St. Pius X Church in St. John’s, Nfld., is one of four parishes that was sold at auction. Photo from St. Pius X Parish

Four St. John’s churches sold in auction

By 
  • July 6, 2022

The Catholic Church presence in St. John’s, Nfld., is set to shrink significantly come autumn after at least four parish communities had their churches sold from underneath them to compensate Mount Cashel abuse victims, with possibly more to close.

The congregations of St. Patrick’s, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Pius X and Mary, Queen of Peace were informed recently that their churches have been sold at auction to help the Archdiocese of St. John’s compensate the victims of abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Eighteen of 34 St. John’s parishes were put on the auction block June 2 as the archdiocese was forced into bankruptcy by a Supreme Court ruling that held the archdiocese “vicariously liable” for claims of abuse at the now-closed Mount Cashel Orphanage, operated by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. The brothers went bankrupt and were unable to compensate the more than 100 victims abused by members of the Christian Brothers.

It was during a liturgical celebration late last month where St. Pius celebrated its 60th anniversary when pastor Fr. John Sullivan delivered the difficult news to his flock.

“On Friday afternoon, we were told by the Archbishop (Peter Hundt) that St. Pius Church and (the former) St. Pius school has been sold,” Sullivan, a Jesuit, said at the June 19 Mass.

Unlike many of the parishes up for auction, parishioners of St. Pius, St. Patrick’s and Mary, Queen of Peace opted not to submit a bid. St. Francis of Assisi did not respond when The Catholic Register inquired if it mounted an effort to save the church.

Fr. James Fleming, pastor of St. Patrick’s, informed parishioners in a statement on the parish website that the firm Ernst & Young, appointed monitor in the archdiocese’s restructuring, recommended acceptance of bids for the church building, parking lot and vacant land next to the rectory. No offers for the rectory were deemed acceptable.

“While I am deeply saddened by this news, I think our parish made the best decision we could have made with the time, resources and support we had available,” said Fleming. “The Archbishop has requested a meeting with our parish council and finance committee to discuss the tender process results and plan our way forward as a parish.

“If there is a note of encouragement here, it may be that a difficult decision has been made for us, and we can begin looking together towards the future.”

Ernst & Young’s recommendations on all parishes will be subject to the approval of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in the coming weeks. The archdiocese has said it will not be commenting on any of the sales until the court responds.

Sullivan revealed in his parish announcement that he expects St. Pius and the other churches will close by the end of the summer and “a movement will be required to one of the identified parishes” still in operation.

The historic Basilica of St. John the Baptist will be an option for these soon-to-be displaced Catholics as the winning bid on the basilica — jointly submitted by the Basilica Heritage Foundation, St. Bonaventure College and the St. Bon’s Forum Corporation — ensures it will continue operating as a house of worship.

Sullivan said that there will likely be three parishes operating in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital at the end of the restructuring process instead of the nine in operation now. He offered a statement of comfort to anyone feeling anxious about what lies ahead.

“We can be rest assured that there is no jeopardy whatsoever with regard to you having a place to gather in your Catholic Christian faith,” he said.

St. Teresa’s Parish in the Mundy Pond neighbourhood of St. John’s is set to be one of the parishes left standing as the parishioners were informed their rebid was approved by Ernst & Young — the first bid between the churchgoers’ offer and an unknown competitor was so close that the parties had a chance to submit an amended proposal.

Meghan Keating, a longtime parishioner of St. Teresa’s, said “that for me and so many people, we were absolutely thrilled that the bid was successful and had been approved.

“We heard that our bid attracted donation support from all across the country,” she said. “I am so pleased that the bid was substantial because I know the (Mount Cashel) victims and their families will receive that money, and it will help them achieve a sense of reconciliation.”

Keating said St. Teresa’s is ready to welcome new parishioners in the coming months.

“I feel very sorry for the groups and parishes that were unsuccessful in their bids or facing closures. In lots of ways it is just a building, but it many ways it is a specific community that has been built up. St. Teresa’s is a very welcoming faith community. We’ll absolutely be open to anyone who wants to join us.”

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