Articles and letters re church closures in Cape Breton, N.S. (Antigonish Diocese)

Share Button

 Turn off the money tap

Cape Breton Post

Letters to the Editor

Published on February 1, 2013

Letters to the Editor (The Cape Breton Post)

William Higgins’s letter (Closing St. Barra Church morally wrong, Jan. 29) definitely expressed the views of the faithful within the Diocese of Antigonish.

I’m staggered by the decisions made by the bishop and the deanery committees. Churches are spiritual homes and links to our spiritual heritage. They are not just buildings.

My church, St. Anthony’s Parish, is closing in June. It’s a vibrant parish community with five altar servers and a well-established religious education program, and the bills get paid.

There is a new glebe house, and parishioners maintain the church cemetery. The dedicated women of St. Anne Sodality cater to functions in the parish hall.

Why is it closing? The diocese has failed to give us a reasonable answer.

Of course, the lack of clergy is a contributing factor.

But, I agree with Higgins that the bishop and his advisers need to revisit their decisions.

Good Catholics need to demand answers, and, if we are not satisfied, we need to take action. Every corporation needs money to function. Stop the money flow and they will listen. That may seem harsh, but tough times require tough measures.

Mary Taylor

Glace Bay


Closing St. Barra Church morally wrong

Cape Breton Post

Letters to the Editor

Published on January 29, 2013

I’m responding to the latest story on church closures (Diocese announces church closures, Jan. 21).

St. Barra Parish in Christmas Island is one of the churches listed for closure. Hearing this, I was shocked, then sad, and then angry.

Rev. Reginald Currie’s letter (St. Agnes parishioners didn’t pay for Sangaree Island, Jan. 19) explained why St. Agnes Parish in New Waterford could not own Sangaree Island.

Currie informed readers about the events that occurred, and why Catholic parishes are not able to own property.

The Diocese of Antigonish is a business corporation, and considerable thought and planning on how to acquire land, buildings and wealth is part of the package, which Rome controls.

The diocese has all the power, money and legal rights. Parishes don’t control their financial resources and can’t own property. They are expected to accept decisions made by the bishop and deanery committees.

St. Barra is central on Route 223, in the middle of Cape Breton, with St. Columba Parish in Iona and St. Andrew’s Parish in Boisdale on either side.

St. Columba is not slated for closure, and St. Andrew’s will be open for worship during the summer.

Last year, the three parishes were asked to submit reasons detailing why they should remain open. Submissions were provided to the deanery for review.

I wasn’t happy with the process because it pitted neighbouring parishes against each other.

At a community meeting last year, Rev. Paul Abbass — the priest for the three parishes — was asked for financial information to determine how much it costs to operate and maintain each church.

St. Barra’s impending closure is unacceptable. It’s a modern church. It was built in the 1970s, is well insulated, and its design makes for reasonable heating costs.

Why would the diocese close one of its newest churches?

St. Barra is the oldest parish on the Bras d’Or Lake. In two years, it will celebrate its bicentennial. St. Barra has the distinction of having had only two parish priests from 1909 to 1998 — Rev. Angus R. MacDonald and Rev. Alex A. Ross. These no-nonsense Gaelic-speaking priests were well-respected and not shy about giving advice to the bishop.

My anger is not Christian. I intend to speak my mind, and if the church heirarchy is offended or chooses to ignore my complaints, so be it.

The multi-million dollar settlement to compensate victims of sexual abuse was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Parish financial resources were drained, church properties and buildings were sold, and we are suffering as a result.

All the diocese’s wealth and resources were from generous donations made by generations of hard-working Catholics and their immigrant forebears. They built the churches, glebe houses, schools, convents and parish halls.

The diocese may have the legal right to close the church, but I feel it’s morally wrong. Local director of pastoral planning Rev. Donald MacGillivray, the three local deaneries, and Bishop Brian Dunn need to revisit this decision.

William R. (Bill) Higgins

Christmas Island


Adaptation key to dealing with painful church closures

The Cape Breton Post

Letters to the Editor (The Cape Breton Post)

Published on January 25, 2013

Regarding the editorial on church closures (Seeking closure, Jan. 22), there are differences between what transpired with the Presbyterian church in East Lake Ainslie and the closures that Catholic churches are facing in the Diocese of Antigonish.

As far as I know, the Presbyterian church wasn’t facing closure. And, having burned to the ground, there was insurance to assist in the rebuild. Parishioners of Our Lady of Fatima in Sydney River and St. Anne’s in Glace Bay can tell their own stories of contending with church fires and rebuilding structures, as could members of other parishes in the diocese.

Don’t think for a moment that there hasn’t been vociferous opposition by the many parishioners involved to the closure of their churches. Meetings took place in all affected parishes in an effort to put forward the best reasons why particular parishes should be spared.

While Catholics who have a sincere attachment to their church buildings have certainly been talking about losing their places of worship, most of them have been doing it over kitchen tables, in church lobbies, at social gatherings and at other places where parishioners run into one another.

However, for the most part, it would seem they’ve left it to the committees appointed or elected within the various parishes to present the rationale for keeping their particular church open. But, no, they haven’t taken to the streets in protest marches, although I’m sure the bishop has seen an increase in his daily snail mail and email.

The committee formed to deal with closures has certainly been on the receiving end of much criticism, quite possibly due to the process which pitted one parish against another.

One constant criticism is that adherents of parishes on the chopping block had no idea of the criteria on which the committees would base their final decisions until after those decisions were made. The fact that so many parishioners facing the closure of their buildings are the very ones who worked long and hard to build both the buildings and the worshipping communities hasn’t made closure easy to accept.

From what I’ve heard, there’s been more than a small amount of angst, anger and frustration displayed whenever the committee sessions have taken place, and, as expected in such matters, bad feelings abound when the axe finally drops.

But when all’s said and done, the decision on which church an individual chooses to attend rests, as it should, with that person. And since so many of us have changed parishes at least once in our lives, surely we can do so again.

It would be very easy to blame church closures on the recent abuse scandal, but talk of closures has been on the books for more than 30 years. And while the scandal could be blamed for some Catholics abandoning church in recent times, the writing has long been on the wall.

While many are feeling deep sadness and a tremendous sense of loss that their place of worship will no longer be part of their lives, others have accepted the fact that something had to give.

For sure, many Catholics have given up on the Catholic Church because of the rigidity of its teachings and its refusal to change, but some of us who no longer accept all the Church’s doctrines and dogmas still desire a worshipping community, and that’s what our parishes provide for us.

I think the most disheartening aspect of the whole process is that, in some instances, Christianity has suffered, as some Catholics insist that closure shouldn’t happen to them, but to their fellow Catholics a few kilometres away.

It’s not going to be easy, when the times comes, to drive or walk by the buildings that were so much a part of our lives, but even for those of us not especially enamoured of aspects of Catholicism, the opportunity will be there to come together, as we have for years.

In the meantime, a special mediator, Brother Loughlan Sofield, is coming to town in February to assist parishioners — at least those of St. Joseph’s, Sacred Heart and St. Anthony Daniel in Sydney — make the transition to the new parish community, and parishioners are being urged to choose a new name for this parish. And life goes on.

Dolores Campbell



Seeking closure

The Cape Breton Post


Published on January 22, 2013

Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post

It would appear that, by and large, Roman Catholics in Cape Breton are becoming increasingly resigned to multiple church closures across the island as reportedly recommended by local deanery committees and ultimately ordered by the Diocese of Antigonish.

The Cape Breton Post receives occasional letters to the editor imploring the powers that be to reconsider their decision to close a particular church, but, for the most part, such appeals don’t appear to be part of larger, co-ordinated efforts.

If Catholics are indeed largely resigned to seeing several beloved church buildings closed — either on a part-time basis or for good — that resignation has both positive and negative aspects.

On the positive side, resignation to church closures is an indication that parishioners are accepting the inevitable — that the dwindling population of active Catholics doesn’t justify the number of churches that were built when the island’s population was growing, when most people actively associated with a particular religion, and labour, building materials and fuel were cheap.

It’s more than a little ironic that when so many churches are closing, a new East Lake Ainslie Presbyterian Church was erected recently just a year after the previous church building burned to the ground. And most weeks, no more than 30 people attend church services there.

It’s not that the Presbyterian Church in Canada is any more robust than the Roman Catholic Church nowadays; it faces many of the same pressures, including population decline, secularism and disillusionment. But the members would have been able to construct an energy-efficient building designed to serve their needs. And though the congregation did require approval from the Presbyterian Church’s higher levels, the Protestant denominations are generally more autonomous at the local level, both organizationally and financially.

On the negative side, resignation to church closures is an indication that the lion’s share of the individual congregations lack the vigour that’s usually associated with relative youth, a robust membership, and a collective sense of ownership and belonging.

In other words, if a congregation can’t — or simply decides not to — mount a persistent, co-ordinated counteraction, it’s perhaps an indication to the powers that be that they made the right decision in the first place.

And it’s not that such an effort is without hope. There is at least one example of a local congregation convincing the diocese to spare its church, at least for the time being.

Early last year, the diocese announced that it would close St. Mary’s Polish Church in Whitney Pier — among others — by July 2012. But St. Mary’s is still open, and will remain so, at least up until the church wraps up its 100th anniversary celebrations later this year, after which all bets are off.

But to gain even that reprieve — and ideally an indefinite existence — from the diocese, the parishioners had to mount a passionate, vigorous, organized campaign. It’s no guarantee, but if a reprieve is going to be granted, apparently that’s what it takes.


Eight churches to close in Cape Breton

21 January 2013

By Staff The Canadian Press

Share this Article

SYDNEY, N.S. – The Roman Catholic Church is closing eight churches in Cape Breton.

An official with the Diocese of Antigonish says letters were sent to parishioners on Sunday.

Rev. Donald MacGillivray says the churches are in Sydney, Glace Bay and the Northside area of the island.

The closures come after a two-year review.

Macgillivray says the reasons for the changes include a dwindling population, a shortage of priests and a lack of funds.

He says more closures are sure to follow.


Parishioners fear more church closures

The Halifax Chronicle Herald

January 21, 2013 – 6:57pm

By MARY ELLEN MacINTYRE Cape Breton Bureau

Congregations in Antigonish diocese ponder future

As Roman Catholic churches in Cape Breton and Victoria counties continue to close, parishioners in other areas of the Antigonish diocese are beginning to fear for what is coming.

“It was a two-year process just dealing with Cape Breton County (and Victoria County) and we’re really at the preliminary stages for the rest of Cape Breton Island,” said Rev. Don MacGillivray, pastoral planning director for the diocese.

“There will be committees put together in Richmond and Inverness counties and other areas of the diocese to go over the issues,” MacGillivray said during a telephone interview Monday.

Bishop Brian Dunn announced the upcoming closure of seven churches in Glace Bay, Sydney Mines and Florence on Sunday. Even the little St. Barra church on Christmas Island will close its doors this year.

These are in addition to the six closures in Sydney announced last year.

The parishioners of one of those churches, St. Mary’s Polish Church in Whitney Pier, are still working to keep the only Polish church in the Maritimes open. The planning committee of St. Mary’s is scheduled to meet with Bishop Dunn to discuss keeping the church open.

Citing a dwindling and aging population base, low church attendance, high operating costs and fewer parish priests, MacGillivray said the last thing anyone wants to do is close a church.

Meanwhile, people throughout the region are beginning to look around and wonder which one will be next.

“Oh, it’s been talked about closing the church in the winter months to save on fuel, but to be honest, I’ve never heard it was a possibility to close for good,” said Charles Roach of Cheticamp.

“They couldn’t close St. Peter’s; it means so much to these people and it’s a real tourist attraction,” said Roach.

The church is over 120 years old and was built from stone hewn from the rock on Cheticamp Island and brought across the frozen harbour by horse and sled.

“There were a couple of years spent cutting that rock and then it was taken over on the ice for the stone masons to work on,” said Roach, a local historian.

Roach said the Acadians who live in the community today have just as much attachment to the beautiful old church as their ancestors did.

“This church means a lot to people. Just last year we had to fundraise to buy a new furnace for the church and they raised about $60,000 in just a few months.”

The remains of the first pastor of St. Peter’s church, Father Pierre Fiset, who was and still is much-revered by Acadians, lie behind the altar in the sacristy.

“Maybe they could shut it down for a few months in the winter to save fuel because it costs a fortune to heat that place, but I don’t think we’ll see our church close,” he said.



Diocese confirms several Cape Breton churches to close

CBC – Sun, 20 Jan, 2013

St. Leo’s Parish, closing in April, is among eight churches to close.

The Diocese of Antigonish has announced it will close another seven Cape Breton churches, and monitor the situation at several others.

Letters from Bishop Brian Dunn to parishoners and priests said the churches are struggling with a shrinking population, a declining number of priests and financial shortfalls.

The following eight churches in Glace Bay and the North Sydney/Sydney Mines area have either closed or will close:

Saint John the Baptist, Glace Bay – closed Nov. 3, 2012

St. Leo’s, Glace Bay – to close Apr. 14, 2013

St. Anthony’s Church, Glace Bay – closure TBA

Holy Family Parish, MacKay’s Corner – to close June, 2013

Saint Eugene’s Parish, Dominion – to close June, 2014

Immaculate Conception, Sydney Mines – to close June, 2013

Saint Stephen, Florence – to close June, 2013

Saint Barra’s, Christmas Island – closure TBA

According to the letters, St. Anne Parish will remain open and merge all parishioners from Saint John the Baptist and St. Leo’s by April, 2013.

Holy Cross Church will take on parishioners from St. Anthony’s Church.

Pius X Church will be used as a church for the closed Immaculate Conception and Saint Stephen churches.

The letters state that other churches will remain open but will be monitored and in some cases asked to consolidate resources with other parishes or reduce the number of services they provide:

Saint Gregory’s, Donkin

Saint Mary’s, Port Morien

St. Joseph’s, Reserve

Immaculate Conception, Bridgeport

Saint Michael’s, Baddeck

Saint Andrew’s, Boisdale – to open only during the summer

Saint Joseph, North Sydney

Saint Joseph, Bras d’Or

Saint Joachim, Boularderie

Saint Ann, Alder Point

Saint Peter, Ingonish

Saint Margaret of Scotland, St. Margaret’s Village

Saint Joseph, Dingwell

Saint Gregory’s and Saint Mary’s will remain open and will be served from Holy Cross Parish, with services scheduled on a rotating basis.

Saint Mary’s, Frenchvale will remain open, as will Saint Columba’s which will take on parishioners from Saint Barra’s.

There are a few reasons for the closures but Father Donald MacGillivray, who speaks for the local pastoral planning committee, said the closures are largely driven by a dramatic decline in population.

“You know, from 1961 to 2011, there was a 26 per cent drop in the population in Cape Breton Island — and so that’s kind of what we’re going at,” said MacGillivray.

“We have 43 places of Roman Catholic worship in Cape Breton County, not Cape Breton Island, Cape Breton County. It’s just hard to maintain that — the cost of oil, the aging of parishioners — all of those are factors.”

Bishop Brian Dunn wrote that the diocese spent nearly a year examining the best ways to move forward. He said this has been a tough decision, but important for the future of the diocese.

Last year, the diocese announced several church closures in the Sydney area as well.

MacGillivray said while these are difficult decisions, the church must live within its means and find new ways to reach out to parishioners.


6 Responses to Articles and letters re church closures in Cape Breton, N.S. (Antigonish Diocese)

  1. Sylvia says:

    And it’s not over yet!

    My heart goes out to all those who suffer for the sins and crimes of our clerical molesters and those who covered up/cover-up on their behalf. I am hard-pressed to believe for a moment that this is not fallout.

    How many priests from the Antigonish Diocese were named as predators in settlement brokered by Raymond Lahey. Does anyone know? Were ALL their names ever released?

  2. Leanne Flynn says:

    Thanks for creating this page, Sylvia. Some recent action in Cape Breton and several letters to the editor posted in the Cape Breton Post and Chronicle Herald just the past few weeks- one is my own. We are trying hard to stop the sales and demolitions.

    • Ron says:

      Vatican reverses Cleveland Catholic Diocese’s Closing of 13 parishes -march 7, 2012
      Rome is saying to all their bishops “you can’t close churches just because you don’t have the money or the staff. Budgetary constraints can’t be used to surpress parishes.”
      Just sent email of complaint to the
      suggest we get everyone to do the same until this bishop listens to the people of pay for all of it.

  3. Bob says:

    I hope, if there are to be so few services to Catholics, that the church has a plan for leniency with respect to the Sunday obligation. If they make it too difficult for people to get to any sort of church, they can’t exactly hold it against people who would be willing to meet their sunday obligations, if there were a reasonable way to do so.

  4. Ron says:

    Vatican reverses Cleveland Catholic Diocese’s closing of 13 parishes-March 7, 2012
    |Rome…”you can’t close churches just because you don’t have the money or the staff. Budgetary constraints can’t be used to surpress parishes.”

    Just sent to: and email of complaint against closing so many churches on Cape Breton and Isle Madame. We have a voice start using it….send your complaints to the vatican loud and clear…as did the parishes in Cleveland Ohio. God Bless all

  5. Ron says:

    Vatican reverses Cleveland Catholic Diocese’s closing of 13 parishes, make a quarry on the internet: Canonical appeals for dummier. Fill in the form and it will give you all the formula for appealing any Bishop’s decision of closure. Replace U.S. for Canada and search who are the representative in Canada.

Leave a Reply