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How SOCA Sees It

How can one make a good decision on whether or not to support the building of a new church without full and complete information? Rev. Michael Jones, author of “Empty Houses – A Pastoral Approach to Congregational Closures” believes that clear, direct and open discussion and decision making is vital before proceeding on any plan to close a church.

On this page, we hope to provide information that will assist in understanding the issues, and to provide an alternate viewpoint to the rationale provided for building a new church. Author, Pearl Buck, wrote, that “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday”. In this vein, we will also be sharing stories and pictures on the history of our three churches in East Lethbridge.

Did You Know ?

St. Patrick's Church has been "temporarily closed" for 12 years. Normally a church is exempt from property taxes if it is regularly used as a place of worship. As no services have been allowed since the "shuttering", taxes have been assessed by the City at a rough average of $30,000 per year (Source: City of Lethbridge website http://gis.lethbridge.ca/taxmap/). Taken over 12 years, this means that All Saints Parish has expended approximately $360,000 of parishioner's money to keep the church closed.

 

The City Taxation made an interesting decision this past year when it restored the tax exemption for St. Patrick's. We assume that All Saints Parish was able to convince the City that by holding two masses and 10- 2 hour prayer services over the past year, it now meets tax policy and is considered "regularly used".

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How Our Lady of the Assumption Church Came To Be

In 1953, the Superior General of the Basilian Fathers (a teaching Order) was asked to staff a new boys school (St. Francis) that was being built in the city. The plan was to separate the boys and girls into two high schools. The boys would be educated in St. Francis, while the girls would attend St. Joseph's just a school field away. St. Joseph's High School was managed by the religious order, the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ's). The concerted efforts of the nuns and priests to keep the boys away from the girls proved fruitless and the two schools were later joined into one co-educational facility, Catholic Central High School in 1966.

To accommodate the new priests in our city, The Bishop agreed to allot a new parish to the Basilian Fathers. Our Lady of the Assumption Church was established in 1954 under Fr. Thompson. Masses were initially held in the chapel of St. Michael's Hospital and later in the school auditorium at Assumption School. The new church on 12th Avenue South held its first Mass in December of 1957

Myth:  The majority of All Saints Parishioners are in favour of building a new church 

 

How Soca Sees It:  This is a questionable statement given a number of factors:

1. Parishioners were never allowed a vote on whether or not they wanted to build a new church or a columbarium in St. Patrick's. A motion was made by Parish Council in 2007 recommending that the parish proceed with the building of a new church, even though this decision was outside their mandate. Parish Council Guidelines under Section 2.1 clearly state that "The Council is limited to an advisory capacity only". The decision to build a columbarium in St. Patrick's was solely made by the Diocesan office in Calgary.

2. Prior to the closure of St. Patrick's in 2011, less than 400 parishioners out of a parish comprising 3000 families had chosen to provide financial support toward the building of a new church and fund raising has largely stalled to date. This is what the Bishop must have meant in his letter to the Parish, announcing the closure of St. Patrick's when he said that "the majority of parishioners were lukewarm in their support." The Parish has not published a new set of numbers regarding fund raising for several years now.

3. Save Our Churches Association paid membership exceeds 500. This is not "a few vocal dissidents" as the Bishop has frequently described SOCA in media articles.

One needs to ask why a referendum on the building of a new church is not held. SOCA has always argued that parishioners should decide whether to build a new church or close an existing one. An independent, supervised plebiscite early in the process would have settled years of conflict, strife and division.

A Little Story About St. Basil's Church

It was Christmas Eve, 1950. Faithful parishioners anxious to celebrate the first Mass in their new church, huddled together in prayer, song and gratitude. The walls were up and a makeshift roof was just patched together earlier that day. There was much work yet to be done, but parishioners were not to be kept from their new spiritual home. "There were huge wet snowflakes coming through the roof, descending like angels upon the people," says Betty Gal, a long time St. Basil's parishioner. "The choir had to protect their song sheets from the wet snow. It was a special night." For many years, North Lethbridge Catholics had no church. They attended weekly Mass in St. Basil's School (now the Holy Spirit School Board office), offered by a visiting priest from St. Patrick's.

 

Construction had started in the Fall, headed by general contractor, Art Dorigatti, the same contractor who built St. Patrick's. The church was largely constructed by the parishioners who proudly, pounded nails, and laid the bricks, while the women made lunches and kept the work site tidy. Money for the new church was raised by parishioners who worked hoeing fields of beets. The church was completed on March 10, 1951, just one year from the day the parish was formed.

Myth: St. Patrick’s, Assumption and St. Basil’s are in need of so many repairs, it might be better to build one new church

How SOCA Sees It: Our churches are rundown, not because of a lack of money but because little to no expenditures have been allocated for their proper maintenance and repair, let alone enhancements. The entrance steps at St. Patrick’s is an obvious example of needed repairs left undone. Prior to the start of fundraising for the new church, All Saints Parish held $1.7 million in its reserve fund (see Information packet, March 8, 2009). On the direction of Bishop Henry strict limits were placed on spending for maintenance since the year 2000.  Any surpluses achieved over the years by All Saints Churches were earmarked for the building fund.

When St. Patrick's was opened after 12 years of closure on March 17, 2023, a packed church expected to find a dilapidated church with peeling paint, an out of tune piano and full of musty odors. What they found was a church in all its beauty not much different from when the last Mass was celebrated there on July 31, 2011.  Even the crumbling front stairs were repaired.  And all this was done by hardworking volunteers in a period of two weeks.  It was a glorious occasion. Let us pray that the Diocese will use the monies provided by parishioners for the upkeep of their churches as they were intended! 

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Did You Know? - That St. Patrick's beautiful sounding bell has a name. St. Patrick's bell weighs 880 pounds and was christened "Michael - Joseph - Patrick" . Built in a time before phones, it called the Catholic community in Lethbridge to Mass and prayer from July 8, 1888 until July 31, 2011.

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