Basilica bidders hope to preserve culture and faith despite church bankruptcy


The Basilica of St. John the Baptist, a National Historic Site, is one of many Catholic Church properties for sale. The deadline for submissions is June 2. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Three St. John’s Catholic groups with a lot to lose are teaming up to keep the church’s most prized asset from falling into the hands of developers as the archdiocese sells properties to compensate Mount abuse victims Cashel.

The coalition between the Basilica Heritage Foundation, St. Bonaventure’s College and St. Bon’s Forum was reported by CBC on Wednesday. The group has since confirmed its intention to place a joint bid for St. John the Baptist Basilica and its adjacent properties in a letter posted on the school’s website.

The signatories say it is about “maintaining and protecting a vital part of our history, our culture and our city”. No one from the group was made available to speak to the media on Thursday.

The basilica – one of the oldest and largest churches in the country – promises to play a key role in the bankruptcy proceedings that have rocked the church in a city with deep Catholic roots.

Mount Cashel, operated by the Christian Brothers, closed in 1990. (Radio Canada)

The Archdiocese of St. John’s landed in a financial crisis after being found responsible for physical and sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage from the 1940s to the 1960s. The total amount owed to survivors has yet to be determined. , but lawyers handling the case say more and more victims continue to come forward.

As a result, many important church properties were put up for auction. This includes the Basilica, which was consecrated in 1855, and adjacent properties such as St. Bonaventure College and the Forum. With its towers visible from many places in the city, the cathedral is the greatest symbol of the presence of the Catholic Church in St. John’s for 167 years.

“These properties, in the heart of our city, may attract outside buyers with commercial intentions, jeopardizing the very existence of an integral part of our community and our history,” reads the letter from the candidate group.

“That’s a big part of why we’re devoting such tremendous effort to safeguarding this complex, a National Historic Site of Canada, through a collaborative and unified approach.”

Former St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe is part of a group raising money to possibly bid on Corpus Christi, another Catholic church in the city. (Ted Dilon/CBC)

The Basilica Heritage Foundation says a successful bid would allow the basilica to continue to function as a place of worship. Collège Saint-Bonaventure, located just behind the basilica, says the move would allow the school to continue to operate and Forum Saint-Bon could also retain its status quo as a hockey rink.

“We are moving forward with this endeavor inspired by hope, faith and the purpose of doing what is right for our community and our home province,” the letter reads.

All offers are due June 2. The letter did not give details of where the funding would come from, or how much it expected.

Bid could be new chapter, says ex-mayor

Dennis O’Keefe thinks any offer could involve a large sum of money.

The former St. John’s mayor — and longtime Catholic school teacher — is part of a fundraising group to possibly bid on Corpus Christi, another Catholic church in the city. Although he is not involved in the effort to save the basilica, he believes it will require a huge investment.

Upfront costs could pale in comparison to long-term operational costs, and while it will no doubt make it difficult to keep the church afloat, O’Keefe said the sale could finally begin to heal deep wounds yet. present in Mount Cashel, and start a new chapter for the parish.

“It’s a way of [compensate the survivors] and at the same time build the Catholic faith here in St. John’s,” he said.

O’Keefe says he has watched the faith change in the city over the years, in large part because of Mount Cashel and other revelations about clergy abuse. The way people worshiped also changed, O’Keefe said, with more people choosing to do so from home. Despite the steady decline in attendance, O’Keefe said maintaining the basilica is important for many reasons.

“The Basilica of Saint John the Baptist has played a major role not only in Catholic life in Saint John, but also culturally and charitablely; serving the homeless, serving the poor,” O’Keefe said. “There is a lot of history, a lot of stories, and I hope that through this option they can be preserved.”

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