PHOTO | RANDY DARR
Fr. Patrick Baska replicated Jesus' washing of his apostles' feet at St. Angela's Church on Holy Thursday.
Fifteen years after it was tagged for possible closure, St. Angela's Parish closed its doors for the last time June 30 and merged with St. Edmund's Parish.
Archbishop Richard Smith presided at the farewell Mass, assisted by Father Patrick Baska, the last parish pastor, and former pastors Fathers Martin Moser and Raymond Sevigny.
The building at 13210-133A Ave., which was the site for hundreds of baptisms, marriages and funerals, has been sold to Queen of Martyrs Parish, a Vietnamese congregation currently worshipping in the McCauley area.
The fate of St. Angela's was more or less sealed in 1998 when the Transformation of Parishes (ToPs) review process recommended it be twinned with St. Pius Parish "with the eventuality that both would close."
"In the meantime the (two) parishes continued to operate and they shared a priest every couple of years," noted Father Patrick Baska, the former pastor of both St. Pius and St. Angela parishes and now the pastor of St. Edmund's.
Two years ago the archbishop made the decision to close St. Angela's citing the ToPs recommendation, the shortage of priests, limited resources and aging membership as reasons for his decision, Baska explained.
"The difficulty with smaller parishes is that elderly folks are trying to keep the parish going but they are getting older and unable to keep up with things," he said.
"They are small neighbourhood churches as well, so it's harder for them to compete, if you want, with the larger parishes."
Baska said when St. Angela's and St. Pius were built in the early 1960s "they were built for neighbourhoods and nowadays we are building churches for entire subdivisions. It's a changing dynamic out there."
Regardless, closing a parish is a sad occasion. "You get to know the people, you get attached to them and so you feel for them," said Baska.
"But for the most part I don't think people were outright upset. They were aware of these things back in the mid-1990s and I think they were always happy that there was a priest that was being assigned to them."
Over the past 15 years five to six priests served St. Angela's and St. Pius, including Baska.
St. Pius, which closed last year and merged with St. Andrew's Parish in the Westmount area, had 120 families. St. Angela's had nearly 200 families. They followed Holy Spirit Parish, which closed in 2010 and merged with St. John the Evangelist.
Randy Darr, former chair of St. Angela's parish pastoral council and now a member of the joint St. Angela's/ St. Edmund's transitional parish council, said parishioners were more or less prepared for the closure.
"The closing process went on for almost two years," he noted. "Nobody wants to see a parish close but the community accepted it and essentially now we've moved on."
Parishioners resisted a bit, but when they realized the decision was final they started to make preparations for the closure, Darr explained. "It was hard to do because St. Angela's was fairly active and a very engaging and friendly parish and we are hoping St. Edmund's will be the same way."
Darr's wife, Nancy, said it is sad to see St. Angela's close but she didn't see much choice.
"It's like a second home for me but we have to look at the financial situation. In another 10 years or so, we'll probably lose half of our population because of aging and it wouldn't be viable to keep the parish."
Nancy, who has been in the parish since it was established in 1961, said she is taking the closure well "because our whole community has moved over to St. Edmund's so I still see the same people."
Furthermore, she is a member of the transitional council with her husband and continues to be involved in music ministry at St. Edmund's, something she did for years at St. Angela's.
"We worked well together back and forth over the years when we needed each other, so for me it won't be a difficult transition."
To make the transition easier, St. Angela and St. Edmund's established a joint transitional parish council in January. In September they will establish a permanent council, Darr said.