Our First Quarter Century
Twenty-five years may seem an insignificant span of time in a community like Bushey, which can trace its history back to the Domesday Book of 1086. But for the Catholic community here the past 25 years is probably the most significant and dynamic period in its post-Reformation history. It began with the building of Bushey and Oxhey’s first permanent Catholic church, completed in 1959, and it has covered the time of the unprecedented changes in the traditions of the Church which were set in train by Vatican Council 2.
A site for a permanent church in Bushey and Oxhey, at the junction of Merry Hill Road and London Road, was purchased for £560 during the ministry of Father Richard Ryder (1912-1924). Father Ryder was the first resident priest appointed to the area which, prior to 1959, was for the most part served from a temporary church in Upper Paddock Road. His successor, Father James O’Rafferty paid off the debt which that land purchase had incurred and it was during the subsequent ministry of Father Stephen Rigby that efforts to raise funds for building a permanent church on the site gained impetus.
Finding the Means
In 1941, Father Rigby’s parish comprised the urban District of Bushey except that part north of Bushey Hall Road and Aldenham Road and then the Ward of Oxhey in the municipal Borough of Watford. He also said Sunday Mass at a private house at Carpenders Park near the Oxhey Lane; indeed, he made a major contribution to the establishment of a separate parish at Carpenders Park, achieved in 1952.
To enable a concerted fund-raising effort, Father Rigby divided his parish into 24 regions’. Volunteer parishioners each took one of these regions and made monthly collections of donations towards the new church fund. in the early fifties permission was received from Westminster for the building of a permanent church on the site purchased some 30 years earlier. The diocese allocated a sum of £12,000 for the project — a little over one quarter of the estimated total cost. The little tin chapel in Upper Paddock Road, which had served the community so well for over three-quarters of a century and which is remembered with great affection by those who worshipped there, was sold to builder J. Gallagher of Merry Hill Road. Proceeds from the sale are recorded as £2,278 15s 0d. A legacy from a parishioner, Mrs Mary Seddon, boosted funds by another £2,047 17s 6d. The hard work of those collectors, and the amazing generosity of those they called on, amassed just over £5,000 and covenants accounted for approx £1,600. A bank loan of £20,000 was negotiated to meet the balance required.
It was not to be expected that such a major project would proceed without some setbacks, but it must have been a tremendous disappointment when, right at the outset, the first plans for the new church submitted to the local authority were rejected Two options were suggested: either to build on a smaller scale than originally proposed, or to acquire more land. In the event it became possible to extend the site by the purchase of adjacent ground, and No. 4 Merry Hill Road was bought as the presbytery. Revised plans were drawn up by Architect Hodson Archard and this time were approved by the planning authorities.
The New Church Takes Shape
Building began in July 1958 of the distinctively modern brick and stone building which is now a familiar landmark of the lower end of Bushey High Street. Its uncluttered perspective and spacious aspect identify it as very much a church of its time, though it is traditional in shape and dimensions.
In a booklet commemorating the official opening of the church, Father Rigby refers to the tower as “The Cardinal’s Tower” because Cardinal Godfrey added it to the original plans. According to Father Rigby, the architects’ interpretation of tower is “of noble line and just strength”. It houses, in tact, the entrance porch and gallery and. on its exterior, provides a fitting backdrop for the carved stone effigy of the Sacred Heart which, along with the original altar and Baptismal font in the church, is the work of sculptor John Green. The steeply sloping site enabled a crypt to be built which was initially used as a chapel to St Philomena. Father Rigby had a particular devotion to this saint and constantly, with his parishioners, called for her intercession to remove the difficulties in getting his church built. The chapel was a thanksgiving tribute when work was successfully completed.
Building was well under way when the foundation stone was laid on May 2 1959 by His Eminence Cardinal Godfrey. This stone forms part of the south wall of the church next to the sacristy.
Time for Celebration
Work on the church was finished by late 1959 and parishioners were able to attend their first service there on Christmas at midnight Mass. Cardinal Godfrey returned in May the following year for the official opening, and celebrated the occasion with a solemn high Mass. Celebrant was Bishop Craven, who had been such a committed supporter of the Bushey and Oxhey church project
For the next six years Father Rigby established the Catholic community in Bushey in its new home. He is particularly remembered as a devout and spiritual man who concerned himself deeply with theological issues. The Parish newsletters, which he started producing in 1964, reflect this in their discourses on a range of moral and theological issues from the fluoridisation of water and liturgical changes, to Christian unity and community housing. However, the inclusion of these items alongside the news of the weekly pools dividend indicates that his concerns were also practical in the light of the formidable task he was faced with of paying off the parish debt.
In 1965, having spent more than 24 years in the parish (1941-1965) Father Rigby —an energetic and devoted priest’ — retired to a convent in Worthing where he died on the last day of 1978. On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee in the priesthood, in 1977, the parish sent him a telegram of congratulations expressing their warm regard and affection for the priest who had done so much to provide a permanent church for them.
Father Rigby was succeeded by Father Bernard McGuinness Although his ministry at Bushey was a brief one (about 9 months) his influence is still felt today.for it was he who attended the first meeting of all the churches in the area at the start of an ecumenical movement. The open-minded spirit with which he initiated this task has grown and is very much in evidence today in the cooperation and friendship which flourishes between the Christian churches in Bushey.
At about the time that Bushey was building its first permanent Church, Father Eric Chadwick was masterminding a similar project in Clapton, his first parish as priest in charge. He received a ‘phone call on Good Friday from Bishop Casey asking him to take over the parish of Bushey. So in May 1966 he left the fruits of his own labours and took up the charge of Bushey and Oxhey a parish which still had a debt of some £26,000. One of Father Chadwick’s first resolves was to clear that debt in order to make way for the consecration of the church.
Until this time the Catholic community in Bushey had had little social focus, although they came together through Church organisations. Father McGuinness had mooted the idea of a Social Centre but it was in Father Chadwick’s first year in the parish that a parish Social Club got off the ground (in 1966) in leased premises a short distance from the Church in Bushey High Street (at No. 33b). This was to become the venue for many varied functions, from whist drives to mid-summer balls, from a youth club which started in 1969, to St Patrick’s night celebrations. This Social Club contributed many thousands of pounds towards the clearing of the parish debt, apart from making generous donations to charitable institutions. A parish newsletter at the time refers to the hard work Father Mercer, Bushey’s assistant priest at the time, put into building up the social life of the parish through the Social Club, endearing himself to all “by his charming personality and apostolic zeal”.
Another scheme to reduce the debt on the Church was a Saturday market which was opened in the crypt in July 1971 and organised by the Women’s Guild. It still functions in 1984 making a valuable contribution to the parish.
But it was not all fundraising: the parish was blessed with remarkable spiritual events too. One such was the ordination of John Wiley by Bishop Mahon in June 1975. Some 30 priests joined in the celebration, which was the first of its kind in the parish —although previously two parishioners, Anthony Potter and Michael Roberts, had also been ordained, but elsewhere.
Bushey’s First Catholic School
It was during Father Chadwick’s ministry that the first Catholic School in Bushey was built. The necessity for a school had been identified early on but it was not until February 1969 that all obstacles were overcome, and preparation for the building commenced. It opened for registration of children on Tuesday 8 September 1970 and classes were held on the following day after what Father Chadwick described as “many years of prayer and hard endeavour, often frustrating at times …” A Solemn Blessing and official opening of the new school was celebrated on Sunday 25 April 1971 by Bishop B.C. Butler, Auxiliary of Westminster. The following year the school held its first outside fete which made £265 for the School Fund. ‘Not until then”, said founder headmistress Patricia Diamond ‘did we realize how completely the Bushey community had taken the school to its heart.” On her retirement in July 1983 Miss Diamond was succeeded by Mr A. Keough.
It was not until January 1972 that a donation of £900 from the Social Club finally paid off the parish debt and the way to the consecration of the new church was clear. The plans which were put in hand for this outstanding event included the re-ordering of the sanctuary in accordance with the liturgical decrees of Vatican Council 2. The architects, experienced in church alterations work, drew up plans to build a new altar at the front of the sanctuary. The stone from the original altar which carried the IHS symbol was incorporated in the new sanctuary floor behind the priest’s chair.
The inscription on the new marble altar LC XC NIKA is taken from ancient inscriptions (in the Catacombs and elsewhere) and are Greek for ‘Jesus Christ Conquers.’ The fish is the ancient Christian sign for Our Lord the Greek for Fish is ICHTHYS of which the letters form the initials of Jesous Chistos Theou Yos Soter meaning Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. The mosaics show that Christ has conquered by the Cross and is the bread of life by which mankind shares in the fruits of that redemption.
The re-ordering of the sanctuary was followed by the interior decoration of the church and then exterior decoration. The work was carried out by specialists in church alterations, Bartlett & Purnell Ltd, and the marble and stonework features of the new sanctuary were executed by SG. West.
Consecration – at Last
All work was completed by Consecration Day, 20 September 1977, when His Eminence Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster, celebrated the Solemn Mass and Service of Consecration, assisted by Father Chadwick.
During the Service of Consecration of the Church and Altar, holy relics were taken in procession around the church and buried below the altar. These were relics of St John Southworth, one of the 40 English martyrs and whose body is interred at Westminster Cathedral.
The altar and the 12 consecration crosses in brass sconces (which are ranged at intervals along the walls of the church as symbols of the 12 Apostles on whom Christ founded his Church), were anointed with chrism. Symbolic fire was lighted on the altar, followed by incensing of the walls of the church and the people congregated there. The paschal candle was lighted, along with the lights before the consecration crosses. Finally the altar was consecrated, clothed, and a special prayer of consecration made. Each year on 24 September the parish celebrates the anniversary of this day by keeping the Solemnity of the dedication of the church and burning lights at the 12 consecration crosses.
During the consecration service, Bene Merenti medals (awarded by the Pope, then Paul VI, for outstanding service to the Church) were presented to two parishioners —Mr Thomas Walsh for his services as steward in the parish, and Irene Offord for her work of religious instruction.
At the time of its consecration, the Bushey church received many gifts from its parishioners. Among these are a magnificent gold vestment donated in memory of James Pyrke which was worn by the Cardinal for the Consecration service; red carpet for the altar from the Women’s Guild, and the consecration crosses from the Social Club. Gifts have continued — a group of ladies replaced the altar servers cassocks; a tabernacle cover was donated to match the gold vestment; an anonymous donor gave a Livingston Burge ‘Chantor’ 2/61 organ; parishioners contributed to the carved wooden stations of the cross. A particularly significant item is the ciborium (the vessel in which consecrated hosts are held) which had been used during the Mass celebrated at Wembley by Pope John Paul II during his visit in May 1982.
Bushey & Oxhey Parish “Comes Alive”
Following the retirement in 1978 of the assistant priest, Father Westbrook, Father Harry Turner came to Bushey as parish priest working alongside Father Chadwick during the run-up to the latter’s retirement in the following year. At that time Cardinal Hume paid tribute to “this devoted and loved priest” who had worked for 44 years in the diocese of Westminster. During his time in Bushey Father Chadwick had with diligence, but with great sensitivity, implemented many of the controversial changes to Church custom and practice which Vactican 2 had decreed. In retirement at the house in Merry Hill Road next to the church, which used to serve as a presbytery, he maintains his close links with parishioners and regularly celebrates Mass with them.
Father Turner came to Bushey, his first parish as priest-in-charge, from the All Saints Pastoral Centre in London Colney. He pursued with enthusiasm the programme of renewal already under way in the parish. In particular he took up the document of Vatican Council 2 on the Apostolate of the Laity in which it says “Lay people should, as a matter of course, work hand in hand with their priests in the parish.”.
There were already, of course, parish organisations which were doing just that. The Legion of Mary had been started in the early forties in Bushey. Its members have done invaluable work in visiting the sick and housebound, in instruction and other services to the parish, and in extending its census arrangements. The local Conference of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, too, is a long-established parish body which was formed on 31 March 1953. Essentially spiritual in character, its primary object is the personal sanctification of its members through visiting the poor in their homes, the sick, the aged, hospitals, residential establishments, the deaf, dumb and mentally handicapped. When Novenas to Saint Philomena were parish practice, members often led the prayers in the absence of the priest.
The Women’s Guild, formed in 1965, makes a tremendous contribution in many ways to the Parish its members help with fund raising events, social and parish celebrations. They contribute to the quality of worship at the church through cleaning, flower arranging and even on occasion donating furnishings and wardrobe items.
After a visitation to the Parish in 1976, Bishop Butler wrote to comment “I was most impressed with your altar servers”. The Guild of St Stephen, as the Altar Servers are known, has grown with the Parish, serving it — literally — with efficiency and loyalty.
The choirs, too traditional and modern are particularly accomplished. They are supported by a guitar (folk) group and wind instruments as well as the traditional organ. The Sisters from the nearby Rosary Priory have been instrumental in building up and maintaining the high standards of liturgical worship which the choirs achieve. They also perform the vital function of instruction classes for the parish.
Father Turner’s “blueprint for action”, however, sought to extend parishioner involvement even further. First off the ground, in 1979, was a parish accounting group set up under the professional financial guidance of an accountant parishioner. The group achieved particular success with a covenant scheme. During the same year the first steps were taken to establish a Parish Council which meets regularly and which has established an unprecedented process of consultation and collaboration between clergy and laity, and between the various lay associations and enterprises themselves. The Council also devised a strategy, known as the “Come Alive” campaign, in order to meet the challenge of bringing the message of Christ to the world of today more effectively.
In the following five years, from 1979, the lay ministries for the distribution of Holy Communion, and for reading at Mass were established and flourished. Teams of parishioners undertook responsibility for preparing bidding prayers each week and for instituting the programme of preparation for confirmation candidates. Repre-sentatives volunteered to serve on the community Care scheme, an ecumenical undertaking, and the Bushey and Oxhey Council of Churches and the Christian/Jewish group. Youth Encounter Groups, Prayer Groups, Adult Religious Education Sessions: all sprang up as further fruits of the growing church in Bushey and Oxhey Mother Teresa inspired one of the groups, known as the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, which meets regularly to provide practical backup to the missionary work in the form of bandages and Other necessities.
At the instigation of the Parish Council, arrangements were made to twin’ the Parish of Bushey and Oxhey with that of St Maria Goretti in Allepey. Kerala, S India. Under this arrangement, Bushey gives support to the Indian parish of some 2,000 Catholics by prayer, correspondence and finance.
Having inherited’ a newly consecrated and decorated church, Father Turner was able to concentrate his obligation to the fabric of the church to the refinements The organ and choir were relocated from the gallery to the sanctuary: the Lady Chapel was glass-screened to provide an economic facility for weekday Mass and other devotions; the baptismal font was relocated to the sanctuary and the old baptistry at the back of the church became a repository. Ramps were built at the entrance to accommodate wheelchairs. Modifications became necessary to the tower, which was causing a serious damp problem. The roof of the tower itself was removed and replaced by a parapet roof. Interior improvements also included a new microphone system and a gas central heating system to replace the original underfloor electric system which had become increasingly expensive to run.
An Exciting Future
One of Father Turner’s last works in the parish was to put in hand the plans for marking its first 25 years. Early in 1984, after six years in Bushey, he was transferred to Brook Green to take over a much larger parish. He left behind a community that had been greatly influenced and inspired by his zeal and energy, and by his spirituality. His successor, Father Guy Sawyer, takes over Bushey as his first parish at the beginning of a new phase in its history. It is likely to be an equally exciting period as the community continues to grow and to change.
In its 25th birthday year the church will be getting a ‘facelift’ and will be acquiring two hand carved statues, of our Lady and St. John and carved in lime wood to match the existing very beautiful crucifix which they will flank. This commission is being carried out by an eminent local sculptor, Siegfried Pietzsch, who has an international reputation and whose work is to be seen in many churches in the Diocese.
Plans are also being progressed for a permanent Social Centre adjacent to the church which will provide accommodation for the growing parish organisations.
Although this record of Bushey’s first permanent church has been traced through the ministries of its parish priests, it would not be complete without mention of the succession of very distinguished curates who have served the parish during this period. The first was Father Philip Carpenter MA who was the first priest in Bushey who stood outside the door after each Mass to greet parishioners. He was succeeded by Father Christopher Pemberton, well known because of his BBC connections — he left Bushey to go to Westminster Cathedral, then Holy Redeemer, Chelsea, and later to lecture in Rome and Allen Hall on voice production. Father Ralph Brown, JCD, who succeeded him, is now Mgr Ralph Brown, a vicar General of the Archdiocese. Father Prendergast took over from him, followed by Father Leslie Wood. He was succeeded by Father Mercer, whose work, particularly in developing the social consciousness of the parish when he worked alongside Fr McGuinness and Father Chadwick, has already been mentioned. Father Benedict Westbrook, who joined Father Chadwick from 1972-1978, is remembered for the tremendous efforts he made to visit all parishioners regularly in their homes.