The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s will be talking to congregations in St. Mary’s Bay where several churches will no longer be used for mass and the possibility still remains of continuing to use the smaller churches for wedding and funerals.
Archbishop Martin Currie said the churches may be leased or sold to the communities for $1 and while services will no longer be held there, there may be an arrangement for certain functions — such as weddings and funerals.
Currie was in Peter’s River to close the church there for its final mass Saturday night and said the archdiocese recognizes people are grieving the closure. Four of the churches in St. Mary’s Bay have been designated to continue mass services — St. Vincent’s, St. Mary’s, St. Joseph’s and Mount Carmel.
Other churches have not yet been decommissioned, but are expected to close once summer services and functions wind up. There is only one priest in the parish. “How much can you ask a priest to do? How many churches can you ask him to serve effectively ?” Currie said.
Currie said either he or other parish officials will speak to the congregations about the future for their buildings. If the communities take the facilities, they will be responsible for their upkeep. The St. Anne’s Church in Peter’s River was built in 1927 and needed a number of repairs, making it expensive to maintain, Currie said, adding the parish reached the decision. “We’re trying to be sensitive to people’s needs,” he said.
Uncertain future for St. Mary's Bay churches
St Anne's Church in Peter’s River, a Roman Catholic Church in St. Mary’s Bay, had its last official service on the weekend.
Other churches due to wind up after the summer include Queen of Holy Rosary, Admiral’s Beach; St. Joseph the Worker, Riverhead; Sacred Heart Church, North Harbour and Holy Family, Mall Bay.
After the summer’s schedule of masses and cemetery services, the parish priest for the area will also no longer be responsible for those four churches.
Sheila Lee, a member of the Riverhead church and a member of the St. Mary’s Bay parish finance committee, said its hoped creative ways will be found to retain the buildings for some functions. Meetings will be held with the community, Lee said.
“Everybody really thinks the world of those little churches,” Lee said. “I guess now the challenge is can we do something meaningful for those buildings. When one door closes, can another good one open? It’s too early to say now what is going to happen.”
A wedding in Riverhead church next month is expected to be the last performed there by a priest.
Lee said people realize the financial situation that parish finds itself in — only 10 per cent of the population are practising Catholics and there are 10 churches in St. Mary’s Bay.
However, she said closing the churches likely won’t solve the $3,000 per month deficit in the parish coffers and people from the affected communities may not contribute once their churches go.
“We’ve lost our school, lost our store, now we’re losing our church,” Lee said of Riverhead. “It’s very emotional.”
In recent years, churches have scaled back services — Riverhead has only one mass per month.
St. Mary’s Bay parish is part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s.
Last month, The Telegram reported that the deficit for 2013 was $1.1 million.
In an interview at the time, Archbishop Martin Currie remarked on the number of rural churches that no longer have large enough congregations to sustain the expense.