WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

St. Pius X parish pastoral council chair Cherylyn Shewchuk says the closure of their church is like a death in the family.

October 10, 2011
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON — Two north Edmonton parishes that have been sharing a pastor for the past decade will soon close their doors permanently.

St. Angela Merici Parish and St. Pius X Parish, which were twinned about a decade ago, are scheduled to close their churches in the next few months.

St. Edmund’s Parish, 13120-116 St., will take over the boundaries of St. Angela’s and St. Andrew’s Parish, 12810-111 Ave., will take over the boundaries of St. Pius.

Father Patrick Baska, the pastor of St. Angela and St. Pius for the past 13 months, said it has been left to the parishes themselves to determine when they will merge. The amalgamation process will also involve the receiving parishes.

St. Pius tentatively picked Dec. 31 for the closing of its picturesque church at 13072 Sherbrooke Ave. Parishioners at St. Angela, 13210-133A Ave., may wait until June next year or even longer to close.

VERY SAD

“It’s very sad,” Baska said of the closures. “A priest wants to serve a parish and not have to be involved in closing a parish.”

Archbishop Richard Smith has already met with parish leaders and parishioners in both parishes to explain his decision and the reasoning behind it.

“Their reaction (of the parishioners) has been mixed,” Baska said. “There are people who are saddened by the decision and that sadness is either a lament or a quiet resignation about it or a sadness that spills over into upset or anger in some cases.”

FATE SEALED

The parishes’ fate was more or less sealed some 12 years ago when the Transformation of Parishes report recommended their twinning “with the eventuality that both would close,” the priest explained.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Randy Darr, chair of St. Angela’s parish pastoral council, explained how difficult it is for a small community to keep abreast with rising expenses.

“The archbishop decided to act on that report and made the decision to close the two parishes.”

Factors that led to the original recommendation included declining membership in both parishes and the shortage of priests in the Edmonton Archdiocese. St. Angela’s has slightly more than 200 families and St. Pius has about 120 families. A large number of members in both parishes are seniors.

“St. Angela’s could probably be a good community for about another couple of years but we would be in financial difficulties probably within the next two or three years,” noted Randy Darr, chair of St. Angela’s parish pastoral council.

He said the expenses to maintain the church “keep going up” and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the small community to sustain those expenses.

TALKS BEGAN IN MAY

Darr, Baska and the archbishop started talking about the amalgamation process in May. In July, Smith met with the leadership of both St. Angela’s and St. Pius. A few weeks later the parishes had a general assembly to further discuss the process.

Darr, a St. Angela’s member for the past 25 years, said many of the original parishioners who were involved in building the church are still active and it’s difficult for them to understand the closure.

“There is a sense of loss of community,” he said. “One of the biggest issues we have to deal with is how do we integrate (into St. Edmund’s Parish) successfully as a community.”

Leaders of all four parishes involved in the process have met with the archbishop to discuss and plan the integration of St. Angela and St. Pius into their new parishes. The integration will be essentially coordinated through the archdiocese.

Parishioners at St. Pius have not taken the news of the closing of their parish very well.

“We’ve discussed this in a number of ways and I guess what’s easiest to say is that we are going through a death in the family,” said parish pastoral council chair Cherylyn Shewchuk.

ANGER, FRUSTRATION

“Everyone is going through anger and frustration and pain and sorrow and a sense of loss; a lot of parishioners and families are at different stages of this game right now.”

With plans to close the church Dec. 31, parishioners will meet Oct. 15 with an archdiocesan facilitator who will help them organize and start the process of integration into St. Andrew’s.

“This will never be easy, but I know that with a lot of prayer and guidance from God, we’ll be able to make this through and make it as easy on those that are going to have the hardest time.”

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church also uses St. Pius for services so it will be consulted as well, Shewchuk said.

The parish is planning a final dinner for Oct. 29 to say goodbye.