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 year 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.