Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 13, 1999
Catholics unhappy seeing their parishes close, but most resigned to the move
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Parishioners at St. Stanislaus Parish in Round Hill, a mission of Camrose, were a proud bunch.
Their 25-family parish was financially viable, had an enviable lay participation and a well-kept church. Warned about the priest shortage, they began having lay-led liturgies with Communion every second Sunday.
In late 1998 they were devastated when they learned the pastor of Camrose would no longer come to their community to celebrate Sunday Mass.
Another shock came later when they were told they could no longer hold lay-led liturgies with Communion on Sunday. The Edmonton Archdiocese won't allow lay-led liturgies on Sunday for fear it will replace the Sunday Eucharist. To participate in the Sunday Eucharist, they have to travel to Camrose or another larger centre.
St. Stanislaus, a missionary centre at the beginning of the century, is now virtually closed. A priest comes to Round Hill only for funerals and weddings and for the parish's annual Corpus Christi festivities.
The Round Hill situation is not unique. A shortage of priests and shifts in population have forced the Edmonton Archdiocese to merge dozens of parishes. The archdiocese's year-old plan, Faithful Into the Future, calls for 12 Edmonton parishes and 65 small rural parishes to no longer have Sunday liturgies. The plan is to be phased in over the next several years as the number of priests declines.
Sunday Eucharist would continue to be celebrated in 52 centres outside Edmonton and nearly 30 city parishes after the plan is fully implemented. The plan also calls for some parishes to share resources.
A WCR telephone survey of 31 parishioners in several rural parishes which have already been merged found most accept the inevitability of church closures because of the priest shortage. But that doesn't mean they are happy.
The merging and closing of churches has led many parishioners to cut down the number of Sunday Masses they attend or to stop going to church altogether.
Most affected are the senior citizens, who once could walk to the church in town and now have to catch rides to attend Mass.
The key problem for most people is the social impact the closing of their church has in the community. People who grew up together no longer see each other every Sunday.
Several parishioners have pointed out that going to a central location for Sunday Mass is not pleasant because the church is usually packed and noisy, and those coming from smaller communities feel like foreigners.
While most people understand the reasons behind the restructuring, some think the Church is abandoning them.
"The bigger faith communities have gained, and the smaller ones have been hung out to dry and fade away," lamented William Banack, chair of the Round Hill parish council.
"My faith, and the faith community that I am a member of, have been tampered with, and I don't like it that much."
Alan Tomaszewski, past chair of St. Stanislaus, knew his parish would close from the beginning of the discussions on parish restructuring. He thinks the discussions were a waste of time because the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
The closure has also affected the parish morale, Tomaszewski said. Parishioners used to have a an annual fall supper with up to 700 guests to raise funds for the church. They haven't had the supper since their church closed, although they still celebrate Corpus Christi and are committed to keep the church.
Alan Tomaszewski's wife, Linda, doesn't know what to make of the closure. "I don't really know if I have any feelings (about it)," she says. "When we were still open we were financially viable and had a great liturgical team."
But, as she put it, "my faith doesn't die because of what happened." So she and Alan continue to attend Mass at Camrose where she is a Eucharistic minister and lector.
"I think it's terrible that at an old age you have to drive 18 miles to Camrose for Mass," lamented Annie Banack. "It's hard for us older people." She and her 86-year-old husband travel only when the weather permits.
"We want our priest back the way it was before," she lamented.
Breakfast in Camrose
For Fernie Nadon, the closing of the Round Hill Parish hasn't been a matter of life or death. He and a group of friends go to Camrose for Mass every Sunday and then go for breakfast afterwards.
"You have to give and take sometimes," he says. "I don't let (the closure of the church) bother me that much. It would be nice if we had a priest but priests are hard to come by."
Casper Yurkoski is "not very enthused" by the closure of the Round Hill Parish but he is taking it in stride. "When there are not enough priests to serve a small community as ours, what are you going to do?" he asks.
It now takes him half an hour to go to church in Camrose but, as he puts it, "it's not a disaster."
"I accept the situation. It's part of life. As long as I am able to drive, I'll continue to drive to Camrose."
But for a blind Round Hill woman the closure of the church only added hardship to her life. "I'm visually impaired and it's very difficult for me to get a ride to go to Camrose," said the woman, who only agreed to be called by her last name, Winczura.
"I can't see why we can't have Mass (at Round Hill) at least once a month. We used to have lay-led liturgies but now they aren't allowed."
Josephine Ilnicki is equally disappointed. "We don't have a sense of community anymore; we don't see each other too often," she laments. "I know there is a shortage of priests but I would like to have seen lay led liturgies several times a month and Sunday Mass at least once a month."
In mid-July, following the still "unofficial" merger of the parishes of Onoway and Villeneuve, the mission of Sandy Lake was closed. Other missions in the area have their days numbered and may end up being closed sometime next year.
"We certainly were disappointed but unfortunately we didn't have enough parishioners to justify keeping it open," said a resigned parishioner Jim Schulte. "You want to hang on to it but we didn't have the numbers." The mission had an average of six or seven families attending Mass regularly, except in the summer when the church would be packed.
"There is no friction here (because of the closure) but there is a feeling of loss," Schulte said. "It's a very sad feeling."
Now Schulte and his wife Dianne, travel about 19 km to Onoway for Sunday Mass. Others go to Lac La Nonne, Riviere Qui Barre, Mearns or Busby.
"We were all disappointed (about the closure) but we all understood," Schulte said, adding there are no plans to continue operating as a Christian community.
The recent twinning of the parishes of Wainwright and Provost resulted in the cancellation of Sunday Mass for residents in Chauvin and Bodo in mid-July.
Now most Chauvin parishioners drive an average of 30 minutes to attend Mass in Provost. A few drive to Wainwright or to Macklin, Sask.
"I'm very sad," said parishioner Pauline Delemont. "We have lived here all our lives and we always had a priest to say Mass on Sunday. Now, unless we travel, we can't fulfill our Sunday duty."
There are a few Sundays Delemont, 70, can't make it to Provost because her husband Albert is ill and can't travel. "We would like things reversed but our hands are sort of tied," she lamented. "There is nothing we can do about it."
Lorraine Skinner knew the fate of her 50-family parish was inevitable but she still wishes it hadn't closed. "The sense of parish community is not here anymore," she lamented.
"But we are still holding to the hope that one day we'll again have Sunday Mass. That's why we are trying to maintain our (parish) building in case the priest situation improves."
The church at Chauvin is currently being used for funerals, weddings, catechism classes, meetings and other social events.
Jane Donofrio hasn't been attending church regularly for a number of years. Still, she wasn't shocked when the news about the church spread about town.
"It seemed to be coming for awhile," she said, adding she is not planning to attend Sunday services in any neighbouring town.
For Richard Roy, 62, the news Chauvin wouldn't offer Sunday Mass anymore was shocking. "It was almost like the end of the world for us," he said, adding he has attended Sunday Mass only twice since then. "I'm definitely upset."
Roy would like Archbishop Thomas Collins to consider hiring priests from Eastern Canada or to bring foreign priests to serve parishes in the archdiocese. "Even retired priests or laicized priests who want to come back would be better than nothing."
Wayne Baynham is "definitely not happy" about not having Mass at Chauvin. "I sure would like to see a priest coming here on Sundays. If we could find one that's retired, that would be good."
Baynham said he doesn't go to Mass as often as he did when Mass was said at Chauvin.
Neither does Roland Larouche and others he knows. "I used to drive five miles to get to Chauvin for Mass. Now I have to drive 35 miles to get to Provost."
Longer distances are keeping many people away from Sunday Mass, the farmer said.
"What upset people is that through all those meetings we were told our parish would continue because it was viable and then all of a sudden they (practically) closed us down."
Larouche said the archdiocese should have told Chauvin Catholics their church was going to be "restructured" before they went ahead and spent $35,000 fixing the roof two years ago.
"We have to be realistic. There aren't enough priests to serve all the parishes," he said. "But it seems to me that in this process rural Alberta is getting the short end of the stick."
The 400-seat Chauvin church, built in the 1920s, is used inter-denominationally for a number of services and won't go the way of the dinosaurs, Larouche vows. "We are committed to keep our community church alive."
Three Hills, Lumni, Big Valley
The missions of Three Hills, Lumni and Big Valley were also restructured following the merger of the parishes of Olds and Trochu a few months ago.
This means they no longer have Sunday Mass with parishioners having to travel to the nearest centre for Sunday Eucharist. Sundre and Didsbury, both missions of Olds, may offer their last Sunday Mass in mid-2000.
The church in Three Hills, with about 85 registered families, still holds prayer meetings on Tuesdays and is being used for catechism classes and other community functions.
There are negotiations with the Olds/Trochu pastor to have a Mass once a month during the week. Efforts are also being made to have a retired Calgary priest say Mass at Christmas.
But parishioner Freida Brenda is disappointed at the loss of the Sunday Mass. "It's quite a loss to have to go elsewhere for Sunday Mass," she said. "It's a community loss too. It tears the community apart. We don't have a feeling of belonging anymore."
Heather Braconnier, who converted to Catholicism a few years ago, has mixed feelings. "I understand the shortage of priests but I think it will really hurt the community not to have Sunday Mass," she said. "It weakens the community."
Lucy Brietzke is sad about the situation of her parish but said little is achieved by complaining. "We can complain all we want but we have to take our place in the church and help out."
Her solution is simple: Invite priests from the order Companions of the Cross, a new and growing order from Ontario, as well as foreign priests to serve in rural areas of the archdiocese. "Priests from other countries should be welcomed. They bring a very refreshing Third World perspective."
Bernice Brosseau and her husband Clarence are both senior citizens and find it "very inconvenient" to travel to Trochu every Sunday for Mass.
"It's very hard for us, especially in the winter time," Bernice said. The couple normally catches a ride with their son-in-law or other parishioners going their way.
Clarence believes the 56-family Three Hills parish is viable and should have never have had its Sunday services suspended. "I think the Church has let us down here," he said.
"I think we would like to see Mass here in Three Hills even if it is every second Sunday," Bernice said, pointing out that Mass in Trochu is becoming a bit impersonal because of the numbers.
She said so many faithful from neighbouring communities converge in Trochu on Sunday that the church is filled to capacity, making the experience not only impersonal but also "somewhat dangerous."
"It's usually so crowded that you get out of Mass and leave immediately. Here we used to get together after Mass."
Ann Frolek agreed, saying Three Hill parishioners don't socialize the way they used to. But she doesn't mind the 10-km drive to Trochu. "We have to accept the reality. What can we do? There aren't enough priests."
Lilian Hanson is still "very sad" at not having Sunday Mass in Three Hills. "It just plain hurts," she said. "But what are we going to do. Some poor priests have four or five churches under their care. It's not fair. I feel sorry for them."
Getting to Trochu is "very tough" for Hanson, a widow who has to catch rides with friends to make it to Mass. She wishes the archbishop could bring a priest from overseas to serve her community. But if he doesn't, she is determined to continue going to Trochu.
Mary Keenan says the suspension of Sunday Mass in Three Hills has split her family. "My husband won't go to Trochu for Mass," she said. To prevent conflicts, she only goes to Mass "once in awhile." On occasion she takes all or some of her five children with her.
Keenan, the catechism coordinator in Three Hills, would like to have Sunday Mass back in her community. Otherwise, a lot of people will stop going to Trochu for Mass altogether.
In fact, it is already happening, she said. "(This situation) has wrecked a lot of families. There are parents and children who don't go to Mass because it is more of an effort now."
Added Keenan: "We need a priest here (on Sundays). It's not good for the soul not to have a priest handy."