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

Newfoundland Catholics bid farewell to parishes

  • September 30, 2022

As the reality of losing their parishes comes to fruition, Catholics in Newfoundland are feeling a wide array of emotions.

For many, a sense of tragedy is at the forefront — both for today’s parishioners who have lost their place of worship and for those whose suffering has led the Archdiocese of St. John’s to sell off a number of Church properties.

During his final homily as a celebrant at St. Agnes Parish in Pouch Cove, Nfld., Sept. 18, pastor Fr. Paul Lundrigan said he wanted to “speak spontaneously” about the reality of the situation.

“I wanted to acknowledge that we have gone through a real tragedy because of bad choices made years ago for decades. We are now suffering the consequences many years later,” said Lundrigan, alluding to the sexual abuses that took place at the Christian Brothers of Ireland-run Mount Cashel Orphanage that has left the archdiocese on the hook for compensation for the victims.

“Everyone thinks the same about compensating the victims of abuse, even though it happened before a lot of congregants were born — or when they were very small children. As a family, we take care of our own. These victims are our own.”

That pain has spread beyond the victims now, however.

“All our parishioners feel that, but they still feel pain as losing their parish feels like losing a sense of identity. There is anger at Church leaders for choices made long ago, and the fact they had little or no say with what happened to their properties when this all broke down.”

St. Agnes along with St. Pius X Parish in St. John’s were among the Newfoundland Catholic churches that celebrated their final Masses in September as the buildings were sold to pay reparations to Mount Cashel survivors who were abused in the 1940s, ’50s and’ 60s.

In mid-July, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ultimately approved the sale of 43 properties the archdiocese put up for sale after being found vicariously liable for the debts of the Christian Brothers, who were bankrupted by the original settlement, after bids were submitted in early June.

Lundrigan, who also served at St. Michael’s Parish in Flatrock, spoke with The Catholic Register about the transition many Newfoundland Catholics are embarking upon as they assimilate into a new congregation. Lundrigan, set to serve Holy Trinity Parish in Torbay going forward, did not mince words.

“The (change) will be very difficult. I think it will be successful in time, but there are always adjustments that need to be made. Your congregational experience is kind of like a family. Two people who choose to build relationship, each of them already having children of their own, decide to move in together and build a new home hopes it will work,” he said.

“There are dynamics in every family so it will take time to adjust, for people to find a place in the new community setting.”

Fr. John Sullivan, the pastor of Pius X, told the CBC about the “anger, sadness and sense of powerlessness” his congregation — and other Newfoundland Catholics — have experienced over the past year, while also recognizing the “suffering and the pain and the hurt and damage that the abuse victims suffered.”

“So that’s always been present,” he said. “As well, there’s a prayer for the victims and also praying that healing, even more healing, will occur for them through this process.”

The strong emotions being experienced throughout the province due to this seismic realignment has dissuaded St. John’s Archbishop Peter Hundt from accepting any media interviews. Hundt released a statement to The Register in early September explaining his reasoning.

“The sale of churches and the corresponding amalgamation of parishes is a distressing and emotional process for all the people and clergy of the archdiocese. It brings with it feelings of anger, loss, sadness, and for some people, even at times a sense of hopelessness. Out of respect for the parishioners and priests as they deal with these feelings and emotions, we will be declining all media requests for video and audio interviews at this time.”

Meanwhile, on Sept. 13 the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador approved the sale of Mary Queen of the World Parish in Mount Pearl to Calvary Baptist Church. The Mary Queen of the World community will vacate the building after the final Mass Oct. 2.

The parishioners are poised to join nearby St. Peter’s Parish. Fr. Wayne Dohey, who served as priest for both Mary, Queen of the World and St. Peter’s, said there is a plan to change the name of St. Peter’s to signify a fresh start.

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