St. Teresa’s Church in the Mundy Pond area of St. John’s, Nfld. Photo from Facebook

The Rock’s flock up against the clock

  • May 26, 2022

Catholic communities throughout Newfoundland are on the clock to save their parishes.

Eighteen of the 34 parishes of the Archdiocese of St. John’s are for sale as the archdiocese raises the funds to compensate more than 100 victims from the Mount Cashel Orphanage. The archdiocese launched a public competitive bid process for its properties several weeks ago.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last year the archdiocese was “vicariously liable” for claims of abuse at the now-closed orphanage, which was operated by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. The Christian Brothers claimed bankruptcy and were unable to come up with the funds to pay the victims.

“We continue to work with parish priests and parishioner representatives on a restructuring strategy,” wrote Archbishop Peter Hundt in an email to The Catholic Register. “Some parish councils are contemplating the repurchase of certain buildings and properties through the tender process.”

Congregations have the green light to purchase the ownership rights of their place of worship. They must file their bid by noon June 2 to the receivers in Halifax.

Edward Martin is coordinating the effort to save Holy Rosary Parish in Portugal Cove-St. Philips. He said Holy Rosary parishioners sprang into fundraising action a few weeks ago upon hearing the Portugal Cove-St. Philips Chamber of Commerce’s Arts, Wellness and Heritage committee intended to purchase and turn the building into a community centre.

On May 12, Tara Lehman, the executive director of the PCSP Chamber of Commerce, issued a press release stating she became aware that the parishioners wish to “purchase the church building and a small portion of the larger parcel of land.” Lehman wrote that the committee will respect the parish’s bid effort and only pursue ownership of the larger non-parish portion of the land.

While this is a good development for Holy Rosary, Martin is aware that other individuals or entities have the potential to silently submit an offer.

Another save the parish effort is at work at St. Teresa’s Parish in the Mundy Pond community of St. John’s.

Fighting for the future of St. Teresa’s is of paramount importance to longtime parishioner Meghan Keating. This church is where her parents were married by her great uncle and later where her uncle presided over her wedding. She also celebrated her First Communion, participated in youth group and sang in the choir at this parish established in the early 1900s.

Keating, a lawyer, had a mixed reaction.

“It was quite devastating, but given my background and my familiarity with the cases as I at one point worked with the (Budden & Associates) firm that worked with the clients who were abused in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. I came at it from being pleased for the individuals to finally have some sense of justice, although incredibly late for many,” said Keating.

“However, it was also a devastating effect because I knew how it would impact the archdiocese considering the Catholic Church in our area is not among the wealthiest organizations, and on our faith community.”

Richard Power, the finance chair at St. Teresa’s, is directing the purchasing effort. He said it is heartening to see that pledges have been collected from across the country. He credits the coast-to-coast support to Canadians tuning into St. Teresa’s livestreamed services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We put in our original pledge sheets that we were looking for up to $500,000 or more,” said Power. “The more we receive, the better the opportunity we have to repurchase the church. At this stage I can’t really say how much we have because it is all confidential because there may be other people looking to purchase the church as well.

“But we have a comfortable amount with what we have received already and what we have been promised to receive. We will have a reasonable amount to bid for the repurchase of St. Teresa’s.”

St. Edward’s Parish in Conception Bay and Holy Family Parish in Paradise closed in the weeks after the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy last December. These congregations merged with St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Conception Bay and is supporting this parish’s effort to secure its destiny.

David E. Locke, chair of the St. Thomas’ liturgy committee, said “there is optimism” surrounding the effort to acquire ownership of the church. However, if the bid falls short, Locke said the congregation will find a way to keep the Catholic community alive by renting space in other community buildings.

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