ST. JOHN’S, NL — After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to revitalize St. Patrick’s Parish Cemetery in Burin, local volunteers are worried about what will happen in the bankruptcy proceedings of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s.
They say $200,000 of the money they raised has already been taken by the archdiocese and, as a tender listing reveals cemeteries elsewhere among the assets to be seized, they are unsure of to be able to maintain control.
There is anger at the Catholic Church for not accepting blame from the start for the sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s and for not using Vatican funds, including the sale of his extensive collection of art and other adornments, to fund the compensation of the victims.
Instead, Burin volunteers say parishes and their property are being unjustly plundered when it is the church hierarchy that should atone.
Following Monday’s development in court in which a tentative agreement was announced to allow St. Kevin’s in Goulds – which had a hugely successful 2017 Chase the Ace fundraiser – to retain its building and church hall, the former St. Patrick’s Cemetery Committee hoped he would get some good news as he insists there has been little clarity from the Archdiocese
He hoped to be able to recover the $200,000 that committee members say was taken by the archdiocese.
They say it was part of what was raised through their own Chase the Ace and subsequent 50/50 draws.
But the Burin Cemetery Committee has been advised through a church attorney that no decision affects Burin Cemetery at this time.
Burin Cemetery Committee member Evelyn Grondin-Bailey said $1.2 million was raised through Chase the Ace in 2015. Nearly $80,000, she said, was used to pay off a church mortgage and $500,000 for the cemetery.
Grondin-Bailey and fellow committee members Terry Lundrigan and Eugene Antle said they made a mistake in not incorporating, but instead turned to the archdiocese for its charitable process and help.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” she said of the cemetery’s future.
“We want our cemetery back. We want to move forward now and complete this project. … We are a group of seniors and we wanted to make sure there was enough money in the account to maintain the cemetery for the next 20 to 30 years after we left.
“We are a group of older people and we wanted to make sure there was enough money in the account to keep the cemetery going for the next 20-30 years after we left.”
— Evelyn Grondin-Bailey
Committee members said they stopped their 50-50 fundraiser in 2021 when it became clear that the funds would be taken.
They now share another 50/50 with a separate non-church organization, Grondin-Bailey said.
Antle’s son, Colin, died of a heart attack at age 40 in 2017, and he is among the family members in the cemetery’s columbarium.
“Maybe we’ve all been walking blindly for too long,” said Lundrigan, who added he regretted never interviewing the archdiocese earlier.
Antle joined the committee the following year.
“My hope also with the rest of the committee is that we will take over the cemetery, recover our funds and continue as we planned,” he said.
According to the cemetery committee, the first Roman Catholic cemetery in Burin dates back to the early 1800s, when a group of prominent citizens, not all Roman Catholics, successfully applied to the government for a plot of land to erect a church and cemetery. .
The cemetery served the parish until the mid-1950s.
In 2014, a committee of concerned parishioners was formed to deal with the overgrown and trash-strewn state of the cemetery, and the work has revitalized the cemetery and made it a heritage destination.
The non-denominational columbarium – for cremation urns – has infrastructure set up for expansion, as there have been no in-ground burials for decades.
In addition to confiscating funds, the committee says it has been criticized with stop-work orders to the leadership of the archdiocese. Grondin-Bailey said they put a $10,000 deposit on a wall of memory that would have honored everyone buried in the cemetery – as long as they could find records – because many headstones are faded. or broken.
The committee is concerned that the cemetery may be sold and suspects that the feature of the columbarium makes it attractive to a buyer looking for a for-profit business, despite it operating on a non-profit basis.
“Essentially, the contents of the cemetery and the money in the accounts were now to be under the dictatorship of the archdiocese,” the committee said in a letter laying out its riddle and concerns.
The cemetery has evolved to become like a park and includes storyboards, Grondin-Bailey said. It has an ocean view.
“It’s something really important to us and close to our hearts,” she said.
She described communication with the Archdiocese as a rising stone wall.
And she said that the Catholic Church, being one of the wealthiest organizations in the world, should sell the assets of the Vatican to fund compensation for victims of abuse at the orphanage. (The courts sided with the victims of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, holding that the Episcopal Corp. is vicariously liable despite the fact that the orphanage was run by the secular order Christian Brothers.)
Father Emmanuel Qugraine declined to comment.
Archbishop Peter Hundt said by email that there are a number of issues arising from the recent filing for creditor protection by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp. of St. John’s.
“We will provide an update to parishes in the coming days. We cannot add anything more until then,” he said.