Nfld. & Labrador

4 St. John's Catholic churches sold and set to close doors by September, parishioners told

Parishioners who attended mass at four St. John's churches this weekend learned their places of worship have been sold as part of the Catholic archdiocese's move to settle Mount Cashel sexual abuse claims.

Rocked by abuse claims, archdiocese plans to cut St. John's parishes from 9 to 3

A stone church, with its steep steps in the foreground.
St. Patrick's Church is located on Patrick Street, near downtown St. John's. The church property has been sold as part of a liquidation of assets by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Parishioners who attended mass at four Roman Catholic churches in the St. John's area this weekend learned their places of worship have been sold as part of the archdiocese's sell-off of properties, and that they may have to close their doors by September.

Catholics were also informed that the plan is to reduce the number of parishes in the capital city from nine to three in the coming months.

The move is part of one of the most dramatic shakeups in the 238-year history of the Archdiocese of St. John's, which has been focused on settling massive sexual abuse claims related to the Mount Cashel Orphanage. 

"On Friday afternoon, we were told by the archbishop that St. Pius church and [the former] St. Pius school has been sold," Father John Sullivan, a Jesuit priest who ministers at the church on Smithville Crescent, told those attending a Sunday that was broadcast on the parish's Facebook page. 

Sullivan made the announcement on the same day the parish was celebrating its 60th anniversary, a coincidence he described as "a little awkward and a little weird."

Parishioners also learned that unknown bids submitted for St. Patrick's church on Patrick Street, Mary Queen of Peace church on Torbay Road and St. Francis of Assisi in nearby Outer Cove were accepted by Ernst and Young, the firm overseeing the court-monitored sale of church properties.

St. Pius X Catholic church on Smithville Crescent in St. John's and an attached building has been sold to an unknown bidder, and will likely close in September. (Google Maps)

CBC has confirmed that the congregations at St. Pius, St. Patrick's and Mary Queen of Peace did not submit bids on their churches. It's not known if that was the case for St. Francis of Assisi, although one source said St. Francis of Assisi is being acquired "by a developer."

"While I am deeply saddened by this news, I think our parish made the best decisions we could have made with the time, resources, and support we had available," Father James Fleming of St. Patrick's wrote in a letter to parishioners on Saturday.

We can now look to future, priest says 

The Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court will need to approve the sales, but Fleming wrote "it seems likely that the sale of these properties will proceed as outlined above. 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 toward the future."

Sullivan said he expects St. Pius will close at the end of the summer, and "a movement would be required to one of the new identified parishes."

A man dressed in priest's robes speaks at a lectern in a Roman Catholic church.
Father John Sullivan, a Jesuit priest who ministers at St. Pius X Catholic church on Smithville Crescent, informed the congregation Sunday that the church's sale will likely close by September. (St. Pius X church/Facebook)

More than two dozen properties in the St. John's region are being sold to the highest bidder as the archdiocese liquidates its holdings in an effort to raise money to compensate victims of abuse.

The claims for victims of abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage, and those assaulted by parish priests, is expected to be in the range of $50 million.

The deadline for bids was June 2, and details about the sales process have been slowly trickling out.

A spokesperson for Ernst and Young said Tuesday a full report should be published by the end of June.

The most prominent parcel up for grabs is the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a complex which also includes a private school and a skating rink.

An unknown bidder has submitted a successful offer on Mary Queen of Peace church on Torbay Road in St. John's. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Three organizations with deep roots in the Catholic faith revealed last week that their joint offer of more than $3 million was the successful bid for the basilica complex, which means the buildings will continue to serve their intended purposes.

CBC News has also confirmed that a group of parishioners at Holy Rosary in Portugal Cove have successfully bid on the church, while a new Portugal Cove arts, wellness and heritage committee submitted the winning bid on the Holy Rosary rectory, parish hall and most of the property.

In some cases, the amounts were so close that Ernst and Young asked the bidders to increase their offers, CBC News has learned.

Meanwhile, Sullivan said during mass on Sunday that the number of parishes in the capital city will shrink to three in the coming months as churches are sold off and a restructuring is undertaken.

The western area of the city will be served by either Corpus Christi on Waterford Bridge Road or St. Teresa's on Mundy Pond Road, depending on the outcome of the bids.

The first church service at St. Francis of Assisi in Outer Cove took place on Dec. 24, 1919. The church is now being sold to an unknown bidder. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Catholics in the centre of the city will attend the Basilica, said Sullivan, while it's likely the eastern parish will be located at St. Paul's church on Newfoundland Drive, which is attached to a junior high school. It did not receive a bid.

"But 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," said Sullivan.

In his letter, Fleming described the sales process as "painful and frustrating."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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