‘We heard nothing’: Cape Broyle community group blindsided by sale of local Catholic church and scrambling to save it

Saltwire Network [Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada]

August 2, 2022

By Evan Careen

[Immaculate] Conception Catholic Church parishioner committee asking outsiders to not put in offers on the church they hold dear

The Cape Broyle Church Committee had been trying to find out for months how they could keep community ownership of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the community, so it was a big surprise to them late last week when they were informed by a real estate agent the building would be listed for sale on Monday, Aug. 1.

Paula Hawkins, chair of the committee, said they contacted the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s in February to find a way for the community to obtain legal ownership of the church, and got a reply only a few weeks ago that it would have to be referred to the corporation’s legal department. This was following a meeting with the archbishop that same month, where he told them all the church properties would be on the chopping block.

“We heard nothing after that and when the northeast Avalon (church properties) went up (for sale) and they had so many months to put in a bid, to see if they wanted to keep their churches. We had none of that. We got a call from a real estate agent our church would be up for sale in 72 hours.”

Hawkins said they expected a tender process would happen for the church in Cape Broyle and approximately 70 other rural properties throughout the southern Avalon and Burin peninsulas owned by the corporation, and had no communication from the church that the properties would be sold in this fashion.

On July 13, the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court approved the sale of those 70 properties through realtors, instead of the tender process used for the St. John’s region properties, along with the unsold properties from the tender bids.

“We heard nothing at all,” she said. “At the beginning, they sent out a few general bulletins and then there was the meeting in February, but we didn’t know this was coming at all. We didn’t have time to do anything, really.”

The sales are part of the ongoing bankruptcy of the corporation following it being held vicariously liable for sexual abuse of children at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s by some members of the Congregation of Irish Christian Brothers from the 1940s to 1960s. The money raised from the sales will go toward compensating the victims of the abuse.

The committee has put out a call asking people to not put in offers on the church, hoping the community can be the only prospective buyer, but Hawkins said they’ve already heard someone from outside the town is interested in the property.

It’s part of the town’s history, she said, and an integral part of community life in the town of about 500 people.

Donations from the community built the church, which is about 75 years old, Hawkins said, and the committee has been handling the upkeep and maintenance ever since.

“We still don’t quite understand how the (Catholic) Church can own something they put nothing towards building and didn’t even pay the bills,” she said. “Just last week, we had to pay the light bill. Last year we put a new roof on it, and now it’s up for sale.”