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Push to save Catholic church in Halifax from permanently closing

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There is a push to save a Catholic church in Halifax from permanently closing.

St. Patrick's Catholic Church on Brunswick Street has faced two separate closure notices recently: one from the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, and the other from Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

In May, the archdiocese announced both St. Patrick's and Saint Theresa's Church would close following recommendations from the parish leadership of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi Parish. Last week, the HRM posted an Order to Comply on the building. By Friday, the church was temporarily closed with fencing surrounding the entrance due to safety concerns.

When the archdiocese announced the closure, it listed finances, attendance, pastoral capacity, proximity to other churches, as well as structural concerns as reasons.

John Murphy, a spokesperson for the church, is challenging the closure.

"I think it's kind of important to underscore, you know, we're not in a battle here. We certainly want to work collaboratively with the archbishop of the diocese," said Murphy.

Murphy said the estimated cost of immediate renovations was quoted as high as $12.5 million, but he said that was only based on "observed building conditions" and not the result of detailed study of the steeple, tower, and façade.

"You can kind of see what needs to be done at that point, and then we can say, 'What are we dealing with in terms of a cost? What's the plan going forward?'"

He said the group of parishioners want to undertake an intrusive study paid for by funds raised by the St. Patrick’s Restoration Society.

Murphy said they delivered a detailed appeal to the Vatican's Embassy in Ottawa on June 18.

"Pending the outcome of our appeal to the Vatican, we plan to work with the archdiocese in securing a reasonable quote for repair of St. Patrick’s Church based first on immediate needs, then short-term repairs and lastly, long-term renovations to save St. Patrick’s for future generations."

The archdiocese said it has been in the process of determining the removal of the steeple, as advised by a recent report from structural engineers. Because the church is a heritage property, it said it's in the process of applying to both the municipality and the province for permission to demolition it.

"Once work has been done to make the structure safe, the parish community will determine how to remove important and sacred objects and when the final mass will be celebrated at St. Patrick’s," said the archdiocese.

"The loss of a historic place of worship that has played a significant role in the life of a parish community and the community at large is sad and is to be grieved."

Murphy said parishioners are in the process of trying to find a new place to worship. This is the second time he has dealt with the closure of a church.

"There is not really a plan in place at this moment to say, 'Okay, where are we going to put these people?' and the same thing happened to Saint Theresa. So, as that happens, you really do have to have a plan to kind of say, 'Here's where you can go. Here's what we're doing.' So it's certainly been concerning."

Over the weekend, the Heritage Trust hosted 'Doors Open for Churches' in response to the ongoing issues at St. Patrick's. The church was temporarily closed the day before the event, so the public was not able to go inside. Instead, volunteers set up outside.

Saint Theresa Church had been temporarily closed since October 2023 due to high levels of mold inside the building. A final mass is scheduled to take place outdoors Monday at 7 p.m. due to ongoing air quality issues inside the church.

Church closures

Associate professor of theology David Deane said it's up to a parish whether a church closes.

"The parish will decide how best to use their resources. Oftentimes, you have a situation where you may have two or three church buildings and then a parish wants to have just one church building, and so there's a little bit of debate and dialogue about which church building is going to close," said Deane.

He said the process can be very challenging for parishioners.

"They've baptized children in these buildings. They've buried loved ones in these buildings. Many have gotten married in these buildings and have had so many depth experiences, so it's always traumatic when church buildings close. It's a grieving process that people need to go through."

Deane noted the closure of churches isn't necessarily due to a decline in parishioners.

"There was a tremendous demographic boom in the in the early 20th century, right through to the middle part of the 20th century, and many people didn't have vehicles and so they needed churches within walking distance, so churches sprung up all over the place in order to meet this need," said Deane.

"Now, in an era where very few people don't have the means of travel and where the demographics have changed significantly, there is no longer a need for the same amount of church buildings." 

With files from CTV's Leigha Kaiser

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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