As rural churches go up for sale, Cape Broyle faithful ask buyers to stay away

·4 min read
The maintenance committee at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Cape Broyle has expanded its mandate. The church went up for sale this week, and now they're desperately trying to find a way to buy their church and preserve the landmark as a place of worship. Pictured here are, from left, Carolyn Hawkins, Paula Hawkins, Wayne Kenney, Sharon Mulcahy and Elizabeth Whelan. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
The maintenance committee at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Cape Broyle has expanded its mandate. The church went up for sale this week, and now they're desperately trying to find a way to buy their church and preserve the landmark as a place of worship. Pictured here are, from left, Carolyn Hawkins, Paula Hawkins, Wayne Kenney, Sharon Mulcahy and Elizabeth Whelan. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

A group of Catholics in Cape Broyle are asking potential buyers of their church to keep their distance as they try to save Immaculate Conception, in the community on Newfoundland's Southern Shore.

"This avenue of buying the church is completely new to us, and we're doing our best. But we are fully certain that we can, given the time, we can support and buy this church and pay for it," Wayne Kenny, a member of the church committee in the Southern Shore community, told CBC News this week.

The church is one of dozens of properties on the island's southern Avalon Peninsula and Burin Peninsula owned by the episcopal corporation of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's that are being sold to raise money for abuse victims.

It's the second phase of a historic insolvency process as the archdiocese tries to raise millions in compensation for survivors of abuse at the hands of Christian Brothers and other members of the clergy.

An earlier phase saw 43 properties in the St. John's area, including the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, sold off, a process that raised more than $20 million.

Last month, the provincial Supreme Court approved a plan to sell another 70 properties outside St. John's. And on Monday, six churches on the Southern Shore were listed by real estate agent Michelle Mitchum, with $189,800 as the asking price for the church in Cape Broyle.

The Cape Broyle church went up for sale on the same day the community began a weeklong Come Home Year celebration, so for those with a deep connection to the church, casting a cloud of uncertainty and frustration over the celebrations.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

The Come Home Year booklet, for example, features old photographs of Cape Broyle men digging out the foundation for the church in the mid-1940s. The church opened in '47, and for decades was a focal point of the community as newborns were baptized, couples were married, and those who built and maintained the church passed on.

The church's relevance in the community has diminished over the years as the community ages and a younger generation turns away from their Christian faith. But when the reality hit this week that their church might be sold and repurposed by a new owner, shock set in for people like Wayne Kenny and other members of a committee that maintains the church.

They placed posters in the windows and on the entrance to the church, stating loudly and clearly their dedication to the church, and their intentions to raise the money necessary to buy a building they already sacrificed so much to build.

"The community built this place, supported it in good faith, assuming that the church held it in trust for us," said Kenny.

But the church is property of the episcopal corporation, and must be sold.

The church committee has very little money, and their numbers are small. But they have faith that they can come up with the money to buy Immaculate Conception. In order to buy some time, they took to social media this week with a message for potential buyers:

"We are asking any other parties who may want to make an offer to buy the church to please refrain from doing so," the church committee wrote on their Facebook page.

This is new territory for the church committee, Kenny said, but they're not backing down.

"It's a big undertaking, but we're willing to do it. We have dedicated people here, and I think we could probably fill this church again if the people know that is the people running it," he said.

Five committee members gathered in the church Monday, and their frustrations with the archdiocese, and Archbishop Pete Hundt, were quick to surface.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

Kenny said questions to the archdiocese are answered by a lawyer, and they're angry that the archbishop hasn't not been more accessible.

"We are we are the flock of this church. And it's being disrespectful," he said, adding, "I think it's time for the shepherd to come out and speak to His lost sheep."

It's also not forgotten in Cape Broyle that a priest who was a known abuser was sent to the community in the 1980s. The fallout from that scandal turned many people away from the church, said Kenny.

"If the church had to respect the people and take those priests and instead of sending them to another parish, respect the people of those parishes and take care of their business, this church would be full," he said.

But the church is not full — far from it. And there's no clear plan for the committee to raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to buy their church, and maintain it over the long term.

Kenny, however, says he believes people will step up.

"I know they would support their church; maintaining its consecrated state so that they can attend mass," he said.

Archbishop Hundt has declined all of CBC's interview requests, but has acknowledged in statements that this is a distressing time for Catholics.

But that's little comfort to Kenny and other Cape Broyle Catholics, facing an uncertain future for their faith — and praying it's a future that includes their beloved church.

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