St. Mary's Bay Catholics face harsh restructuring reality as churches are closed, sold off

·3 min read
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, St. Mary's Bay, has overlooked this community since 1883. But the church has been quiet for months, and is now for sale as the archdiocese sells off all its assets in a bid to raise money to compensate Mount Cashel abuse victims. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Mount Carmel, St. Mary's Bay, has overlooked this community since 1883. But the church has been quiet for months, and is now for sale as the archdiocese sells off all its assets in a bid to raise money to compensate Mount Cashel abuse victims. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

It's typically a special occasion when the top minister with the archdiocese comes to town, but it was hardly a celebration Thursday when Roman Catholics in the St. Mary's Bay community of Mount Carmel-Mitchell's Brook-St. Catherine's welcomed Archbishop Peter Hundt.

Like all areas of the archdiocese of St. John's, the church's footprint in the St. Mary's Bay area is shrinking significantly, with only two of eight churches expected to continue functioning.

This unprecedented restructuring is the result of a court decision that ruled the archdiocese is vicariously liable for the abuse that occurred at Mount Cashel orphanage, and the natural decline of the church in the region.

In order to raise the millions required to compensate the victims, the archdiocese is selling off dozens of properties on the Avalon and Burin peninsulas.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

So amid all the upheaval, Hundt travelled to St. Vincent's and Mount Carmel this week to explain the new reality to Catholics, and answer their questions.

Following a two-hour meeting with parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Hundt responded with a blunt "nope" when asked for an interview, continuing a months-long pattern of declining media interview requests.

Many Catholics, meanwhile, are filled with anxiety and disappointment. Healing sessions are planned for next week, said Elaine Nash, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and mayor of Mount Carmel-Mitchell's Brook-St. Catherine's

"People are feeling betrayed and upset. It's almost like they've lost a member of their family," Nash said following Thursday's meeting, which attracted some 50 people from Admiral's Beach to North Harbour.

This area of St. Mary's Bay, and the entire Irish Loop, is rich in Catholic history.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, for example, opened in 1883.

But an era is ending as Catholics accustomed to attending a church in their community adapt to a circumstance where they have to drive up to 20 minutes to attend mass in the communities of Saint Mary's and St. Joseph's. Churches in those communities are being purchased by a prominent fishing family, the Daleys, and the new owners have agreed to allow the churches to be used for their original purpose.

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

"Hopefully we can accept the way forward for the future and still be able to keep our faith and value having a church in your area," said Sheila Lee of Riverhead, who is a member of the church restructuring committee in the area.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel has sat empty for months, with no money to operate it, no priest to preside over mass, and only a handful of parishioners.

Now it's for sale: less than $100,000.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

So despite the unease, there's a sense that change is inevitable.

"For many people it's kind of a heartbreak, but at the same point in time, I think the writing is on the wall," said Lee.

The fate of the churches in the area is now in the hands of real estate agents, and their ability to attract a buyer.

"It's sad to see that our church is gone, but it's the way it has to be. We have to move forward," said Nash.

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