Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights -
The local development corporation here is going to extreme lengths to ensure the continued operation of the Roman Catholic church in this tiny Placentia Bay community.
That's despite the fact that an average of only 30 to 40 people attend weekend mass on a regular basis, and the parish has been snowed under by mounting debt and growing maintenance concerns.
The corporation announced last week it will purchase the parish hall and an adjacent block of land for $130,000, plus HST of nearly $17,000. It will also contribute a "gift" of $7,000 to the parish once the purchase agreement is finalized.
It follows a $14,000 contribution to the parish last year to help it cover expenses, and an investment of $20,000 three years ago in order to carry out roof repairs and sewage system upgrades at the parish hall.
In all, the corporation will have spent nearly $194,000 on the purchase and other support for the church since 2007.
It may seem like an unusual investment for an organization whose mandate is to promote economic development in the town. But nearly all of the approximately 280 residents here are Catholic, and the corporation is flush with money following the sale last year of the former ERCO port facility.
The corporation netted some $2.35 million from the sale of the wharf to Vale Inco, which is constructing a US$2.8 billion nickel processing plant near the community.
Gary Keating, the town's mayor and head of the Long Harbour Development Corp., said helping ensure the continued operation of St. Francis Xavier parish was a natural thing to do.
"We knew they were in some trouble, and the possibility of probably losing the church and/or the parish hall was not something we felt would be in the interest of the town," Keating said.
"A contribution of this sort is unheard of in this province."
The town, which has been in an economic tailspin for years, is enjoying a reawakening because of its proximity to the megaproject. New homes are being built, business is picking up, and local residents are finding jobs at the construction site.
There's mixed views on whether the town - located about an hour's drive west of St. John's - will experience significant growth. But after losing its schools, lounge and even its lone gas bar over the years, Keating said there's a determination to hold onto the church and the parish hall.
"The amount of people going to church has changed. But there are faithful people here. It's part of their life and we wanted that to continue in terms of having the facilities to profess their faith and be able to have a social building," he said.
One resident, who asked not to be named, questioned the investment. He suggested the money would be better spent on infrastructure upgrades, such as pavement.
Doreen Greene, who chairs the parish council, said the corporation has been "very kind" to the church. Without its support, she said continued operation would be difficult.
"We would be in debt about $100,000, plus we would have a church with a leaky roof and badly in need of repairs," she said.
As part of the agreement, the parish will pay down its debt by $80,000, and spend $50,000 on church repairs.
A volunteer committee will be established to operate the hall, and the corporation has committed to paying any future operating deficits.
"We all want to preserve the unity and friendly character of our community, and the church is one aspect of that," Greene said.