Without weekend mass, the collection plate does not go around. CP photo

Without weekend mass, the collection plate does not go around. CP photo

COVID-19 shutdown an added burden for Quebec’s struggling Catholic churches

Many churches operate on shoestring budgets and rely on aging volunteers to keep running

MONTREAL — Rev. Jean-Luc Laflamme knows that Thetford Mines has seen better days. The “golden age” in the working-class community in southcentral Quebec, best known for its now-closed asbestos mines, was in the 1950s and 1960s, he said.

But life has changed in the town of over 16,000 residents, and many of the area’s Roman Catholic churches, which Laflamme said once numbered five in Thetford Mines alone, have gradually been forced to shut their doors.

Today, just one remains open: Saint-Alphonse, a towering, grey granite building with a white steeple that was built in the early 1900s.

Normally, the church would host three weekend masses, said Laflamme, the head priest in the Thetford Mines area: one on Saturday and two on Sunday.

But services have not been held at Saint-Alphonse in weeks, as the church is among thousands across Canada that have suspended all in-person services to stem the potential spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

In Quebec, where the Catholic Church historically played a central role in society but has in recent years struggled with low attendance and a lack of revenue, the closures have made an already difficult situation worse.

“We’re not in peril,” said Laflamme, but the economic impact of COVID-19 is already clear.

Without weekend mass, the collection plate does not go around, and that typically brought in between $5,000 and $6,000 every month, he said. Funerals were also a place where donations could be collected, but they too have been cancelled.

Meanwhile, it costs approximately $25,000 per year to heat Saint-Alphonse, Laflamme said, and the church has other expenses, such as insurance and building maintenance costs.

He said some part-time, parish support staff have been temporarily let go until in-person services can resume.

Some of those employees applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides $500 per week for up to 16 weeks during the crisis, Laflamme said. The diocese also intends to apply for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which covers up to 75 per cent of employee salaries.

Andreanne Jalbert-Laramee is a cultural heritage adviser at Quebec’s Religious Heritage Council, a non-profit organization that supports the conservation of historic buildings. In 2003, the group carried out an inventory of 2,751 historic churches built before 1975 that were still in use across the province.

She said while the exact impact of COVID-19 of Quebec’s churches remains to be seen, it will likely be considerable because several were already struggling before the pandemic

Many churches operate on shoestring budgets and rely on aging volunteers to keep running. “They were able to survive on limited means — but we have to say, it was a miracle,” Jalbert-Laramee said.

COVID-19 poses a challenge for houses of worship across Canada, but Jalbert-Laramee said churches in Quebec hold a special importance, both as landmarks in rural communities and for the role they played in health care and education over the decades.

But the Catholic Church’s place in the daily lives of Quebecers has been in decline for years. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, nearly 75 per cent of Quebecers identified as Catholic. But fewer than 1 in 10 said they often attended religious services — the lowest rate in Canada, according to a Leger poll conducted in May 2019.

Quebecers were also the least likely of all Canadians to say they “strongly agree” with the statement, “I believe in God,” the same poll found.

On Montreal’s South Shore, Paul De Leeuw says local parishes have seen a 30 per cent drop in overall revenue since their churches closed in mid-March in line with the COVID-19 shutdown.

De Leeuw, treasurer of the Diocese of St-Jean-de-Longueuil, which includes 45 parishes from Chateauguay to Contrecoeur, said the lack of Sunday collections has hit them hard.

Church leaders have also hesitated to ask for annual donations from regular congregants – the tithe – because many families are struggling financially right now. “It’s hard to ask for the tithe when there are people who lost their jobs,” he said.

The diocese had already sold 28 churches over the past 15 years due to a lack of funds, De Leeuw explained, and today more than half of its parishes cannot sustain their daily operations.

De Leeuw said he hoped the parishes would be able to make it out of the pandemic without suffering major economic losses. In the meantime, the diocese is using financial reserves to pay the salaries of priests and other staff and avoid layoffs.

He said that likely would cost more than $100,000 once Quebec’s COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

While stores outside Montreal were allowed to reopen last week, there has been no indication when religious services will be able to resume in Quebec.

“We don’t have a crystal ball,” De Leeuw said. “We want to be optimistic, but it’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be really difficult.”


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A statement from Education Minister Adriana Lagrange’s office said the government approved online learning for some schools in Alberta out of an abundance of caution. (Advocate file photo).
Alberta Federation of Labour calls school outbreaks alarming

‘This virus can spiral out of control very quickly’

(Pixabay photo)
Bentley Minor Hockey holds ‘Let Them Play’ rally

Bobby McKinlay has had enough. The president of Bentley Minor Hockey is… Continue reading

Alert logo
Red Deer man arrested for child luring

A Red Deer man was arrested on Jan. 21 for an alleged… Continue reading

Mark Jones, Child Advocacy Centre CEO, takes a call. The centre has surpassed its latest fundraising goal. (Black Press file photo).
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre surpasses latest fundraising goal

One-Day Challenge sold $65,000 in 50-50 tickets

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic outside his residence at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Cancel travel plans, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urges Canadians

OTTAWA — Canadians should cancel any non-essential travel plans they might have,… Continue reading

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

(Photo submitted)
Central Alberta researchers recognized for studies in agricultural sciences

Jessica Sperber of Ponoka and David MacTaggart of Lacombe awarded prestigious scholarship

(Photo submitted)
Ponoka RCMP receives new police puppy trainee

Detachment says goodbye to ‘Maja’ and welcomes ‘Neutron’

Conservative MP Tracy Gray rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The Opposition Conservatives are urging the federal government to push back on President Joe Biden’s protectionist Buy American plan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Opposition urges Liberal government to push back against Biden’s Buy American plan

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — The Opposition Conservatives are urging the federal government… Continue reading

Quebec Crown prosecutor Francois Godin speaks to reporters outside a courtroom, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec City Halloween night stabbing suspect returns to court for brief hearing

QUEBEC — The 24-year-old man accused in the Quebec City Halloween night… Continue reading

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen addresses European lawmakers during the presentation of the program of activities of the Portuguese Presidency on a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Francisco Seco, Pool
Canada’s vaccine deliveries further threatened as Europe mulls export controls

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he remains confident in Canada’s… Continue reading

Conservative MP Tracy Gray rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The Opposition Conservatives are urging the federal government to push back on President Joe Biden’s protectionist Buy American plan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
If Canada can survive four years of Trump, it can navigate the new Buy American: PM

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says after the last… Continue reading

Nova Scotia’s provincial flag flies in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Mistaken identity: Porn allegation dropped against Nova Scotia doctor after mix-up

HALIFAX — In a bizarre case of mistaken identity, Halifax police blamed… Continue reading

Art Kempf, originally from the Stettler area but now living in Lacombe, is pictured here with his late wife Lillian. Art’s 100th birthday is coming up on Feb. 22nd.
photo submitted
Former Stettler area resident Art Kempf will be celebrating a very special day next month

Kempf, now a Lacombe resident, marks his 100th birthday on Feb. 22nd

Most Read