Nfld. & Labrador

Diocese 'will go down fighting' over iconic Harbour Grace church

A special reseach group formed by a Roman Catholic diocese is exploring ways to save the historic Immaculate Conception church in Harbour Grace.

Bishop Tony Daniels says research group will explore way to repurpose historic structure

The Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic church in Harbour Grace was closed for liturgical purposes nearly a year ago. (CBC)

A special research group formed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Falls is exploring ways to repurpose and preserve the historic Immaculate Conception church in Harbour Grace.

The diocese closed the iconic cathedral nearly a year ago because of high operating and maintenance costs, and a decline in the number of church-goers.

With its two imposing spires, the defunct cathedral is one of the town's most recognizable landmarks.

It was constructed in 1892, and was designated a registered heritage structure in 1990.

But a recent engineer's report said the old church had no market value and would cost $9 million to restore, despite many years of work and millions of dollars in upgrades to the stone exterior.

A cultural, historic landmark

The church is a cultural and historic landmark in Conception Bay North, and very few people want to see it crumble into the ground, said Bishop Tony Daniels.

​He said the committee will review how similar church buildings that have been repurposed across Canada and around the world, with a view to finding another use for the structure.

"If there's the right asset with the right idea, the money will follow," he said.  

"And so yes, the money is a reality and we'll talk about that. But that then ... the money becomes the challenge to fulfill the dream. And we have to have the dream first," he said during an interview with the Central Morning Show.

Some, he said, have been transformed into libraries, museums or cultural centres, while still maintaining a sacred space for prayer.

"It just has such a powerful history that we want to do what we can to save it," he added.

It may not be possible to find another use, but "we're going to go down fighting."

Symbol fof something larger

Daniels said the church in Harbour Grace is symbolic of what's happening on a larger scale.

"The question becomes that each local community needs to ask is, can we sustain this building?" he said. 

"Is it the right use our of money? We are a church. We are more than a building. If all of our  money is going into a building and not much into ministry and outreach, then we have to re-examine the way we're using our money.

"So I think it's going to become an issue more and more across the diocese," he said.

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