Cross the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge in Placentia and continue along Prince William Drive into the heart of the city. A white steeple catches your eye on the left, stretching above the houses and other buildings.
You pass the historic courthouse with its large clock on the right, then turn left on Patterson Drive to the town square.
It is then that the full majesty of the Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart appears.
The iconic building is the pride of the city’s Roman Catholic workers. Generations of families have attended the church for important events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. They raised funds, maintained the building, and devoted many volunteer hours to it and its ministry.
The City of Placentia website lists the church as one of “Placentia’s principal architectural landmarks and an enduring testament to the dozens of Irish immigrants and laborers who shaped the very face of Placentia.”
In 2017, parishioners raised funds to renovate and repair the exterior of the church, believed to have been built in the 1880s.
All that work and history now risks being lost.
The church is up for sale, along with those in many communities within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s, to help pay compensation claims for victims of sexual abuse at St. John’s Mount Cashel Orphanage .
The price listed for the Church of the Sacred Heart: $250,000.
The most cited reaction of residents on social networks: anger.
“Part of the art in the Vatican should first pay for its wrongs and cover-ups. Parishioners should not have to pay. Wrong and sad,” one person posted.
“The parishioners built this church with blood, sweat, tears, dedication and money,” another person said. “Ordinary person’s hard-earned money.”
High level of anger
Wayne Power Jr., head of the parish’s finance council, said when the process began weeks ago, there was a lot of anger. That emotion struck a chord again this week when the church’s property listing went live.
In total, five churches belonging to the Parish Lady of the Angels are or will be put up for sale.
“These are structures that have been mainstays of communities for years, and now knowing they’re for sale and an opportunity for someone to buy them, it’s not an easy time,” Power said. “Everyone has their connection with their church.
“When you look at Sacred Heart, not too long ago there was a major fundraising effort and hundreds of thousands were raised to give this church the upkeep it needed. It was a big effort, a lot of sweat and tears. This is just one example. This church has been around for a long time, and those before us have also spent time, effort and money on it, as well as the other buildings. It also generates a lot of emotions.
Last month, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador approved the sale of 42 properties from the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. in the St. John’s area worth more than $20.6 million – a key step in finally settling compensation claims for sexual abuse victims dating back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Twelve of the properties approved for sale were churches. Nineteen properties did not receive acceptable bids during the bidding process and will be offered for sale again.
Now, to continue raising the funds needed to settle compensation claims, approximately 70 more church properties in the Burin and Avalon areas – including churches, halls and parsonages – are being put up for sale. .
Built on a cemetery?
Also on social media, people were asking how the Placentia church could be sold if it had old graves underneath, as the community has long claimed.
In April, the Supreme Court approved an agreement that the cemeteries would be excluded from the sale as part of the bankruptcy proceedings of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s.
A report written for the city of Placentia in 2010 by Matthew Simmonds says he accompanied local resident and historian Brendan Collins, who had permission to enter the crawl space under Sacred Heart Church to search for graves .
A paragraph from the report states: “It was in this most northerly alley (of the crawl space) that we found several headstones. We tried to photograph the tombstones. We had little success with this; it was dark under the church with only the light provided by our flashlights.
“We estimated that our location was roughly under or near the altar.”
The dates on the headstones turned out to be early to mid-1800s. Due to the inaccessibility of some areas of the crawl space, Simmons could only assume that there were other graves under the structure than they couldn’t see.
Ian Walsh has been on the parish council for several years and is very involved in the church.
“I grew up maybe a few hundred yards from the church, I was an alter boy for five years. So the church has personal meaning to me. I was baptized in the church, my three children were baptized in the church, my daughter was married in the church,” Walsh said.
“In front of this church there is a World War I monument with the names of 33 people from that area who died in World War I or from injuries sustained during the war. One of them happens to be my great-uncle, Michael Walsh. So there are a lot of links with what we call the square.
Walsh said he knew Simmons and Collins went to the crawl space under the church and reported their findings.
“I don’t know if anyone who wants to buy the church will know about the tombs below. I hope they are,” he said. “If they want to turn the church into something else, those graves will have to be moved.”
The list of church properties does not seem to mention the fact that there are graves below.
Angela Power, a former Ship Harbor resident who now lives in Placentia, said the situation made her angry.
“I’ve always been a strong Catholic and raised my kids to be strong Catholics. I’m angry. We tried to keep our church going,” she said. last night i could barely sleep thinking about all the money i had invested in the church. All the money my parents invested in it and other people invested in the church. Some people left money after their death in church to buy various items. Where is all this going to go?
In January 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s appeal of a decision by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal that held the Archdiocese vicariously responsible for the abuse of boys by some members of the Irish Christian Church. Brethren, the lay order that ran the Mount Cashel Orphanage.
The decision by the nation’s highest court not to hear the appeal ended this stage of a 20-year legal battle.
Since the Supreme Court of Canada decision, more than 100 men have come forward intending to file claims against the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s, and claims are expected to exceed $50 million.