PART III: The Priests and the Parish

Fr. Regan

Fr. Regan, who had worked in the Westminster Diocese for 35 years was fifty-three when he came to Watford in 1895. Assisted by Fr. George Cox he organised a parish reunion so that he could welcome members of his new flock. With singing, music and refreshments it was generally agreed that it was a huge success and, he hoped, the first of many such occasions. However, illness was yet again to strike at Watford’s clergy and in 1901, because of failing health, Fr. Regan had to tender his resignation. He had hoped that a voyage to South Africa would benefit him, but this was not to be. His doctors considered him too ill to travel and he was moved to a nursing home in Southampton where he died on 13th April 1902 after less than seven years in the parish. Nevertheless it must have been a joy to him to have seen in those few years the completion and consecration of Holy Rood Church. For a time the services were conducted by Fr. Joseph Heditch until Fr. Joseph Keating was appointed in 1902.

In less than twenty years (1883-1902) ill health and early deaths had largely been responsible for no less than eight priests being appointed to the growing Watford mission. A more stable situation was obviously very desirable. Even so the building of Holy Rood Church in the newly developed Market Street so close to the heart of Watford, and the subsequent publicity of the ceremonies connected with its opening and its consecration must have had a considerable impact on Watford people. From small beginnings in Carey Place arid Water Lane a lively Catholic community had emerged.

Fr Keating

After two decades of frequent changes in the priests appointed to the parish, the much needed period of stability was to follow for the next two decades with the appointment of Fr. Joseph Keating. He did much in his twenty-two years as parish priest to break down any remaining barriers of bigotry and establish a friendly relationship between non-Catholics and the Catholic community. His friendly, sympathetic yet genial nature assured him a wide circle of friends, not only amongst his own flock but with hundreds of others who held him in high esteem. He was a member of the Watford Board of Guardians for ten years before becoming its vice-chairman in 1911. Fr. Keating was keen on sport, particularly football, and he was elected president of the Football Supporters Club in the days when Watford played at the West Herts Sports Ground in Cassio Road. He was president of the West Herts Cricket Club and a past president of the Watford Swimming Club. His imposing figure in wide brimmed black hat, knee breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, carrying a silver mounted walking stick, was a popular sight in the town.

Joseph Keating was born in Kensington. His father was the owner and publisher of ‘The Tablet’, a well-known Catholic weekly. As a priest he spent some time at the Vatican as secretary to Cardinal Jacobini as well as holding other offices. On returning to England he became rector of the Church of Our Lady, St. John’s Wood, before coming to Watford. Fr. Keating was for twenty years the Rural Dean of St. Albans Deanery, comprising the parishes of Hemel Hempstead, Harpenden, St. Albans, Bushey, Rickmansworth and Watford.

In 1915 he celebrated his silver jubilee as a priest, an event which coincided with the silver jubilee of the opening for services of Holy Rood. His popularity amongst people of all classes, Catholics and non-Catholics, was evident from the most generous response to an appeal which led to him receiving a purse of gold, a handsome fitted suitcase, and an illuminated testimonial.

In the first World War, 1914/18, factories in Watford were harnessed to producing munitions and materials of war. Large numbers of troops were trained in the area and billeted on the people. Food was in short supply and rationed, but the most serious result of the war was the number of casualties sustained. In common with towns and villages throughout the land Watford homes lost loved ones, husbands, fathers and sons, whilst many men returned home suffering from wounds. A tablet on the south wall of the church records the names of eighteen parishioners who gave their lives in the war, and is a reminder that many others related to families in the parish, although not living in Watford, also made the supreme sacrifice. Three of Watford’s priests served as padres in the war, Fr. Dunlevy, Canon Galvin and Fr. Oddie.

Fr. Keating was taken ill quite suddenly with tonsilitis on 30th January 1924. He was moved to a Watford nursing home but complications set in and he died on 4th February. Holy Rood Church was packed for the Solemn Requiem, with representatives of all the parishes in the deanery, public bodies, local organisations and his congregation. Afterwards he was buried in Vicarage Road cemetery. The stone over his grave was erected by public subscription, and there is a tablet to his memory in the church.