June 2, 2020
Dear Archbishop Mancini
Re Closure and Sale of St Jerome Church, West Caledonia
Saint Jerome Church, 1413 West Caledonia Rd, West Caledonia, NS B0T 1B0, forms one of seven Churches within Saint John the Apostle Parish on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.
St Jerome Church has been on the landscape of Queens County since 1879. However, it’s roots as a parish began in 1826. Then, Irish settlers arrived after being rescued from a difficult stop in Newfoundland. Sea Captains Caleb Sealy and Patrick Gough on the ship, Caledonia, carried men, women and child travellers from rocky shores of Newfoundland to the farmland of Nova Scotia. To the destitute Irish farmers, unaccustomed to fishing, the move was a great blessing and so were the Liverpool residents who initially roomed them. In a short time they walked the 50 km horse path to the promised farming area, naming their settlement, Caledonia. Soon, free land was granted them by the government of Nova Scotia. Having sent letters, they enticed relatives to join them to develop their find. By 1835 they established their farmland, their homes and started construction of the first church in western Caledonia.
Prior to their Church’s inaugural Mass in 1836, visiting priests from Annapolis or Liverpool were housed and celebrated Mass at a Patrick Lacey’s humble wood cabin. The church, dedicated to St Joseph, was one of the oldest in the province and served a large area including Counties of Queens, Annapolis and Hants. It’s first Mass was celebrated by Father Simon Lawler and it’s large land plot allowed him to farm his sustenance. A Glebe was built in 1842 by the next pastor, Father Edward Doyle. Liverpool became its mission Church. Arriving in 1877, Father Thomas J. Butler built a new Glebe house, renovated the church and renamed it, St Jerome. A Glebe house renovation was completed in 1906, by Fr Edward LeBlanc, and remains standing to this day.
Parish and community life seemed good, experiencing influxes of Catholic families to serve new industry; the first in 1929 with Mersey Pulp and Paper in Liverpool. This established Liverpool as its own parish. Other industry came and went with its associated feast or famine effect. Notable were gold seekers at nearby Whiteburn. This was followed by a bucket factory, said to be the most prosperous times until it burned in 1944. Two world wars also placed their trials on these parishes at this time. Still, church life was alive with a Sisters of Charity convent, an active Catholic Native population, many youth, catechesis, prayers and religious celebrations, festivals and even movie nights in the 40’s.
Finally, in 1969, St Jerome’s last resident priest departed leaving St Jerome a mission of St Gregory Parish in Liverpool. The Glebe was eventually sold as a private residence. This happy mission/parish relationship continued until 2019.
In this last time period, joys were mixed with trials. The lovely Neo Victorian Gothic Revival architecture of St Jerome was burned to the ground in 1976. It’s current day replacement with rustic wood chalet architecture was initiated by Fr Owen Connolly. Construction and opening in 1978 were under the guidance of Fr Joseph B. Christiansen, Pastor of St Gregory and St Jerome. Gradually, the toll of societal trends had their effects on St Jerome’s faith community with dwindling interest in faith and many residents either moving away or ceasing worship. Since 1980 a host of priests have served at St Jerome as Pastors namely: J.B Christenson, David M Macdonald, J. Macdonald, Don McLeod(OMI), Brian Murphy and Fr. Keith Billard.
From 2016 to 2019 Fr Charles Offor had been Pastor of churches: St Jerome, St Gregory, St Thomas and St Philip. The two smaller Churches of St Jerome and St Philip alternated Mass at 4:00 pm on Saturdays. While St Phillip celebrated Liturgy of the Word in its off week, St Jerome was too limited in availability of parishioners and abilities for a Liturgy. Its Mass attendance only amounted to between 4 and 15 people. The higher number occurred with summertime cottagers.
With reorganization into Saint John the Apostle Parish underway, Fr Jim O’Connor was appointed as Pastor in August 2019. Having celebrated Mass several times in the Fall with at most eight parishioners, he announced a meeting. Its purpose was to discuss the viability of the Church. On November 16, 2019, following 4:00 pm Mass, this meeting ensued with the following parishioners and conversation as noted.
- Parishioners at Meeting
- Chris McCarthy
- Hazel Mansfield
- Peter Hope
- Carolyn Holdright
- Delores Rhyno
- Grace Francis
- Joyce and Danny MacLean (Actually parishioners of St Gregory’s but like to worship at St Jerome)
- How quickly parish life slithered to an end. One parishioner recalled a really significant event in 2005 having many parishioners at St Jerome. Its 100 person nave was full and the annual berry festival in their hall was filled with parishioners and neighbors alike.
- They acknowledged trying for years to encourage their Catholics neighbours to support and participate in the Church to no avail.
- They felt reality has set in and there is no hope for renewal of the church. Most active members are quite senior in age and no longer have the energy for ministry in the Church. Younger members, in their 60’s, either could not attend due to shift work or were often away with work.
- The two key parishioners monitoring, maintaining and serving in the Church, planned to move from the community within two years.
- Saddened and remaining members do not want to go on longer with dismal attendance and inadequate financial support.
- The Hall across the street had not been used for several years and has become unusable with an infestation of insects.
- They unanimously agreed to look into sale of the Church and Hall.
- They agreed all liturgies would conclude at the end of the 2019 calendar year. Therefore two remaining celebrations would take place:
- December 7 with Mass at 3 pm, followed by a traditional Memory Tree celebration for deceased members.
- Christmas Eve.
Added to the situation is an accumulated net amount owing of $ 11,676 in 2019 due to inadequate Collections. This was reduced to $1375 with closure of their bank account.
In summary, St Jerome has an aged population, minimal number of devote worshipers, deteriorating facilities, dismal community support and inadequate revenue.
Therefore, I recommend that St Jerome Church and Hall be permanently closed and sold.
Fr James O’Connor