The Diocese of Antigonish has announced it will close another seven Cape Breton churches, and monitor the situation at several others.
Letters from Bishop Brian Dunn to parishoners and priests said the churches are struggling with a shrinking population, a declining number of priests and financial shortfalls.
The following eight churches in Glace Bay and the North Sydney/Sydney Mines area have either closed or will close:
- Saint John the Baptist, Glace Bay: Closed Nov. 3, 2012.
- St. Leo's, Glace Bay: Closing April 14, 2013.
- St. Anthony's Church, Glace Bay: Closure TBA.
- Holy Family Parish, MacKay's Corner: Closing June 2013.
- Saint Eugene's Parish, Dominion: Closing June 2014.
- Immaculate Conception, Sydney Mines: Closing June 2013.
- Saint Stephen, Florence: Closing June 2013.
- Saint Barra's, Christmas Island: Closure TBA.
According to the letters, St. Anne Parish will remain open and merge all parishioners from Saint John the Baptist and St. Leo's by April.
Holy Cross Church will take on parishioners from St. Anthony's Church.
Pius X Church will be used as a church for the closed Immaculate Conception and Saint Stephen churches.
The letters state that other churches will remain open but will be monitored and in some cases asked to consolidate resources with other parishes or reduce the number of services they provide:
- Saint Gregory's, Donkin.
- Saint Mary's, Port Morien.
- St. Joseph's, Reserve.
- Immaculate Conception, Bridgeport.
- Saint Michael's, Baddeck.
- Saint Andrew's, Boisdale: To open only during the summer.
- Saint Joseph, North Sydney.
- Saint Joseph, Bras d'Or.
- Saint Joachim, Boularderie.
- Saint Ann, Alder Point.
- Saint Peter, Ingonish.
- Saint Margaret of Scotland, St. Margaret's Village.
- Saint Joseph, Dingwell.
Saint Gregory’s and Saint Mary's will remain open and will be served from Holy Cross Parish, with services scheduled on a rotating basis.
Saint Mary's in Frenchvale will remain open, as will Saint Columba's, which will take on parishioners from Saint Barra's.
Declining population main reason for closures
There are a few reasons for the closures but Father Donald MacGillivray, who speaks for the local pastoral planning committee, said the closures are largely driven by a dramatic decline in population.
"From 1961 to 2011, there was a 26 per cent drop in the population in Cape Breton Island and so that's kind of what we're going at," said MacGillivray.
"We have 43 places of Roman Catholic worship in Cape Breton County, not Cape Breton Island, Cape Breton County. It's just hard to maintain that — the cost of oil, the aging of parishioners — all of those are factors."
Bishop Brian Dunn wrote the diocese spent nearly a year examining the best ways to move forward. He said this has been a tough decision, but important for the future of the diocese.
Last year, the diocese announced several church closures in the Sydney area as well.
MacGillivray said while these are difficult decisions, the church must live within its means and find new ways to reach out to parishioners.