Is your parish struggling? Here is an idea that may help.

Far and wide in the USA we hear about dioceses that are – allegedly – “forced” to close parishes.

Perhaps another approach to those moribund parishes could be tried before closing them.

Here is an interesting “brick by brick” story from Ottawa.

With Latin mass, a parish secures its future by drawing from the past

By Kelly Egan, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Ste-Anne’s in Lowertown was built in 1873, in the classic form: stone walls, stained glass, a central spire, beautiful lines — what a kid would draw with a crayon if you said, “Hey kid, draw a church.” [Isn’t the case that these are the sort of churches that get closed?  They are in older areas of cities or were built by loving immigrants in the countryside.]

Much happened in the next 135 or so years. But nothing like the events of April 2, 2009, when a wall very nearly fell in.

Only an hour before the church was to be occupied, a portion of the upper west wall collapsed, sending a beam hurtling onto the church floor, crashing through eight rows of pews. On the way, an antique chandelier, later replaced for $50,000 in insurance funds, was destroyed.

Repairs would take months, cost close to $1 million; the congregation would have to vacate, eventually disperse.

Could anything save Ste-Anne’s, the francophone parish on Old St. Patrick Street that had always lived in the shadow of nearby Notre-Dame Basilica?

Well, two years later, we have the answer. Latin. Yes, Latin. Carpe diem.

Early in June, the parish of St. Clement’s, on nearby Mann Avenue in Sandy Hill, will move in.

It is the only church of its kind in the archdiocese: masses are still said in traditional Latin, with the priest facing the front of the church, back to the worshippers, [sigh… we just can’t shake that error, that cliché…] the so-called “Extraordinary Form” of the Catholic rite that was largely abandoned in 1965. To make it even more distinct, homilies are done in English and in French; one after the other, possibly Ottawa’s only trilingual mass.


In the short term, the parish needs to deal with how to make Ste-Anne’s “old again”, in the sense of restoring the sanctuary to something approximating its original look. Two smaller side altars will also be brought from St. Clement’s.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the whole story is that a church, in a real sense going back in time to use a so-called dead language has managed to draw 400 on a typical Sunday, grow its congregation, attract three priests and young families and put its future on stable footing.

“It’s not unusual to have people drive two hours to come to our mass,” says Barry McMahon, 63, a parishioner for about 14 years.


Read the rest there.

BTW… the priest there is Fr. Philip Creurer, FSSP. Yes, Fraternity of St. Peter.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Papabile says:

    Shows how little they know about the Extraordinary form. EVERY Extraordinary form Mass is trilingual. This is a case of having 5 languages, rather than three spoken.

  2. digdigby says:

    “How DARE he turn his back on us”. That riles me. The building is a kind of ship (nave) and the priest is in the prow ‘steering’ it. How very anti-social! He should be facing the passengers, joking and acting coy (we all love Father Bob – even Father Bob!) and certainly not acting like he is ‘apart’ from them in any way. A warm, snuggly and very human priest (foibles and all) – sort of like…. Captain Schettino.

  3. Score one for Canada! Might I also add that a number of Una Voce chapters are starting to pop up over the years since Summorum Pontificum came into effect, the latest being Una Voce Hamilton and Una Voce London. There are also some independent or diocesan Catholic Churches/Lay efforts not associated with Una Voce that are popping up too. There is a small but steady growth in interest in Canada.

  4. Sixupman says:

    In the UK, with the exception of Bishop Davies, the Bishops’ Conferences would rather demolish, or sell as a mosque, than let a Tradition Order take-over. The Jesuits and Lancaster Diocese both wanted to sell iconic churches, the former saved and now thrives, to the angst of the local ordinary, and the latter, denied to a Tradition Order, or even diocesan cleric, in that it would detract from adjacent parishes. The same also in Liverpool and Leeds Diocese, with the latter closing a vibrant parish. It is all a matter of record.

  5. Johnno says:

    This is good. I know I’d try attending one of these masses were it closer to home. Maybe the reporter is flabbergasted that people are going out of their way to attend this mass because they want it so much that it’s practically saved and rebuilt a parish, and it goes against the very notion of liberal progress…

    [Remember that under the Obama Administration, your freedom of expression is being undermined. The Secret Service can now do things to you if you make any sigh of protest. HERE.]

  6. PeterK says:

    here is a link to St. Clement’s photo pages

  7. RichR says:

    From an administrative POV, when you are looking at the cost of maintaining individual parishes, and you are looking at the total income of a diocese (in terms of its individual parishes collections added together), does it make sense to simply distribute the wealth via parish migration of parishioners?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for keeping the churches that look distinctively Catholic, but I wonder if the argument is made that even when you have these stories of condemned parishes being saved by Traditionalist communities, you don’t see any change in total diocesan collections and expenses?

    Just wondering.

  8. Dr. Sebastianna says:

    We should all stop whatever we are doing right now and say a Te Deum… What wonderful news this is… : )

  9. Joe Magarac says:

    I sympathize with the notion that old churches could be saved if they were given over to Extraordinary Form liturgies, but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. I live in Pittsburgh, and within three miles of my house there are more than ten current or former Catholic churches. They were built during an era when people tended to live in the City and not in the suburbs; Pittsburgh proper has a population of some 300,000 people, down from a maximum of over 600,000. There is one centrally-located EF parish in Pittsburgh and people already drive great lengths to attend its liturgies. You could not convert each of the former Catholic churches in the City of Pittsburgh – and there are literally dozens of them – into an EF parish as well and expect each of them to survive; the population base just isn’t there.

    There are many, many reasons why we should encourage the EF in our churches. But the notion that in doing so, we might save lots of churches that would otherwise be closed isn’t one of them.

  10. HyacinthClare says:

    FSSP! Of course! Oh, blessed be God for the FSSP. We’re a long way from Quebec, but in Phoenix the Mater Misericordiae parish is also flourishing to the honor of Christ and his Blessed Mother, and in all the ordinary ways the world counts flourishing. We bought a closing Baptist church and made it “look Catholic”.

    RichR, I really don’t understand your question, and I’d like to. Are you saying dioceses don’t financially benefit from saving churches because only contributing parishioners from other churches migrate there? I don’t know. But what about the value of a new strong, healthy parish to the Kingdom of God?

  11. dans0622 says:

    It’s a good parish, where I first attended the E.F. Fr. Creurer will never finish that JCD if this keeps up.

  12. HyacinthClare: “FSSP! Of course! Oh, blessed be God for the FSSP.”

    And there’ll soon be 5 more FSSP priests for assignments like this. Just announced:

    The Priestly Ordinations for Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary will broadcast LIVE from the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, Lincoln Nebraska, on Saturday May 19th 2012 at 10:00 AM Central Time, (11:00 AM Eastern, 8:00 AM Pacific), on and iMass.

    “The Priestly Ordinations will be administered by His Excellency Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Bishop of Lincoln Nebraska.

    “The following candidates will be ordained priests for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter:

    Rev. Mr. Gregory Eichman FSSP
    Rev. Mr. Karl Marsolle FSSP
    Rev. Mr. Brian McDonnell FSSP
    Rev. Mr. Kevin O’Neil FSSP
    Rev. Mr. Kenneth Walker FSSP

    “Commentary will be given during the broadcast by Rev. Fr. Calvin Goodwin FSSP.

    “This is an opportunity for many people who have never seen an Ordination (nor may likely ever attend one), to be able to view and unite their hearts to this Holy Sacrament and view this breathtaking ceremony from their homes or mobile devices.”

  13. Michelle F says:

    If you have four parishes near one another, and three of the four are Modernist buildings, and one is a Traditional building, why not close the three Modernist buildings and force everyone into the Traditional one? Look at all of the money you’d save by having only one building to deal with, and at all of the souls you’d save by having everyone in a normal Catholic environment! Win-win!

  14. Tim Ferguson says:

    Whilst in Ottawa, studying for my licentiate in canon law, I regularly attended Holy Mass at St. Clement. It truly is a wonderful community, and that has to be attributed in no small part to the reverence of the Mass. I am glad to see them move into a church building more suited to the traditional liturgy (their current home, while not execrable, is very… severe).

  15. Gaetano says:

    I believe St John Cantius in Chicago had much the same story.

  16. Gretchen says:

    Even those churches that have a modernist look to them can be ‘reformed’ to reflect a more Catholic sensibility. By closing them and ‘forcing’ people into a traditional-looking church, you are tearing apart the communities that built and maintained those churches, and removing the bodily presence of Christ Jesus from the tabernacle. Each of these churches is consecrated ground. It would be better to keep them open, and encourage a reform of the liturgy. It’s not the easy way, of course, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

  17. Paul says:

    In the Archdiocese of Boston they have closed many parishes and are now consolidating parishes into parish planning teams, i.e. 2-4 parishes for a single priest. Many beautiful churches have been sold, more will be lost. In fact, last year I was at and old parish for the funeral of my uncle, big beautiful old church, massive crucifix behind the altar with wall paper peeling off of the walls, near dead Easter lillies on the alter, chapel downstairs unusable due to a fire years earlier and never repaired. It was a shame.

    More beautiful churches in Boston are going to suffer the same fate. Rumor has it, and I want to emphasize rumor, that both the FSSP and ICKSS wanted to due the same for a beautiful old church and Boston and were shut down.

  18. Michel says:

    This story, while interesting leaves out a whole lot of context. For example, there was a long and complex struggle to keep the Latin alive in the church here in Ottawa. There were a number of parishes along with the Sisters of the Precious Blood who kept the mass going as long as they could. There was a splinter group who left the church and set up their own chapel for unsanctioned masses in Latin. It’s also important to understand that Ottawa is how to a Catholic University named St. Paul’s that has had its very liberal moments and whose staff have advocated (very effectively) not only to advance liberal causes but to exclude conservatives. . Finally, the Archdiocese here splits on linguistic lines between French (usually much more liberal) and Irish (sometimes less so) lines.

    I couldn’t go into all of it here but one little nugget from the past will give some notion of how deep the feelings run. In the 1980s, a group of Oratorians were given charge of what was then a financially troubled old church called Saint Brigid’s, which is less than a mile from St Anne’s. Among other things, they began saying the Novus Ordo in Latin.

    Liberals were alarmed at this and they began attending masses at St Brigid’s and reporting everything they thought excessive to the Bishop. I remember that one of the things that really disturbed the liberals was that the women attending St. Brigid’s for the Latin mass often wore lace Mantillas. Eventually they succeeded in convincing the bishop to kick the Oratorians out.

    St Brigid’s eventually under and had to be shut a few years ago. It’s now a cultural centre where concerts take place.

    And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to the story including some of TLM enthusiasts descending to the same depths as their opponents as well as heartening tales of perseverance and faith.

  19. Joe in Canada says:

    Michel – was that the current bishop of Ottawa?

  20. Yes, St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, which had 23,000 attending 19 Masses each Sunday in the early 20th century, had fallen by the late 1980s into disrepair with only a relative handful of elderly parishioners attending Mass each Sunday. Then it was quite literally revived rebuilt into a national liturgical mecca by “restoring the sacred liturgy”, with the neighborhood rejuvenated also — Save the Liturgy, Save the Church, Save the Neighborhood. A beautiful video that tells the story:

    “This video investigates how a decaying old church in Chicago became a thriving religious and cultural treasure. When a Catholic priest with no previous parish experience arrived, he faced a building in severe disrepair, but he realized that there was an even deeper need: to restore the faith and sacred culture of the parish community. “

  21. Dies Irae says:

    Henry Edwards and Hyacinth Clare,
    By all means, watch it!!!! [you may even get to see me on camera ;)] The ordination ceremonies are so beautiful and mysterious. If you can’t go to the ceremony, watching it still is amazing. I couldn’t go to the seminary chapel consecration, but I watched it and it was so amazing!! Although, ordinations are at the Cathedral…has anyone ever been there? It is, to put it quite bluntly, hideous. (No offense to anyone, but you have to admit, it is pretty ugly.)
    The five being ordained are very fine young men. They are going to be great priests. God Bless the FSSP!!!!

  22. anilwang says:

    RichR said “does it make sense to simply distribute the wealth via parish migration of parishioners?… saved by Traditionalist communities, you don’t see any change in total diocesan collections and expenses?”

    Simple. In purely economic terms it has to do with supply and demand. If adding a new product (that is harder to obtain) reduces the demand for existing products (which are easy to obtain), it’s a clear sign that the existing products are in low demand. If your total demand is decreasing (parish closings), its clear that you need more of the new product out there and less of the old. In the short term, this will redistribute your profits since the total market share hasn’t changed, but since the demand is stronger it is less likely that your market share will continue to decline and it might mean that you might actually increase your market share.

    You don’t have to be an economist to know this. Grocery stores do this all the time.

    That’s one reason I’m confident in the return of orthodoxy to the Catholic faith. The next Pope doesn’t have to be a traditionalist to realize that the “Spirit of Vatican II” marketing venture has failed and the pre-Vatican II and true-Vatican II orthodoxy (which is compatible with pre-Vatican II) is succeeding.

  23. I cannot express how much it annoys me to see the Extraordinary Form of the Mass denigrated, despised, and unfairly criticized in such unspiritual terms, with “back to the people” and all that nonsense. It’s like these people who talk this way don’t realize the mystical reasons for worshipping toward the East.

  24. Michel says:

    Note to Joe in Canada, no it was not the current bishop. If I remember correctly Joseph Aurele Plourde was Archbishop at the time.

  25. digdigby says:

    Henry Edwards-
    That was ROUSING. Thanks.

  26. Michelle F says:


    Your point is well taken, but it applies equally to traditional Catholic Churches and the faithful Catholics who built and maintained them.

    Traditional church buildings have been and still are “reformed” to reflect the sensibility of “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics. Altars have been destroyed and replaced with “tables,” statues have been destroyed, murals have been whitewashed, stained glass windows have been covered or removed, altar rails have been removed, kneelers have been removed… etc.

    By closing traditional Church buildings and forcing people into Modernist churches, you are denigrating the faith and sacrifices of the people who built them, and you are tearing apart the communities that have struggled to maintain their Churches – as well as denigrating their own faith and sacrifices. You are also removing the Bodily presence of Jesus, God, from the Tabernacle – and then in the new church, you are likely shoving Him off into a closet which we are told is a “chapel.”

    The traditional Churches are consecrated ground. It would be better to keep them open and encourage a reform of the liturgy – which, by the way, is in progress thank God – than to destroy them and the Faith they represent and teach.

    Keeping traditional Churches open is not the easy way, of course, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

    If you think Modernist churches can be reformed to look like Traditional Churches, please take a look at exterior and interior pictures of the Church of Santa Monica in Rivas, Spain, the Metropolitan Brasilia Cathedral, and the Cathedral of Light in Oakland, California here:

    I believe THE ONLY way these buildings and others like them can be reformed to look like Catholic Churches is with a bulldozer.

  27. Clinton R. says:

    There is a parish here in the LA Archdiocese (of only 2 that offer the TLM) that says the timeless Mass and so many come from miles around. What is quite obvious is the innovations to the Mass, the wreckovations to parishes and a departure from sound Catholic teaching alienated many Catholics from the Church. Just look at Europe and elsewhere. How many times have we seen the silliness that passes as a Mass? The beer garden First Communion. The Easter Bunny. Clowns. Balloons.Rainbows. Dissidents. The reading of the koran. Liturgical Dancing. Puppets. Pop music. That surely doesn’t inspire too many, especially the youth, that the very sacred and Holy occurs at each Mass. What is new and novel today quickly becomes old and dated. What is holy and traditional stands the test of time. I hope and pray for the SSPX, so the TLM is more available and orthodox Catholic teaching is restored. Save the liturgy, save the world.

  28. Michelle F says:

    By the way, the owner of the blog to which I linked likes these churches, but I just used his page because it had interior pictures as well as exterior.

  29. jflare says:

    I think I’d be quite cautious about the idea of “reforming” a “modern” church to reflect a more Catholic sensibility. I’ve attended Mass at churches in which, even though the cornerstone says 1954, when I walk into the building, I still cringe. It LOOKS GHASTLY to me!
    Granted, I’m biased: While living in Bavaria (Southeast Germany), I had a chance to see many a church that had definitely seen some serious thought and effort. I gather there are a few like that in or around Chicago too.

    If you have a church that currently looks more alike to a gymnasium, you’ll have a great deal of work–and fundraising–to do before it’ll look like a serious church.

  30. Dave N. says:

    One could go on how there is no money to repair churches and keep them open but there seems to be plenty for other things. But it wouldn’t help.

    This article is really refreshing; the Spirit breathing new life into something near death. There something positively, oh I don’t know…Christian about it!

  31. HyacinthClare says:

    Dies Irae, thank you for the invitation… how will I know you if I see you?? I attended an FSSP ordination in that cathedral several years ago, and I agree with you about its being Ug-ly. And we are so fortunate in Phoenix that (we hope, if it’s the will of God) one of those new young priests, now Deacon Kenneth Walker, will be returning to our church here where he has been serving since Christmas. It’s hardly fair… so many of you would love to have ONE of them. Before Christmas, our “one” nearly ran himself ragged remodeling the church and serving all of us all by himself.

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  33. Gretchen says:

    I am not arguing for keeping modernist churches and abandoning traditional churches. All should be kept unless there is no hope of a viable parish, ever. I believe that is in keeping with canon law. And I have seen many pictures where ugly modernist churches have been renovated to reflect a more traditional Catholicity. It can be done. It must be done. The reform of the liturgy works from the inside out, I think.

    In my particular clustered parish, the progressive pastoral administrator lives in the very large and updated rectory of the traditional church. Our two parish priests live in the small and run-down rectory of a 1950s era church. The third church, also built in the 50s, is beautiful but not traditional (although the tabernacle remains in the center, unlike the traditional church where it has been moved to the side).

    My point is that the rack and ruin that happens when a Catholic church (modernist or traditional) is abandoned and sold/destroyed is not worth the momentary financial relief. In our community, most of us drive daily by the site of our clustered parish’s fourth and now-destroyed church. A private school has arisen on the site where a church, convent, and school previously stood. The pain does not diminish with time.

    To me, it is not a case of saving one or the other kind of church. Both should be saved and maintained (and renovated if needed).

  34. Springkeeper says:

    I’ll admit I’m new at this, but if, during a Latin Mass, the priest has “his back to the people”, than doesn’t that mean that during a OF Mass, he has his back to the Lord?

  35. Dorcas says:

    Oratorians took over a couple of parishes in a poorer area of Toronto, and completely revitalised them. Goodness knows we need this kind of help in Canada…

  36. contrarian says:

    I think a tip of the hat to Kelly Eagan is called for too. I don’t see any indication that she’s Catholic herself, and being that 1) this is a secular newspapers, and 2) it’s Canada, I was quite impressed by the reporting, Almost some hidden enthusiasm. Certainly, this could have been spun another way. As to her ‘back to the people’ remark, I think she can be forgiven by her unfamiliarity with trad phraseology. She certainly didn’t mean it in some sort of snide way.

  37. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Could you apply this same logic to crumbling religious communities? The Trappist monastery near here in Berryville VA has mostly aging monks – the youngest is the Abbot himself, maybe mid 40s or early 50s? If they would welcome the Tridentine Mass and change their ways, this venerable order would be bursting with new life.

    The huge property used to have heads of cattle, crops, even beehives and a huge bakery operation. They stopped making bread decades ago, the jelly is subbed by some company or other. They may still make the fruitcakes, but with outside help as the few monks are aged.

  38. APX says:

    doesn’t that mean that during a OF Mass, he has his back to the Lord?

    No because the Tabernacles were all moved.

    Food for thought on the back to the people thing. I noticed in our new abhorrent cathedral/multi-use building that since it’s built in a circle, for half of the congregation they must participate through the entire Mass with the priest’s back to them.

  39. ContraMundum says:

    No because the Tabernacles were all moved.

    Several years ago, I was driving from Lubbock, TX, to Dallas, and I stopped at a church along the way for confession. As I was sitting outside the confessional waiting my turn, I noticed a rather ugly pillar made of some brownish material that might have been a copper alloy. It had symbols on it that didn’t mean anything to me; one of them seemed to be the Egyptian hieroglyph for water. The pillar was at the extreme right end of the 2nd or 3rd row of chairs, so the chairs were facing the confessional, not the pillar. Then, to my horror, I noticed what appeared to be a presence lamp hanging above it on a chain. I asked one of the local parishioners, who confirmed my suspicions.

  40. Dies Irae says:

    HyacinthClare, Look for a girl with a veil, oh wait….:) I’m not very noticeable, but if you see three or four fellows in suits with marine cuts, I won’t be far from them. ;)
    Oh, I know, in past years we’ve had several deacons with us, but they were never stationed back here in KC. (BTW, I think Fr. Z posted about our new church?!?!?) And they are all so dedicated, they, as you say, work themselves ragged. God Bless them all!!

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