September’s Hallam News carries items about two important anniversaries. One celebrates an event from sixty years ago (St Joseph’s, Retford) and the other goes back a mere, but nevertheless significant, twenty one years (Bishop’s Walk).
The articles together give a real sense, not just of social history but also of a changing and developing Church. Sponsored walks were in their infancy in the 1960s and the idea of a Bishop taking part in a sponsored walk would have been incomprehensible to most people.
The fact that a new Catholic Church was built in 1959, while a source of great joy to the people of Retford, was not an uncommon event across the country.
Today as a community we are all too well aware that the current life of our Diocese is being served by parishes joining together and re-forming. Some parishes are investigating the Divine Renovation project. See the fifth article on Divine Renovation to learn more of the work of Fr James Mallon.
The constant theme of all these articles is love of God and love of our neighbour.
St Joseph’s Church, Retford Celebrates 60 years, with Confirmation
St Joseph’s Church in Retford is one of the ‘youngest’ parish churches built in England after the Reformation. Therefore, the parish was delighted to celebrate a new milestone – 60 years in a permanent church.
Many will know that Retford is at the heart of ‘Pilgrim Father Country’. Dissenters to the Anglican communion were oppressed – some escaped on the Mayflower and built a ‘New World’. 400 years have passed and this is being commemorated across North Nottinghamshire, in Plymouth and in Massachusetts.
Not all could flee and other dissenters were persecuted for a further 200 years, Catholics particularly so in North Nottinghamshire.
The parish, with Fr John Nwadike, was proud to welcome Bishop Ralph to confirm the children, witnessed by four former Parish Priests, Fr Desmond Sexton, Fr John Windle, Fr Bill Bergin and Mgr Peter Moran, the Mayor and Chair of the District Council, and many friends and families.
At the end of the ceremonial celebration, and before the sumptuous banquet in the church hall, Headteacher, Richard Hilton and a group of pupils from St Joseph Catholic Primary School presented a celebratory banner made by the pupils – every one of whom had signed with a thumb-print.
Parishioner, Kevin Murphy gave a valedictory speech thanking everyone, in particular friends, who are not Catholic and explained the significance of the day.
Without the support of so many people the church would never have been built. Seeing the resistance of the local authorities in granting the land, a local non-doctor, who was not a Catholic, bought it and gave it to the community.
When parliament debated freedom for Catholics in the 1820s, the local MP told the House of Commons that 20,000 people had gathered at what is now Cannon Square to protest. That was fake news – 20,000 is more than the current total population today! A little block of houses just across the road is even named Protestant Place 1926.
While Catholic churches sprang up all over the country, for the next 75 years Retford remained a ‘mission’, served variously from Lincoln, Worksop and Gainsborough. Masses were held in a house and above a shop.
A little white chapel was bought as a Mission Hall in the 1870s, but after a couple of years the priest left. The Retford Times reported that the priest had been found drunk in the market square and was given 35 minutes to leave town or spend a week in gaol. Was this trumped up and yet more fake news?
Eventually money was saved and a plot was bought. Plans made and foundations laid, a local landlord protested at the proximity to the road – and his house. Litigation costs bankrupted the plans and building stopped.
Again the community was helped by a stranger – the widow of the staunchly anti-Catholic Duke of Newcastle. She bought and paid for the erection of a temporary church – a Tin Tabernacle. That temporary church had to last for another fifty years.
After the Second World War the parish numbers were increased by outsiders welcomed in to help the nation’s recovery – over one hundred, mostly Irish nurses at Rampton; many Polish – both refugees from the Russians and also forces who helped win the war; and hundreds of Italians invited over to work on the land, in textiles and as family help.
After a vigorous fund raising campaign, a proper church was started and the first Mass was celebrated in 1959 – 60 years ago. The Tin Tabernacle remained for another 20 years as the Parish Hall.
Fund-raising continued, until all the interior was finished. The final touch was the unusual Crucifix of Christ the Redeemer. Another 11 years and the building was ready for use solely and permanently for carrying out sacred functions. It is now 49 years since that solemn Dedication.
A new hall on this site followed, then the school. The site is now a community hub – from cradle to grave, Christenings, Nursery, Key Stage One, Key Stage Two, Communion, Confirmation, Weddings, Youth Clubs, Men’s Clubs and Women’s League have flourished over the years, with care for the poor and the sick, fun social events and Food Bank Team.
Fr John from Nigeria follows a line of missionaries including some from Ireland and Hungary, who have served as Parish Priest.
(See this article separately, with more photographs, in Latest News section)
Coming of Age: The Bishop’s Walk is 21 years old – Bishop John shares some of his reflections
On 21 September a group of invited walkers led by Bishop John and Bishop Ralph will be sponsored to take to the Peak District to help raise vital funds for St Wilfrid’s Centre. This year, in keeping with the walk’s age, the group will undertake to walk 21km.
The Bishop’s walk started as an idea back in 1999 when the then Centre’s Director, Sister Kathleen Page, muted the idea with Bishop John to see if he would consider taking part in a sponsored walk to raise funds for the Centre. The Bishop agreed immediately and the first walk took place in 1999 covering 10 miles. Over the years the number of participants has increased with walkers being drawn from all sectors and has included clients, volunteers and staff from the Centre, priests and sisters from the Diocese, as well as headteachers and staff from supportive schools and people from the local business community. Bishop Ralph has kindly continued to support the tradition and the last few years the walk has benefitted from not just one but two Bishops!
The walkers have enjoyed memorable walks over the years taking in various different routes around the Peak District, in all weathers and, with thanks to all the amazing support from everyone in our community, in total the walk has raised over £200,000 for the Centre. This has been a life-line of much needed financial support. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.
We had the opportunity to ask Bishop John to share with us a few of his reflections about what has become an annual fixed event in the Catholic calendar in Sheffield.
Q: What have you liked about the Annual Bishop’s Walk?
I have enjoyed walking since I was a youngster, and still find great enjoyment in my walks, but I can truly say that the St Wilfrid’s Centre Walks have been among the best and most enjoyable one day walks of all.
The company has always been great fun, the walks well organised, and the routes consistently beautiful. What more could you ask for! A pint in a good pub at the end of the day. And there was always that as well.
Q: And any special memories?
Well the first walk was supposed to be ten miles. It was the shortest ten miles I have ever walked, and we were being sponsored. So, actually quite willingly, we walked another couple of miles. And after that we decided on fifteen as the standard. By the way, 21 km is significantly less than fifteen miles!
Among the very early walks, there was one which had quite a steep hill not too far into the walk. Those were the days of comparative youth and the leading group sailed up it and we were heading off when we were hauled back by Sister Kathleen, the Director, who was furious with the group, and its leader in particular, for going at such a pace. She read the riot act! I suspect that that was the beginning of the tradition of us never being given details of the walk, so that we had to stop every so often to get directions for the next section. It certainly slowed us down ….
Q: What do you think about the walk being 21 years old?
Where does the time go to?
With our sincere thanks to Bishop John, Bishop Ralph and everyone who has contributed and supported the walk over the last 21 years in so many different ways.
If you would like to sponsor the walking group on its 21st Birthday please use the sponsor forms in your church or online via: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/bishopswalk.
(See this article separately, with more photographs, in Latest News section)
Divine Renovation – Laying the Foundation
This is the fifth article summarising an important book by Father James Mallon, which is based on his experience of renovating and renewing his Canadian parish. There are lessons in the book for our parishes and our diocese, as we face the challenge of being God’s people.
A healthy church is a place where Jesus is at home, and where those who do not yet know him can experience a personal encounter with God. Within our own families, we want our children to be strong and healthy and when they are healthy they grow. When they are not healthy they stop growing, and then we get concerned and seek ways to sort it out. Now look honestly at our churches, and we have to acknowledge that most of them are not growing. That means that they are unhealthy. Father James says that the largest religious category in North America is fallen-away Catholics, and it is probably true in this country that there are more fallen-away Catholics than practising Catholics. Look around you at the weekend Mass and bring to mind those who used to be present but have since left. However comfortable we may be sitting in church with our friends, most of us are still in a church that is unhealthy.
What is it that makes a church strong and healthy? Father James contrasts the experience of being part of an Alpha course with what he sees as typical of regular church attendance. An Alpha course can be a powerful experience of encounter with God through sharing a meal with others, and sharing with others the issues that matter most in our lives. For many people on Alpha, this transforms them as they recognise God in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Contrast that with a Eucharist which for many is a private and anonymous experience where individuals come into the church building to be with God alone but not with each other. What it often doesn’t look like is a banquet, a party, a feast where the guests are excited to be there, they have a good time, and they can’t wait to go out and tell others. When visitors come to your church how many of them will say – surely these people love God and love each other (as they said about the early church in the New Testament)? The Eucharist should be the kind of experience where the people go out eager to put into practice the exhortation to ‘glorify the Lord with your life’. Can we honestly say that of where we worship?
Pope Francis said, “The parish is not an outdated institution,” but our parishes need transformation from top to bottom if they are to be healthy, to grow and to be relevant to the lives of people in the communities where we all live.
(See this article separately in Articles section)