Parishioners of St. Pius X Parish take part in their last Sunday Eucharist July 1.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Parishioners of St. Pius X Parish take part in their last Sunday Eucharist July 1.

July 16, 2012
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

It was a gloomy Canada Day for most members of St. Pius X Parish in north Edmonton. While the country celebrated, they were mourning the closure of their 58-year-old parish.

Archbishop Richard Smith, who concelebrated the final Mass July 1, compared the closure to a death.

"There is no point in trying to sugarcoat things with pious platitudes," the archbishop said in his homily. "A parish closure is very much like a death and it leaves people sad and in fact grieving."

However, Smith urged parishioners to try to find space for other emotions that are also typical of Christians at the time of death, like thanksgiving and hope.

"Eucharist means thanksgiving so this is a moment, even though sad, to say thanks to the Lord for the time you spent together in this parish."

As for hope, the archbishop reminded parishioners that for Christians death never has the last word.

"That's because of Jesus who always leads his people to life," he said. "So let's be confident that God will be generous to us as we step in faith into this moment of transition."

St. Pius' fate was more or less sealed some 13 years ago when the Transformation of Parishes (ToPs) review process recommended it be twinned with St. Angela Merici Parish "with the eventuality that both would close."

The archdiocese acted on the ToPs' recommendations and ordered the closure of both parishes. St. Angela's is scheduled to close within a year.

Parishioners lead the way in the entrance processional

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Parishioners lead the way in the entrance processional.

Factors that led to the original recommendation included declining membership in both parishes and the shortage of priests in the Edmonton Archdiocese. St. Pius, which is now merging with St. Andrew's, has about 120 families and St. Angela's has slightly more than 200 families.

ORDAINED FOR SERVICE

Father Patrick Baska, the pastor of both parishes, has described the closures as sad events that no priest wants to be part of. "A priest wants to serve a parish and not have to be involved in closing a parish," he said in an interview last October.

At the closing Mass, Baska thanked God for the opportunity to serve at St. Pius and the parishioners for their support. He then led the closing farewell rite by visiting several "holy places" in the church, from the baptismal font and the Blessed Sacrament chapel to the statue of St. Pius and the altar. He said a prayer at each site.

An altar server carrying a cross guided Baska to each location. "As we leave this place of worship, we give thanks to you (God) for the blessings we have found here," Baska said as he stood at the entrance of the church.

FOUNDER'S CHALICE

Near the end of the service, selected parishioners processed out a number of parish relics, including the Sacramentary for the Mass and the chalice of Father Francis Gillis, the founding pastor. The archbishop and Baska kissed the altar as a final gesture and invited the congregation to do the same.

At the end of Mass, Yvonne Bouten was one of many who kissed the church's altar.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

At the end of Mass, Yvonne Bouten was one of many who kissed the church's altar.

"It's so depressing," said Adel Moster, a parishioner for the past two years. "I feel so sad this church is closing, just when I have come to know the people here." Moster and her husband Alfonso plan to attend services at St. Angela's Parish until it closes.

"I feel very sad about this," said Yvonne Bouten, after she kissed and touched the altar for the last time. "This parish has been part of my family's life for many years. My children had First Communion and Confirmation here and one of them was married here."

The mother of two said St. Pius, her parish since 1965, was more than a place to attend Mass on Sunday morning.

"It's been like a family. Everybody talked to you; everybody cared about each other," Bouten said. "That, I think, is going to be the saddest (part) of the church closing because now we have lost our community. We still have our faith but we have lost our community."

PRETTY CHURCH

Dave Belland, a parishioner since 1957 and a lay minister for 41 years, described the closure as a "very sad moment" in his life. "Too bad it has to close; it's one of the prettiest churches in the diocese."

He and his wife Doreen plan to join St. Edmund's Parish, where Belland served as an altar boy when he moved to Edmonton in 1943.

Mary Anne Komaran was visibly disheartened by the closure of the parish that has been her home since 1954.

"It's still hardly believable that this Church of St. Pius X would be no more," she told the WCR. "It's extremely sad. My deceased parents, grandparents, many others, have had their funerals at this church.

"My mother died on July 1, 2001 and so today it's a combination of great sadness with the anniversary of her death and the closure of the church."

Komaran, like the Bellands, will attend St. Edmund's.

St. Pius X Parish was established May 29, 1954, the day its patron saint was canonized. The church building will be put up for sale shortly.