Diocese merger inevitable
Ayear ago, we were watching the debate over the future of the Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese, where the faithful were considering a merger with the Ottawa archdiocese. “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,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast back then.
Fast forward to April 27, 2018. It was announced that Pope Francis has united the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall to the Archdiocese of Ottawa. Archbishop Prendergast is now the bishop of the consolidated diocese with an auxiliary bishop to be named at a later date to assist him specifically for the territory of Alexandria-Cornwall.
“I recognize that this decision will not satisfy everyone and that some people may be upset,” stated Archbishop Prendergast. “However, it is my hope that this decision will ultimately contribute to the creation of vibrant faith communities in Alexandria-Cornwall, which will be evangelizing presences in our midst.”
The amalgamation is another important chapter in the history of Glengarry, commonly regarded as the birthplace of Catholicism in the province. The Catholic Church essentially spread into Ontario in the late 1700s via Glengarry. The first bishop in the province, Alexander Macdonell, had his headquarters in St. Raphael’s. In 1890, the Vatican decreed the creation of a diocese comprised of Glengarry, Stormont and Cornwall, with a total population being 56,408; the total Catholic population was 23,043.
Figures posted on the diocese web page show that there are about 64,000 Catholics in the diocese now. However, the number who attend church regularly is about 6,200.
At the time of the creation of the diocese, there were ten priests serving ten parishes and five missions. Today, the diocese has 16 active priests and three retired priests who help out when pastors are on vacation.
There are 25 parishes and one mission; ten parishes have no resident priest. The local diocese has not had its own bishop since Monsignor Marcel Damphousse was transferred to Sault Ste. Marie in November of 2015.
Empty pews, high operating costs, a shortage of priests all add up to an obvious conclusion.
The Archbishop is trying to appease his flock. “I am grateful to Pope Francis for addressing the challenges we face and affirming the importance of the presence of a bishop in Alexandria-Cornwall. I look forward to taking part in working with the clergy, religious and faithful of Cornwall in mapping out our future together. For my part, I pledge respect and my whole-hearted commitment to our future together.” The fate of the diocese has much been much discussed. After many conversations and consultations with the affected parties, including clergy, religious and parishioners, a report was sent to the Vatican at the end of June 2017. Further consultations with the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops extended the period of deliberation until March 2018. “As the unification of dioceses is extremely rare, the transition period will take some time as plans are elaborated to effect the change,” the Church says.
The merger decision may not be not popular, but it was inevitable, and another confirmation of how Glengarry has evolved.