St. Edward’s Cemetery committee caught off guard by sale of graveyard extension

By Craig Westcott/August 12, 2022

Roman Catholics in CBS who were expecting to one day be buried at St. Edward’s Cemetery in Kelligrews are among the latest people impacted by the failure of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s to stop and report the sexual and physical abuse of children at Mount Cashel Orphanage in the 1950s and later.

Contrary to their understanding that cemeteries would be left off the list of Church properties being sold to pay court-ordered compensation to the victims of abuse, a member of the St. Edward’s Parish Cemetery Committee says land set aside for future burials has been sold to a holding company in St. John’s.

Ed Lawlor of the St. Edward’s Cemetery Heritage Committee and a long-time volunteer with the parish, said initially the list of properties the Church is selling included cemeteries, but that an outcry from many parishes persuaded the Archdiocese and the law firm representing Mount Cashel victims to exclude them from the market.

But since then, the cemetery committee has learned that a 2.3-acre piece of ground adjoining the graveyard that it had earmarked for its expansion has been sold to Pine Bud Investments of St. John’s for an undisclosed sum. Lawlor said the parish bought the land from the Nugent family back in 1985 to make sure the cemetery, which dates back to the 1800s, wouldn’t run out of space for burials. The Nugents are the same family that donated the original portion of ground for the cemetery over a century ago, he added. The Town of Conception Bay South, Lawlor pointed out, also recognized the purpose of the extension by zoning it for use as a cemetery.

“We had concerns, but it’s no good to go the Archdiocese, because Bishop (Peter) Hundt is into an ecclesiastic bubble,” said Lawlor. “He doesn’t speak to anybody. So, we contacted the Budden law firm (which represents Mount Cashel victims) about that extension and we said, that’s still our graveyard, and it’s very, very important to us, especially for future burials.”

Lawlor said the cemetery committee’s chairman spoke with a presentative of the law firm who agreed to try removing the extension from the list of assets offered for sale.

“So, we said, gee whiz, that’s a positive sign, and it looked like that would come to fruition,” Lawlor said. “However, the next thing we see in the sales, like when our rectory was sold and other lands were sold, this vacant land was sold as well.”

The Shoreline requested interviews with the Archdiocese, Budden & Associates and Pine Bud Properties. A spokesperson for the Archdiocese replied in an e-mail that, “The process for the sale of Archdiocesan assets is being independently administered by the Court appointed Monitor. The Monitor’s reports as well as other court documents are accessible through the Monitor’s website…” For Pine Bud’s response, see story below.

“The other kink in this is when we looked at the drawings and the land, it looked like there’s no access to that graveyard as far as we can see, because there’s adjoining properties,” Lawlor said. “The only access that we can see is through our cemetery.”

When the committee approached the law firm for details on how the buyer will access the land, which is in a wooded area landlocked between the cemetery, St. Edward’s Elementary School and Sheridan Avenue, it was told, according to Lawlor, that there is access available on St. Edward’s Road, the narrow, gravel lane that leads to the cemetery. But Lawlor said that public road ends at the cemetery gate and anyone accessing the extension would have to drive through the cemetery to get to it.

“So, what we’ve been trying to do is to get hold of Pine Bud Investments to see where their access is, because they’re not coming to a cemetery, that’s ridiculous, coming through someone’s cemetery to access the land,” said Lawlor. “We’re trying to get hold of them to find out where their access is and that sort of thing. We haven’t been successful yet, with people on vacation and all that, but that’s basically where we are at present… We had consulted lawyers about what we could do. It doesn’t seem to be that we can go anywhere there, and certainly we don’t have monies to pay lawyers, because everything was taken from us.”

Under the Church’s settlement with the Mount Cashel victims, St. Edward’s Parish saw its rectory sold, St. Edward’s Church itself placed on the real estate market, and all parish funds, including some $450,000 in an investment fund to be used for church repairs and other expenses, confiscated. Lawlor said even the Holy Communion money was taken.

Most of the $450,000 came from the sale of land on Octagon Pond to the provincial government several years ago for the construction of a new elementary school in Paradise. The parishes of St. Edwards, Villanova in Manuels and Holy Family in Paradise had shared ownership of 30 acres of land, which they had acquired in the 1920s, according to Lawlor. When some 10 acres of it was sold for $1.29 million for the school, the proceeds were split three ways.

The status of St. Edward’s Parish’s only other asset, a soccer field behind the church and next to St. Edward’s Elementary School, that was also used by the Town and the CBS Soccer Association, is unclear. “We hope that somehow that remains, that kids are able to use it,” Lawlor said. “We would hate to see that go, but that’s still considered an asset, so I don’t know where that is right now.”

Lawlor said the parish was left with enough money to continue operating for 45 days.

“Everything was taken and basically our church folded towards the latter part of February, because we couldn’t exist any longer,” said Lawlor. “So did Holy Family. The only church open in our area right now looks like it will be the Church of St. Thomas of Villa Nova. So, people are very upset, and I think while some people may figure the bishop can’t comment because there are legal issues, we consider this a spiritual issue. A graveyard is a spiritual issue. So why aren’t we getting any backing from the Archdiocese? Why is there nobody speaking up? The bishop is the shepherd of the flock. That’s the term, the good shepherd. We hear nothing, absolutely nothing from the Archdiocese and no actual support on this issue. It is a graveyard, and the big factor we look at is, where will people be buried in the future? We’ve looked along the shore here, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room in a lot of the graveyards, so where will people go? That’s another question that people ask… People are very frustrated, certainly with their own church because we feel that there’s a lack of leadership on the part of Bishop Hundt. We figured that your church is (supposed to be) there for you. We completely understand the plight of these gentlemen who were (abused), how they were mistreated and what happened at Mount Cashel. We do. But the fact is, that generations of the people at this parish, and generations of the people who worked to build up their church and who contributed their time and money, had no say in any of that. There was nothing that we could do about that, it was the hierarchy of the church that was responsible for that. But it’s the ordinary people who – and I don’t like to say it and I don’t like to portray it this way – but there’s another set of victims our there now and it is us, meaning the people of all these parishes who have lost everything. That’s the sad reality of this terrible situation.”

Lawlor reckons the small corner of space left in the original section of St. Edward’s Cemetery will be able to accommodate burials for another three to five years, depending on how many people are buried there. The cemetery committee had planned on pushing a road into the extension through a narrow area that is currently flanked by graves of children on each side. The space is so narrow, there was a likelihood some of the graves would have had to be relocated. But that would have opened up the extension to accommodate many more graves in the future.

 “And I’ll tell you something else,” said Lawlor. “I’ve had a call from some elder people in our parish who said, ‘Ed, did you know that on that adjoining property it’s possible there are bodies (already) there, because in the Catholic church, if you committed suicide, or if there were unbaptized babies, oftentimes they weren’t permitted to be on what was called consecrated ground, so lots of times people buried them close to the graveyard.’ Now, I have no evidence to support that, or to say that’s indeed the case. But it has been brought up by some of our senior parishioners…

“I think the hardest part is, for a lot of Catholic families, is that the Church has never come out and said, ‘We know you are not responsible for what happened, but we’re liable. We’re sorry that this is happening.’ We’ve never even gotten that.”

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