June 24th, 2024

St. Patrick’s re-opening doors for celebration; group pushing to have church opened permanently

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on March 16, 2023.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman St. Patrick's Catholic church will be re-opening for a special celebration on Friday after being closed for over a decade.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

After being closed for more than a decade, St. Patrick’s church will open its doors for a special celebration on Friday after a long process that resulted in the church having to open at least twice a year so far.

“What we are doing is following on the decision of the Vatican Signatura and also the guidance of what’s known as the congregation for clergy, and the guidance we received was that the church could be opened at least on occasion for personal prayer and also on two special occasions, one is the feast which is March 17th St. Patrick’s and then the day in which it was dedicated which is I believe September 24th so we’re just following the guidance that has been given to us by the Vatican,” said Catholic Bishop William McGrattan this week.

What McGrattan is referring to stems from a long process that started years before St. Patrick’s church was closed.

In 2006 three Catholic churches were merged into one parish called All Saints Parish. Those churches were St. Basil located on the 13 St. N., Our Lady of Assumption located on the southside and St. Patrick’s located across from City Hall downtown.

A year later, in 2007 then Bishop Frederick Henry announced all three churches would be sold for a new and bigger church to be built. This unleashed a storm of protests and many letters being sent by parishioners who opposed this for years to come.

In June 2011, the Save Our Churches Association (SOCA) was formed to plead the case for retaining all three churches to the bishop, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

On Aug. 1, 2011 Bishop Henry closed St. Patrick’s church, leaving many parishioners heart-broken and in search of a new church to attend. Many stayed within the parish and started attending St. Basil and Our Lady of Assumption churches while others either attended St. Martha’s church in West Lethbridge – or stopped going to church all together, according to SOCA’s representative Francis Noronha.

Since the moment the church closed, a long process to plead with Bishop Henry to reverse his decision started and it reached the highest court in the Roman Catholic Church, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

“On March 12, 2021 the Signatura ruled that Bishop Henry’s decree of Oct. 1 2016 to justify his closure of St. Patrick’s church was invalid on grounds of Canon Law,” said Noronha.

After two more years, this January current Bishop William McGrattan announced that there will be a year-long East Lethbridge Catholic Parish Assessment project which will culminate on Jan. 15, 2024 to find a “made in Lethbridge” solution.

“What we have implemented is a process to review the pastoral conditions of East Lethbridge and the parish of All Saints, and also looking at the current church buildings that are part of the parish. We currently only require two of the churches to be used to meet the pastoral and sacramental needs of the people,” said McGrattan.

He said all of the parishioners are being invited to be part of this discussion, to review all of the documentation because everything needs to be re-examined in light of the pastoral needs of the parish going forward. He said the parish is discerning on how to proceed.

“They have to go to the City and the City will be determining for them the frequency to which church buildings are understood to be in use. Sometimes parishes are only used once a week, sometimes once a month and so these are designations that the city of Lethbridge has some input into,” said McGrattan.

He said this is in terms of the status in which the municipality determines whether a building is commercial or whether it is being used for sacred purpose.

 “We still have to discuss this with them because they are helping us to understand what their understanding of church designation is,” said McGrattan.

The City of Lethbridge responded with a statement that reads “St. Patrick’s Church is zoned as Public Building (P-B) and religious assembly is an allowed use. It would not require a new development permit for religious assembly if it was to be re-activated or used by another religious denomination.”

The City says a building inspector has spoken to a representative from the church did not note a building issue.

In terms of the re-opening of St. Patrick’s church only on occasion, SOCA representative Noronha said SOCA has nothing to do with it since that group has been fighting for the full re-opening, not a “Band-Aid” solution.

“The tribunal said the whole process was unlawful and the church should be re-open as it was in 2011, a fully-functional church, not a church that is only open two days of the year,” said Noronha.

The church will be open for private prayer on today from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Friday for Mass at 7:00 p.m.

SOCA has called a public meeting on Sunday Mar. 19 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the German-Canadian Club located at 902 6 Street North. Members of the public are welcomed to express their views or ask for information.

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