Catholic Diocese of Saint John looking for input from parishioners as closures are considered

Barb Rayner/Courier A view of St. George looking towards the Roman Catholic church from Route 1.

St. George – With dwindling congregations, and a shortage of priests, the Catholic Diocese of Saint John is looking for input from parishioners on proposed models, to revitalize, and re-align, the region.

More than 100 people attended a meeting at St. George Catholic Church Wednesday to find out more about three proposed models. In all models, resources would be allocated to hire two full-time youth ministers for the region, and to invest in liturgy and music.
Currently, there are 23 parishes in the Saint John region, and seven missions served by 17 priests; 6,109 people attend one of 57 masses each weekend – an average of 107 per mass – 39 per cent of the communities (eight parishes and four missions) have serious financial challenges.

In 2015, there were 298 baptisms, 208 confirmations, 72 weddings, and 430 funerals in the diocese.
In the first proposed model, the 23 parishes, and seven missions, would be merged into four new parishes. Parish 1 would include the communities of St. Stephen, St. George, Saint Andrews, Holy Rosary Church in St. Stephen, St. Timothy in Campobello (served by Portland diocese), Stella Maris in Blacks Harbour, and St. Michael in Grand Manan.

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The parish would be served by two priests – a pastor, and a parochial vicar. With 435 weekly mass goers, Sunday mass would be celebrated at St. Stephen Church, and St. George Church, while Saint Andrews Church would be used for Sunday mass in the summer.

In the second proposed model, the 23 parishes and seven missions would be merged into 10 new parishes. Parish 1 would include the communities of St. Stephen, Saint Andrews, Holy Rosary, and St. Timothy in Campobello, which would be served by one priest.
With 190 weekly mass goers, Sunday mass would be celebrated at St. Stephen Church and Saint Andrews Church would be used for Sunday mass in the summer.
Parish 2 would include the communities of St. George, St. Michael in Grand Manan, and Stella Maris in Blacks Harbour, which would be served by one priest. Also with 190 weekly mass goers, Sunday mass would be celebrated at St. George Church, and St. Michael Church in Grand Manan.

In the third proposed model, the 23 parishes and seven missions would be merged into 17 new parishes. Parish 1 would include the communities of St. Stephen, Holy Rosary, and St. Timothy in Campobello, which would be served by a pastor shared with Saint Andrews church. With 175 weekly mass goers, Sunday mass would be celebrated at St. Stephen Church.

Parish 2 would be the community of Saint Andrews which would be served by the same pastor as Parish 1. With 65 weekly mass goers, Sunday mass would be celebrated at Saint Andrews Church.

Parish 3 would be the community of St. George. The parish would be served by a priest who is shared with the community worshipping at Stella Maris Church in Blacks Harbour. With 130 weekly mass goers, Sunday mass would be celebrated at St. George Church and St. Michael Church.

Parish 4 would be the community of Stella Maris in Blacks Harbour, and St. Michael Grand Manan. The parish would be served by the same priest as Parish 3. With 65 weekly mass goes, Sunday mass would be celebrated at Stella Maris Church, and St. Michael Church, in Grand Manan.

In all these models, the working group thought the merging of communities, and resources, would contribute to a richer experience of Sunday Eucharist, increase the focus on discipleship, and evangelization, reduce the administrative burden on priests so they can spend more time pastoring their people, and allow the region to invest more resources in youth ministry, liturgy and music.

The public has until June 4 to provide feedback, either at scheduled meetings, online, or by mail, and Carolyn Breau, who is parish council chairperson at Stella Maris in Blacks Harbour, said it is important that parishioners provide that feedback.

“We need feedback, especially in the Charlotte County area, because these models are not written in stone. We have to put our input in, and we may come up with some ideas for our parish that may benefit everyone. These models are just ideas – guidelines – and we can tweak them, and may come up with something else that would work better.

“Charlotte County is a totally different entity from Saint John, because we are further apart. The bottom line is we have to change, pick ourselves up, and revitalize, and be as one, because we cannot be isolated in all these churches.”

In the case of Stella Maris Church, said Breau, they are an aging parish whereas in St. George, there is a flourishing young congregation.

Once comments have been collected, she said these will go back to the working group, who will review them, and present their findings to Bishop Robert Harris, who will make the final decision in December, so any changes would not come into effect until next year.