The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist will remain a place of worship while a number of St. John’s churches will end up in private hands after being sold to compensate abuse victims. Photo from Wikipedia

Court approves sale of St. John’s properties

By 
  • July 20, 2022

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has ratified the sale of 43 properties owned by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John’s, including 12 parish churches, with dozens more looming.

The properties, including 18 of 34 of the archdiocese’s parish churches, were put on the auction block after the Archdiocese of St. John’s filed for bankruptcy following it being found “vicariously liable” for claims of abuse at the now-closed Mount Cashel Orphanage.

All the money pledged by the winning bidders — $20,622,332 according to court-appointed monitor Ernst & Young — will help the archdiocese compensate victims of sexual and physical abuse at Mount Cashel in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. On July 28, 2020, the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled the archdiocese was responsible for the Christian Brothers of Ireland’s debts for abusive actions at the since demolished orphanage.

In a letter to all Catholics in the diocese published on July 16, Archbishop Peter Hundt stated, “only a few of these proposed church sales are to buyers intending to have the building continue to be used as a Catholic church.”

Parishioners learned the fate of their home parish from the archdiocese and an Ernst & Young representative at various points in the second half of June.

Hundt reflected on the difficulties experienced throughout the archdiocese in recent months.

“This sale of churches and the corresponding amalgamation of parishes is a distressing and emotional process for all the people and clergy of the archdiocese,” he wrote. “It brings with it feelings of anger, loss, sadness, and for some people, even at times a sense of hopelessness.

“During this difficult and challenging time, I am extremely grateful to all the clergy and parishioners, who are working hard to move forward this process by which we are seeking to meet our legal obligations to the victims of abuse and restructure our diocese in a positive and sustainable manner.”

Hundt went on to ask Catholics to join him “in praying for God’s healing grace for the victims of abuse and for the gifts of understanding, wisdom and patience for all of us as we continue to journey through this time of restructuring and change.”

Bundt said the monitor will present a strategy to the court to sell 70 more properties, including all the churches, halls and rectories on the Burin Peninsula and the southern Avalon peninsula.

The Basilica Heritage Foundation purchased the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and will keep it a house of worship. Congregants of St. Teresa’s Church established St. Teresa’s Mundy Pond Corporation and successfully secured ownership of the 98-year-old church during a re-bid stage. The parishioners at Holy Rosary Parish in Portugal Cove also pulled off this feat, while the Archdiocesan Renewal Corp. was the winning bidder for St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Conception Bay South.

St. Patrick’s Parish in downtown St. John’s now belongs to Howard Real Estate Holdings Inc. Stewart McKelvey, Atlantic Canada’s largest law firm, purchased Corpus Christ Parish on behalf of an unknown buyer. In the city’s east end, the Association of New Canadians secured St. Pius X Parish and nearby St. Pius X Junior High School.

Numbered companies bought Mary Queen of Peace Church in St. John’s and St. Joseph’s Church in Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove. St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Outer Cove was awarded to Rocky Hill Holdings, Inc. The Town of Flatrock bought the local St. Michael’s Church and Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. Food products supplier GJ Shorthall Ltd. now owns St. Agnes Church in Pouch Cove.

According to the Ernst & Young report, 19 properties did not receive acceptable bids. The six parishes among this lot include St. Peter’s Church and Mary Queen of the World Church in Mount Pearl, St. Paul’s Church in St. John’s, Holy Family Church in Paradise, St. Edward’s in Conception Bay South and Holy Trinity in Torbay. It said the archdiocese intends to collaborate with a realtor to liquidate the 19 residual parcels, as well as 70 rural properties it owns in the Burin and Avalon regions.

When Corpus Christ Parish closes after Aug. 14, Angus Barrett will make the move with his family to St. Teresa’s. Learning the congregational bid was unsuccessful was difficult but not unexpected.

“I’ll tell you that people are realistic too,” said Barrett. “They look around and see there isn’t many — if any — young people attending Mass. They know it is going to be a financial challenge to keep the church open. Disappointed, yes. Surprised, I don’t think so.”

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