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

St. John’s parishes are playing a waiting game

  • June 8, 2022

Catholics in Newfoundland are locked into an unsettling waiting game until the middle of the month, awaiting word on whether bids put in for churches by parish groups will be accepted.

Angus Barrett, the financial chair of Corpus Christi Parish located on St. John’s Waterford Bridge Road, said the congregation expects to learn on June 16 if its ownership bid for its beloved church succeeds or fails.

Eighteen parishes and other properties formerly belonging to the Archdiocese of St. John’s were put up for sale to help pay a settlement that could exceed $50 million to compensate survivors of sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the archdiocese was “vicariously liable” for the abuse claims at the notorious institution that was operated by the Christian Brothers of Ireland.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in December and has resorted to selling off church properties to pay the victims who were left uncompensated when the Christian Brothers went bankrupt and were unable to compensate survivors.

Church communities had until June 2 to file a bid for ownership of their house of worship.

“This is a tough one,” said Barrett, a Corpus Christi parishioner for nearly 50 years. “On one hand, most people understand the need of the victims to be compensated.

“The biggest problem for the parishioners, especially the older parishioners, is the possibility we lose the church. Is that too much of a price to pay? I don’t know if that is the right comment, but it is a big price to pay. These cases go as far back as the 1940s and early ’50s. There is some misunderstanding as to why they were not settled long ago.”

Since the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, individual parishes have turned to parishioners to pay for day-to-day operational expenses such as electricity and heating.

Corpus Christi is targeting a weekly donation sum of at least $4,000 to cover costs, and Barrett said parishioners are also taking on volunteer shifts as administrative assistant and custodian.

Barrett credits the maturity of the Corpus Christi congregation for successfully navigating this financial adversity to date.

“We have a mature parish. The active parishioners are longtime parishioners. They have a vested interest in maintaining the church,” he said.

Even people opting to watch the Mass via livestream are not shying away from making financial contributions. Barrett was heartened recently to see a 96-year-old woman pop into the parish office to drop off her donation. She has not been an in-person churchgoer since the start of the pandemic.

Multiple parishes were not so fortunate with fundraising. St. Edward’s Parish in Conception Bay and Holy Family Parish in Paradise closed before the start of spring. Those two communities joined the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish flock in Conception Bay.

If Corpus Christi is purchased by an individual or entity committed to transforming the house of worship into something else, Barrett said St. Teresa’s Parish and Mary, Queen of the World Parish are both within two or three kilometres as backup options, but both are locked in the same uncertainty.

The Basilica Cathedral of St. John is in a similar position. The Basilica Heritage Foundation, St. Bonaventure College and St. Bon’s Forum Corporation joined forces for a joint bid to purchase the cathedral, St. Bonaventure College and the St. Bon’s Forum indoor rink.

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