A Roman Catholic Church in Tors Cove on the Southern Shore will officially close Friday, Archbishop Martin Currie said.
“It’s an old church. We had an engineering study on repairing it and it’s a huge amount to stabilize it. It’s so old, it’s not on a foundation. It’s on rocks,” said Currie, adding the structure has 30-amp wiring.
The Sacred Heart Church in Tors Cove, thought to have been built in 1908-09, is close to another church in the Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish — St. Michael’s by Bauline on the Southern Shore. It’s also close to the churches in Bay Bulls and Witless Bay.
The Roman Catholic church in this province is grappling with dwindling congregations and straitened finances.
Currie was in a St. Mary’s Bay parish Saturday for the closure service of St. Anne’s at Peter’s River, which the Good Shepherd Parish-St. Mary’s Bay committee decided to close.
There are 10 Roman Catholic churches operating St. Mary’s Bay and only four will continue to
hold mass. St. Vincent’s, St. Mary’s,
St. Joseph’s and Mount Carmel will service the region.
Other churches — in Admiral’s Beach, Colinet, North Harbour, Riverhead and Mall Bay — have not yet been decommissioned, but are expected to close when summer services and functions wind up.
There is only one priest assigned to the Good Shepherd Parish of
St. Mary’s Bay.
“We need to consider, how much can you ask a priest to do? How many churches can you ask him to serve effectively, and build a sense of a community?” Currie asked.
The possibility remains for the smaller mission churches to continue to be used for functions such as weddings and funerals.
Currie said either he or other archdiocese officials will meet with the congregations about the future of those buildings. If the communities take the facilities, they will be responsible for their upkeep.
Currie said the churches may be leased or sold to the communities for $1 and the congregations could continue to contribute to the parish priest’s expenses.
St. Anne’s Church in Peter’s River was built in 1927 and needed a number of repairs, making it too expensive to maintain, Currie said.
Over the past two years, services were rotated around to various churches in the parish, but that didn’t work out, Currie said.
For the next several months, the parish will try a four-church mass system.
Sheila Lee, a member of the Riverhead church and a member of the St. Mary’s Bay parish finance committee, said it is hoped creative ways will be found to retain the buildings for some functions.
“The general consensus in the little communities where churches are closing, there’s a mixed bag of feelings. There’s sadness and madness,” Lee said.
“Everybody thinks the world of their churches and they don’t want to see them close. But I guess now is the challenge — can we do something meaningful with those buildings? As one door closes, can another one open?”
Lee said people realize the financial situation the parish finds itself in — only 10 per cent of the population are practising Catholics.
However, she said closing the churches likely won’t solve the $3,000-per-month deficit in the parish coffers and people from the affected communities may not contribute once their churches close.
“We’ve lost our school, lost our store, now we’re losing our church,” Lee said of Riverhead. “It’s very emotional.”
Currie said the archdiocese understands people need to grieve when their churches close, as many marked significant life events there — communions, baptisms, weddings and funerals — and many people helped construct the buildings or did repairs on them.
But modern life is different, and travel — once by boat or rough roads — is easy and churches in other communities are just a few minutes’ drive away.
“We’re trying to be really respectful,” he said.
Roman Catholic congregations on the Burin Peninsula in the communities of St. Bernard’s, Terrenceville, Parker’s Cove, Southeast Bight, Rushoon and Petite Forte will also have to make some decisions, Currie said.
The archdiocese is also looking to restructure and amalgamate parishes in St. John’s.
Last month, The Telegram reported that the archdiocese's deficit for 2013 was $1.1 million.