Parishioners saddened to say goodbye to friars after more than 80 years
By Agnieszka Krawczynski
Photo: St. Joseph the Worker Church (pictured) was built in 1967 thanks to the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. (BCC file photo)
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement are leaving B.C. after more than 80 years of serving here.
The congregation has been at the heart of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Richmond since it was established in 1931. The friars recently announced they are returning to their headquarters in Garrison, N.Y., due to dwindling numbers.
“Because the numbers of the Friars of the Atonement are so depleted, we don’t have the person power to continue staffing this church,” pastor Father David Poirier, SA, told The B.C. Catholic.
According to Father Poirier, there are only 68 Franciscan Friars of the Atonement around the world. Not counting the number of friars who are retired, ill, or living in nursing homes, only 21 remain.
“We’ve never been a big community, but I don’t think we’ve been this small since the foundation,” he said.
It’s a problem many congregations have faced in recent years: too few new vocations. Father Poirier said during the decades the friars have served in Richmond, not one new vocation has come out of St. Joseph the Worker Parish. “It’s very disappointing.”
Father Poirier lives at the church with assistant pastors Fathers Raymond Luis, SA, and Francis Mallya, ALCP/OSS, as well as Father Arthur Gouthro, SA, in residence.
“We’ve decided to return custody of the parish to the archbishop and withdraw everyone back east.”
This summer, Fathers Luis and Gouthro will go back to Graymoor, their centre in Garrison. Father Poirier will stay for another year to help the next pastor, whose name has not been announced, make the transition.
“There has not been any scandal,” said Father Poirier, who has been the pastor of St. Joseph the Worker since 2005. “We are not being thrown out by the archbishop. Our numbers are just going down over the years.”
About 2,800 families are registered in the parish, where four Sunday Masses and a Saturday anticipated Mass are celebrated.
The news comes just ahead of a significant milestone for the parish – the 50th anniversary of the current church, which the friars built in 1967. Anniversary celebrations are set for June 23 and 24.
Many parishioners were saddened to hear the friars are moving away; some even signed a petition hoping to convince superiors in Graymoor to allow their beloved pastors to stay.