Church To Close Due To Attendance, Finance Woes

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St. Augustine of Canterbury Church: Last Mass scheduled for Jan. 1, 2017. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

 WELLAND – About 45 parishioners of St. Augustine of Canterbury Church attended the meeting Saturday, June 25 at which the church’s fate was announced.

One of them, Ann Simunic, said no one was shocked to hear the news but many people were saddened. Simunic has been a parishioner since St. Augustine opened in 1952.

“Before that we would walk to St. Mary’s. It was the only Catholic church back then. But that was a younger time.”

Things have come full circle. At the meeting it was recommended that St. Augustine parishioners attend St. Mary when the parish closes. Simunic says she will decide for herself where she will go. She is also considering Sts. Peter and Paul parish.

She says it’s not difficult to understand why the diocese recommended closing St. Augustine. Attendance is down. Simunic usually goes to the 5pm Saturday Mass, where she is a lay reader. She says average attendance is about 15 to 20.

“But I feel bad for the older people. In this neighbourhood they can walk to the church, but they won’t be able to walk to St. Mary’s.”

The meeting was attended by St. Catharines Diocese Bishop Gerard Bergie, Sister Margaret Kane, facilitator of a discernment process involving all of Welland’s parishes, and the pastors of St. Augustine and St. Mary, Rev. Gabriel Arulnesan and Rev. Raymond Fenech Gonzi, respectively.

Simunic says she suggested the diocese try a “floating” priest, one who would attend parishes like St. Augustine, celebrate the Sunday morning Mass and then go to another parish to do the same. It might be a way to keep the churches open, she says, but “it wasn’t considered to be a good idea.”

The June 25 meeting was not the only one to be called by the bishop. Before it took place, he met with members of the parish discernment committee at the rectory and told them of the decision, Siminuc says.

Another St. Augustine parishioner says the decision to close the parish came down to two reasons: “Attendance is down and the parish is really hurting financially.”

The parish rectory, located a short distance from the church, will be sold, says this parishioner, who declined to be named.

Times have changed, she says.

“Our church used to be packed years ago, you could hardly get a seat unless you came early. Not any more.”

Both parishioners say St. Mary pastor, Father Fenech Gonzi, was warm and welcoming in his remarks inviting them to join the “mother church”, St. Mary.

A date will be chosen for a social event to pay tribute to St. Augustine’s role in and contributions to the Welland South community  and to share memories from its 65-year history. It will be open to present and former parishioners.

The diocese-wide discernment process was started in the fall of 2014 and is on-going.

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