economy measures since the 1980s, when the church of St. Anthony of Padua became a co-cathedral in the Longueuil diocese. It means Gendron has taken charge of both cathedrals.

The cathedral can seat 1,800. Although there are 69,000 residents in the city who claim to be Roman Catholic, the cathedral only holds four Masses per week and the average attendance at each Mass is about 60 people.

“The cost of maintaining the cathedral is high, but the Diocese of Longueuil will assume full responsibility for keeping it open as a house of worship,” said Gendron in a statement. “We will be looking for support from the municipality and from corporate donors, so we can find other creative ways to keep the building open for the community at large as a cultural centre or as a museum.”   

The neo-Baroque cathedral was designed by prolific architect Victor Bourgeau and its interior decorated by Napoleon Bourassa, the artist who founded the National Gallery of Canada. It  has been a landmark in the city of St. Jean sur Richelieu, 40 kilometres southeast of Montreal, since it opened in 1866.

Masses will continue to be celebrated in the cathedral and monies from the collection will go towards the upkeep of the building.

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