Last masses held at St. Pius X and St. Agnes on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula

St. Pius X catholic church and the adjoining former school have been sold to the Association for New Canadians. The final mass was held at the church on Sunday. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
St. Pius X catholic church and the adjoining former school have been sold to the Association for New Canadians. The final mass was held at the church on Sunday. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

Final masses were held Sunday at St. Pius X in St. John's and St. Agnes in Pouch Cove — two Catholic churches on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula — as the buildings have been sold to pay reparations to Mount Cashel abuse survivors.

The provincial Supreme Court approved the sale of 43 church properties in July after a sale-by-tender process, which saw bidders submit offers in early June.

St. Pius X priest Father John Sullivan said the building held a lot of memories for parishioners who took sacraments, from baptism to weddings and funerals at the church.

"It was sort of the place that holds just these most sort of tender moments in a person's life," Sullivan said.

But Sullivan said the congregation recognized the "suffering and the pain and the hurt and damage that the abuse victims suffered" at the hands of members of the Catholic church.

"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."

He said many parishioners were left with a sense of powerlessness over the past year as the church property sale process unfolded, leaving some feeling saddened and angry their church had been sold.

He said it may take time for the remaining faithful to transition to a new parish or church community.

The Association for New Canadians, which helps settle newcomers to the province and country, was the successful bidder on St. Pius X church and adjacent junior high school, something Sullivan called a "silver lining."

"We had a wonderful relationship with them over the past 20 or 25 years in their renting of our old girls' school," he said.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

Still, Sullivan likened the situation to a death in the family. Danny Kavanagh, the finance chair of St. Anges in Pouch Cove and St. Michael's in Flatrock, agrees with that feeling.

"Nothing lasts forever," said Kavanagh this weekend.

"It's a sadness, a finality. It's just the same as if it was a funeral or a requiem service — it's the end."

On Sunday afternoon, Kavanagh attended St. Agnes's closing mass of thanksgiving, which saw nearly every pew filled. He said he believes the successful bidder, G.J. Shortall Ltd., will still use it as a place for the community to gather.

Kavanagh is critical of the Catholic Church's handling of the Mount Cashel abuse scandal and says the cases should have been settled decades ago.

"The victims should have been compensated.… [The church] buried their heads," he said.

"But with things that have gone on in the Catholic Church over the last years, it's been very hard on people to keep their faith, to keep supporting, to keep turning out," he said.

Attendance at churches has been dwindling for years, Kavanagh said, and his parish in Flatrock, St. Michael's, which was purchased by the Town of Flatrock, may be the next to close its doors.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

It normally only sees about 40 people a week, he said, which is no longer enough to fill the collection pot and pay for church expenses.

A church bulletin posted to the parish's Facebook page said they're having a difficult time financially since the trustees for the court confiscated all the accounts of the parish and archdiocese in late December.

"There have been several occasions when our parish account had insufficient funds to cover our expenses," reads the post.

The post said its weekly payroll is due again and funds are still low and if they cannot pay expenses the parish will also be shut down.

Kavanagh says the future of St. Michael's hinges on a meeting this week with their parish priest and a committee raising money to keep the church.

"Religion shouldn't come down to business," he said.

"It's sad, but it has become a business and it's just as well to face that fact."

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