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Newfoundland parish property could be split after Catholics rally to save church

The parcel of land surrounding a Catholic church in Newfoundland could be split in two, in order to allow parishioners to attempt to purchase the church building, as numerous churches in the area go on sale in archdiocesan bankruptcy proceedings.

Holy Rosary Parish, Portugal Cove- St. Philips’s, Newfoundland, is among 18 parish churches for sale in the St. John’s archdiocesan bankruptcy. Courtesy photo.

Holy Rosary Catholic Church in the village of Portugal Cove-St. Philips is one of 18 parish churches in the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, up for sale, part of an effort to resolve an archdiocesan bankruptcy filing and a court order to compensate victims of sexual abuse at a closed Catholic orphanage in Newfoundland.

Some members of the parish said they wanted to keep the church open as a sacred space. But a group of business leaders in their small seaside community said it wanted to purchase and redevelop the property as a community space, with a focus on “heritage,” “arts and culture,” and “health, wellness, and mindfulness.”

In a May 12 statement, the Portugal Cove-St. Philips Chamber of Commerce said that after discussions with the parish priest, the Arts, Wellness and Heritage Committee believes the best course of action is to divide the land in two.

The statement came after The Pillar reported on parishioners’ efforts to buy their church building.

The committee plans to bid on the larger portion of land for its cultural center, while leaving the smaller portion – which includes the church building – for parishioners to place a bid, the May 12 statement said.

“In the beginning stages of the project, we made a number of inquiries to determine if a bid would be placed by Holy Rosary Parish or anyone else intending to maintain the property,” the local chamber of commerce said.

Initially, they said, they were told that no one had planned a bid to maintain the church building.

“However, on May 4th we were made aware of a plan by a representative of the parish council to facilitate a bid submission on behalf of parishioners to purchase the church building and a small portion of the larger parcel of land,” the statement continued.

“Given they have come forward to do this, we feel it best for the [PCSP Arts, Wellness and Heritage] Committee to step away from the church building portion of the parcel and allow the parish group to continue with the process of ensuring the church building remains for the use of the community.”

The statement noted that discussions with the local priest had determined that the parish could not afford to purchase the entire parcel of land if it remains undivided.

Local Catholic Ed Martin told The Pillar that he and other parishioners have set up a GoFundMe campaign in an ongoing effort to save their church building. While there are only about 50 people who regularly attend Mass there, he said, there are few other Catholic churches in the area for people to go to.

“I think it’s gonna be difficult for communities where I am if our church disappears, and other parish churches disappear,” he said.

An effort is also underway to purchase the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, a historical building constructed in 1855 and located in downtown St. John’s.

According to local news reports, the Basilica Heritage Foundation, St. Bonaventure’s College and the St. Bon’s Forum Corporation are working together on a joint bid to purchase the basilica and surrounding properties in order to maintain them as a cultural and historic center. If the bid is successful, the parish church will remain in use for Catholic worship.

The Newfoundland archdiocese was in 2021 found liable for a religious community which operated Mount Cashel, a notoriously abusive orphanage in the archdiocese that closed in 1990. After it became responsible to compensate more 100 men sexually abused at the orphanage in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2021 — compensation claims were expected to exceed $50 million CAD.

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