Over 200 years of formal Catholic presence in Burin ends as curtain closes on St. Patrick's

Monsignor Joe Barton (centre) was a special guest at St. Patrick's in the Town of Burin Sunday as some 50 Catholics gathered for the final mass at the church, marking an end to more than two centuries of formal church presence in the community. Sharing a moment with Monsignor Barton were Rita Lundrigan (left) and Bella Keating. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Monsignor Joe Barton (centre) was a special guest at St. Patrick's in the Town of Burin Sunday as some 50 Catholics gathered for the final mass at the church, marking an end to more than two centuries of formal church presence in the community. Sharing a moment with Monsignor Barton were Rita Lundrigan (left) and Bella Keating. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

More than two centuries of organized Catholic presence in the Town of Burin ended on Sunday as a final mass was held at St. Patrick's church.

But it was an understated affair, with dozens of empty chairs in a sanctuary brimming with religious symbols and a history built on the efforts and faith of many generations from the Burin Peninsula.

The final chapter for the church came without any major pushback since attendance was already dwindling and many felt it was no longer possible to keep paying the bills.

So Catholics are being urged to become members of Sacred Heart church in nearby Marystown, about 10 kilometres away.

As for St. Patrick's, it's for sale, with a listing price of $450,000.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

There were long faces and heavy hearts Sunday afternoon as more than 50 parishioners — almost all of them ages 50 and over — made their way into St. Patrick's. Some were accepting of the fact their church was closing, and ready to begin a new chapter in their faith as members of Sacred Heart.

"This is for the betterment of God's church and we will continue on," said Rita Lundrigan, who gave a detailed history of the Catholic presence in the area during the service.

'We'll make a new beginning in our neighbouring parish of Marystown.' - Rita Lundrigan

"We'll make a new beginning in our neighbouring parish of Marystown."

But not everyone was as understanding.

"I pray every night that church don't sell and it rots to the ground because I'm so heartbroken," said parishioner Gladys Kavanagh.

Kavanagh said she has no intention of joining the church in Marystown and is considering attending services at the Anglican church in Port au Bras.

"I'll still be RC. But I'm almost ashamed to say that I'm RC," she added.

CBC News spoke to several people from the Burin area recently who have left the church, with one former church-goer saying "there's not enough interest to hold a protest (against the church's closure). People don't give a damn anymore."

Archbishop Peter Hundt presided over the service, acknowledging during his remarks the challenges faced by Catholics and describing the church's closure as "a type of funeral."

Hundt, who has declined interview requests, also offered prayers for the victims of physical and sexual abuse, asking that they be granted "God's healing grace."

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

The archbishop has officiated at multiple church-closing services in recent months and St. Patrick's is the latest domino to fall as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's continues to restructure amid a historic sell-off of properties. The courts have determined the archdiocese is vicariously liable for the physical and sexual abuse that occurred at the Mount Cashel orphanage and is also expected to pay compensation for those abused by some parish priests.

More than 100 victims have come forward looking for compensation, and it's expected the archdiocese could face claims exceeding $50 million.

The archdiocese was granted bankruptcy protection a year ago in order to sell off its properties and give the court time to approve a claims process for the victims.

A handful of churches have been purchased by Catholics and will continue to be used for their intended purpose, while many others have been sold off with an unknown future.

It's estimated that the liquidation process has so far raised about half of the money lawyers feel is needed to fairly compensate the victims.

Meanwhile, St. Patrick's was opened in 1991 following a consolidation of churches in the Burin area but it was just one chapter in a church history in the town that began in 1810. St. Patrick's parish was established in 1833.

Seeing that long connection come to an end is difficult for many modern day parishioners.

"I was reflecting over a lot of years," Alice Riggs said as she left Sunday's service.

Riggs kept using the words "very emotional" to describe her mood as she left the St. Patrick's for the final time.

"There's not much you can do about it. You just hope and pray that what they did was for the good of all the people," said Riggs.

As for her future as a Catholic, Riggs said, "I'll try to participate somewhere."

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