Future of the Diocese
Diocese Alexandria-Cornwall website
This week during the Plenary of the Bishops Conference, I had an opportunity to meet with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Apostolic Delegate to Canada to discuss my report on the consultative process regarding the future of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.
Cardinal Ouellet noted that, though my report had been received at the Vatican in late June, it had not been possible for members of the Congregation to study the report in depth. This important step will take some time as some of the personnel of the Congregation have recently been changed.
His Eminence assured me that he will give attention to our circumstances on his return to Rome and that he looks forward to presenting his concern for the future of our Diocese to the Holy Father at one of his regular Saturday meetings. He indicated that he could not promise us clarity about our future before the end of this calendar year.
Certainly, this news will be disappointing to you as it is to me, for I had been led to believe that we would have received an indication of our future following this week’s meeting. Now, however, it is clear that our present situation will continue for most of the present pastoral year.
Let us, then, go forward with pastoral planning and take the decisions that will ensure that our outreach to God’s people will be forthright and generous. For my part, I commit myself to doing my best to serve with and for you.
Continue to pray our prayer for the Diocese’s future with renewed fervour.
Fraternally yours in Christ,
✠Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Town hall meeting in Apple Hill looks at future of local diocese
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, at a town hall-style meeting in Apple Hill on Monday night.
Apple Hill – This article has been changed from its original version to incorporate general edits for grammar and style.
Could an auxiliary bishop from Ottawa serving parishioners in far Eastern Ontario be a solution, as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall deals with big questions about its future?
It’s one possibility, according to Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, who was speaking on Monday night at a town hall-style meeting at St. Anthony’s Church in Apple Hill.
“Will we have a free-standing diocese, or a merger, or something in between?” Prendergast said at the fourth of five meetings being held this spring, and one attended by about 100 people. “Could there be an auxiliary bishop from Ottawa working in this area and in Prescott-Russell?
“Is there some middle ground?”
Richard Murphy, of Finch, speaking early in the meeting, said “our hearts and minds will always be with the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall – we’ve had a long, rich heritage. . . it’s been said that sometimes people fail to realize what they have until they don’t have it any more.
“It seems that the vast majority of the people of the diocese wish to have their own bishop, and their own diocese. . . we are surely not at the end of our road.”
Prendergast told Murphy “I respect what you said, and I’ve heard it 100 times before, elsewhere (during public and private consultations).”
Prendergast said it’s clear the majority would like a bishop for Alexandria-Cornwall, but he also noted that surveying indicates that 42 per cent of respondents “are open to some other situation.”
Added Prendergast: “There’s no question Alexandria-Cornwall could continue as a self-sufficient diocese. The question is, what’s the future? Do we react to certain circumstances, or are we proactive?”
The fifth meeting being organized throughout the diocese to allow parishioners to provide their thoughts about whether it should be merged with the Archdiocese of Ottawa is on Tuesday night at Saint-Felix in Cornwall.
The local diocese is dealing with a number of issues, including with demographic changes, the decline in the number of clergy and in religious practice, and the needs of a bilingual church.
“All these factors have led us to the point of examining our future now,” Prendergast said.
Prendergast was named by Pope Francis as Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in mid-January of 2016. In his visit to the city a day after the appointment, he immediately and openly talked about the issues facing the local diocese. When he was appointed apostolic administrator for the local diocese, it was with the mandate of making a recommendation as to whether the diocese should be merged with a neighbouring diocese, most likely being the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
In his closing remarks, Prendergast said he’ll submit his report by mid-June, and that he expects a decision or solution from Rome sometime in the early fall, possibly by October.
Earlier in the meeting in Apple Hill, one speaker said that having a locally-based, “dynamic” bishop could lead to more young people attending church, that a bishop looking after the flock in Alexandria-Cornwall would make it more vibrant.
Prendergast said there are ways to encourage more people to come to church, “but I don’t think that’s realistic (that a dynamic bishop would alone solve the problem).”
Responding to comments about cost-saving coming from a merger or amalgamation with Ottawa, Prendergast said “the discussion about this is not based on economic issues. Whether there would be savings or not (by amalgamating), I’m not sure.”
The local diocese has been without a bishop since Bishop Marcel Damphousse was transferred to Sault Ste. Marie early in 2016.
The Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall includes Stormont and Glengarry, serving a Catholic population of more than 65,000. But, statistics indicate only about 10 per cent of that number attends church on a regular basis.
The diocese is divided into English and French deaneries, and has a total of 27 parishes.
Will the Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall fade into history?
“Should the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall merge with the Archdiocese of Ottawa or remain a standalone diocese?” That was the principle question asked Monday evening by the diocese’s apostolic administrator, Terrence Prendergast. In the absence of its own bishop, the Archbishop of Ottawa was asked by the Holy See to conduct a review of Alexandria-Cornwall (A-C) with an eye to its future. The local bishop’s role was vacated when A-C’s previous bishop, Marcel Damphousse, was transferred to a diocese with a larger Francophone population.
Prior discussions included the possibility of the A-C diocese being absorbed by the other neighbouring archdiocese, Kingston. Tonight Prendergast clarified that was not an actual option since Kingston, with a single Francophone parish, is not a bilingual diocese. A-C Diocese is currently a suffragan diocese under Kingston archdiocese, its metropolitan. According to a history of the diocese written by the late Msgr Rudy Villeneuve, it was set up that way rather than being attached to Ottawa to reduce French influence in this decidedly Scottish diocese.
Apparently organizers of Monday evening’s gathering at St. Francis de Sales church underestimated the commitment of the community to have their say concerning this matter. After relocating from the parish hall to the larger church proper, the meeting got underway to a near capacity assembly. This was scheduled as the first of five such public consultations across the diocese, two in English, two in French and one bilingual. Although tonight’s event was one of the all-English consultations, it drew Anglophones and Francophones, urbanites and rural dwellers alike.
Anyone could ask questions and/or offer input from a designated microphone, but they were asked to keep it to no more than 2.5-3 minutes per turn. Some respected the request, but it was a hot-button issue for sure. The near two hour gathering was genial even though the vast majority of those who addressed the assembly were strongly opposed to any sort of merger with the Ottawa archdiocese.
Alcide de Gagne from Ottawa facilitated the discussions and Ottawa’s Debra Sunohara functioned as the official recorder; an audio recording was made. Members of the Leader Panel were Archbishop Prendergast, Fr. Kelvin Maloney (A-C Diocese Vicar General) and Deacon Pierre Aubin (A-C Diocese Director of Administration).
Prendergast remarked that we are 15 months into a 1.5-2 year process. The archbishop assured the assembly in saying that no decisions have been made, but that issues are pressing.
CDSBEO Trustee Ron Eamer shared his observation that: “big cities don’t understand small rural communities.” Eamer also shared a sentiment expressed by many others that youthful bishops are needed to enthusiastically gather Catholic youth around them. He also expressed displeasure that a ballot had not been prepared for use at the meeting.
Helen McAlear, a music minister at St. Peter Parish, articulately addressed a number of relevant concerns. She was adamant concerning the necessity of having a shepherd (bishop) who lives among the sheep and that bigger is not better. She spoke of other options for reconfiguring area dioceses and that language need not be the number one issue, recommending that: “there is no need to be perfect in both languages.”
One of Margo Schwerdfeger’s recommendations was that some members of the Ottawa-based Companions of the Cross community of priests be called upon to take up residence at St. Columban’s large Cornwall rectory and use it as a base of ministry operations here in this diocese. This has been a common practice of the Companions in other cities. The archbishop responded that it won’t happen.
Greg Light was one of the few voices taking the opposite position, saying that the diocese has an incredibly diverse history and that it will be sad to see it go. But, he added: “there is no question – it has to happen”. Light was much more confident than most that the history is sufficiently documented and will be there regardless. He looks forward to the hope of greater access to programs and parish renewal by gaining membership in the Ottawa archdiocese.
As for next steps, the archbishop indicated that a consolidated report of the five sessions will be prepared for the Holy See, that he remains listening and attentive, and that it will be up to the Holy Father to approve or disapprove of the conclusions. The parishioners can look forward to feedback via homilies and newsletters. Prendergast summarized the essence of what he heard at the meeting regarding the nature of the concerns conveyed: respect for the history, spirituality, vision and hope for the future.
Some participants accepted the offer to gather in the parish hall for refreshments and fellowship following the meeting.
The next such public consultation is scheduled for this Wednesday, April 5th at 7 p.m. at Holy Cross Parish in Alexandria in French. A bilingual consultation is planned for Wednesday, April 12 at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Crysler. Other upcoming Consultations are planned for Monday, May 15th at 7 p.m. in English at St. Anthony Parish in Apple Hill and lastly a French Consultation at St Felix de Valois Parish in Cornwall on Tuesday, May 16th at 7 p.m.
‘Bigger is not better,’ Alexandria-Cornwall Catholics say about potential merger
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 6:34:21 EDT PM
Parishioners line up to ask questions and comment on plans of a possible merger of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall and the Archdiocese of Ottawa on Monday, April 3, 2017 in Cornwall, Ont.
Alan S. Hale/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network
The pews inside Saint Francis de Sales Parish in Cornwall were filled to bursting on Monday evening as hundreds of parishioners flocked to the church to discuss the future of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.
If all Catholic churches in the region were as full every Sunday, the meeting would not have been necessary. But in recent years, local churches have been struggling with the effects of declining mass attendance, decreased tithe funds and difficulty attracting clergy to the community.
All these pressures culminated in the meeting on Monday where the question brought before parishioners was whether the diocese should merge with the Archdiocese of Ottawa. The Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, started the meeting by assuring the congregation that no decision has been made, but it needs to be made soon.
“I don’t want (this process) to go on too long. Because when people are uncertain and insecure, they are troubled. They are worried about everything and hold back on making decisions,” warned the archbishop.
The Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall does not have its own bishop currently, instead, the Pope and the College of Cardinals appointed Archbishop Prendergast to serve as “apostolic administrator” for the Catholic churches in Cornwall in January of 2016. While he is in charge, the Vatican tasked him with deciding whether the diocese in Cornwall should remain independent or join the archdiocese in Ottawa.
Prendergast said he wanted that decision made within two years. Now, 15 months since his appointment, he is holding public consultation meetings in Cornwall in both French and English to gauge what parishioners want to see happen.
“Things can never stay the same,” he said. “So we’re here because it’s important to hear from the lay people; what questions and fears you have.”
Several attendees asked questions or made comments to a panel made up of the archbishop, Deacon Rev. Pierre Aube, and Vicar General Rev. Kelvin Maloney.
The feedback from local English-speaking Catholics was overwhelmingly against a merger. While many proposed compromise positions, no one spoke in favour of a merger.
The most common fear articulated by speakers was that the needs of local churches will not matter to administrators in Ottawa because their main priority will be parishes inside the larger city.
“I don’t feel this job can be done by the Archdiocese of Ottawa,” said one speaker. “Bigger is not better.”
Others felt the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall has a special place in Catholic history as one of the first places where the church arrived in Ontario.
“Out history will be lost,” warned another speaker.
Many parishioners said they were uncomfortable with the idea of not having their own bishop living and preaching in the community. One woman argued that having a local bishop who would be around to build relationships with local teens is essential to convincing young people to stay in the church.
Several people made suggestions on how to either keep the Cornwall diocese independent or make a merger more palatable for local Catholics. One suggestion was for the church to not be as picky about the qualifications it expects for a new bishop for Cornwall: that he be bilingual and 65 years old.
As a sort of compromise, it was suggested one of the Archdiocese of Ottawa’s auxiliary bishops come to Cornwall to serve as the community’s de facto bishop after any merger.
The church will be holding similar consultation meetings with Frech parishioners in the Cornwall diocese this week. If it appears that the decision is leaning toward a merger, similar consultations will be held in Ottawa before a recommendation is made to the Holy See.
Diocese Alexandria-Cornwall website
[Undated – seems to have been issued in Spring 2017]
To the Faithful of Alexandria-Cornwall:
Last year when the Holy See appointed me as the Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, it was with the mandate of making a recommendation as to whether the Diocese should be merged with a neighbouring diocese, the most likely being the Archdiocese of Ottawa.
In order to report back to Rome, I first had to get to know the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall. To that end, I have tried over the last year to visit as many of the parishes as possible and to attend as many diocesan functions as possible. On these occasions, it has been my great pleasure to meet so many of you on an informal basis.
Along with the priests, I have decided that the time has now come for a more formal setting in which to hear what each of you think about the future of your Diocese. A series of five consultations, beginning on April 3rd, have been scheduled to take place throughout the Diocese. The format we will use is a “Town Hall” style meeting.
I hope to hear from as many of you as possible during that six week period. I would like to personally invite you to attend one of these meetings and to let me know what you are thinking. You may also provide your thoughts in writing by way of email or traditional mail. The balance of this newsletter provides you with information about the Diocese and about this formal consultation process.
Demographic changes, the decline in the numbers of clergy and in religious practice among us and the needs of a bilingual church— all these factors have led us to the point of examining our future now.
Despite what many may think or have heard, no decision has yet been made about the Diocese’s future. There are many factors to be considered and weighed when making a decision that will be impactful on so many. One of those factors is certainly the voice of the faithful, without which a good decision cannot be made.
Finally, I invite you to continue to pray our Diocesan Prayer and to implore Our Lady’s intercession as we journey forward.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
✠Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Archbishop’s Update on the Diocese
December 12, 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:Eleven months ago, Pope Francis appointed me Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall following the departure of Bishop Marcel Damphousse for the Diocese of Sault-Sainte-Marie. The reason for my appointment was to help discern whether this Diocese should continue and therefore request a new bishop or whether it should be merged with one of the neighbouring dioceses, the Archdiocese of Ottawa being the most likely.
During these past eleven months, I have had the opportunity of getting to know your Diocese. I have had the pleasure of meeting many of you at various Masses and events. It is clear you love your Diocese and are proud of your history and tradition.
While many would no doubt like an answer on the future of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall right now, this is a relatively unprecedented question. The merging of two dioceses is actually quite uncommon in the Catholic Church and there is nothing in Canon Law (the Church’s legal code) that spells out when or how a merger should happen. As a result, we have been discussing the best approach for making a good decision, since it will affect many people for years to come.
It has never been my intention to come into your Diocese and impose a decision after just a few short visits. Rather, I felt it was important to get a good overview of the Diocese and you its faithful people first, something I continue to do. Following discussions with the clergy and staff of the Diocese, I made the decision earlier this fall to retain an outside consultant, who knows and understands the Catholic Church, to assist in developing a process for making this important determination.
Early in the New Year, the clergy will meet to discuss the merits of remaining a stand-alone diocese as well as the merits of merging with a larger diocese. There are also plans in the works for a survey that will consider all facets of the Diocese from the health of the parishes to the demographics of the Diocese. I invite your cooperation in this process as it proceeds.
Making use of our Diocesan Prayer, let us ask Our Blessed Mother’s intercession, seeking enlightenment from the Holy Spirit as we move forward in this discernment process.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
✠Terrence Prendergast, S.J.
Deciding Alexandria-Cornwall diocese’s fate
Thursday, January 14, 2016 6:06:15 EST PM
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, at the diocesan centre in Cornwall on Thursday January 14, 2016 in Cornwall, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network
When Archdiocese of Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast made a visit to the city a day after being named Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, he dealt head on with a big question.
What will the future be for the local Catholic diocese?
Prendergast had a Thursday afternoon meeting with the diocesan College of Consultors, and a bit later met with the Standard-Freeholder.
“Should a new Bishop be named?” Prendergast asked. “Should the (Alexandria-Cornwall diocese) be associated with another diocese? The questions were revived.”
The answers will come over the next 18 months.
Prendergast has taken over the temporary governance of the diocese, and over the next 18 months he will come closer to a very significant decision on its fate.
“There are (several issues), there are smaller numbers in (Cornwall-Alexandria),” Prendergast said. “Can we afford it? How far can the diocese be diminished before other steps have to be taken?
“(Another issue is) finding a priest who’s bilingual, because the diocese is bilingual.”
Prendergast said he’ll be “listening to the people, listening to the priests,” during his time here. “It’s an 18-month process.”
At the end of it, after all the consultations, Prendergast will make his recommendation to the pope.
It was, of course, Pope Francis who on Wednesday named Prendergast the Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.
When Bishop Marcel Damphousse took possession of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday morning in a ceremony at North Bay’s Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption, the more than 56,000 Catholics of our diocese were officially left without a bishop. (Damphousse’s transfer was announced in the fall by the pope.)
“It’s an honour to serve the clergy, religious and faithful of another local church, respecting the unique characteristics of that church,” Prendergast said about his appointment.
“The coming months will be a time of challenge, as together we reflect on the needs of Alexandria-Cornwall, its pastoral plan for evangelization and renewal, and how the future might unfold.
“I thank the Holy Father for the privilege of serving in this way. I ask all in Ottawa and Alexandria-Cornwall to pray for me, (and) to pray for us, in the days ahead.”
Prendergast, 71, is bilingual — he was born and raised in Montreal. And he’s been busy like this before. Prendergast is in his ninth year as Archbishop of Ottawa, but before that he was Archbishop for Halifax and apostolic administrator for neighbouring Yarmouth.
Prendergast, in his 21st year as a bishop, will be back at the Alexandria-Cornwall Diocese in two weeks; all of the decisions of the bishop will be Prendergast’s decisions.
On Thursday, at the College of Consultors meeting, Prendergast confirmed that Father Kelvin Maloney (pastor of St. Finnan Cathedral) will stay on as Vicar General, or second in command at the local diocese.
Prendergast also noted that the auxiliary bishop in Ottawa could also be involved in matters with the Alexandria-Cornwall diocese.
“We had a very good meeting today,” Prendergast said. “The fact that we talked about 18 months (for a major decision) was encouraging to (local priests). The Vatican hasn’t decided one way or another (what will happen to Alexandria-Cornwall).”
Prendergast acknowledged what priests told him: there would be a sense of loss, if, after having a bishop for 125 years, there was none close by in this community.
For now, Prendergast plans to enjoy meeting new people.
“I’ve gotten to see very different-size dioceses,” he said. “Every one has its own character, it’s own charm, it’s own history . . . for me what’s important is to respect the local church, the local people.”