The Priests of the Parish (part3)

Canon Galvin

When Canon Galvin came to Watford in 1945 he was already sixty-two. He was born in 1884 and ordained in 1915, and the early years of his priesthood were served as an army chaplain in the first World War. Afterwards he was for a time at Somers Town and at Ponders End where, as parish priest, he built the presbytery. In 1936 he was appointed parish priest at Acton, where he was throughout the second World War.

Fr. Galvin led an austere life, begrudging himself reasonable comforts and expecting his assistant priest to follow his example. He was somewhat shy and reserved and not given to mixing socially with his parishioners or making friends, but he was very fond of children and a constant visitor to the school. Fr. Galvin also showed great concern for those who were bereaved or ill, and for those who needed spiritual or financial help. He was a regular visitor to the maternity hospital and to the isolation hospital, making all his journeys either by bicycle or on foot. His devotion to his duty in adverse circumstances is remembered to this day by a parishioner. In January 1947, when the country was in the grip of an exceptionally hard winter, her sister was taken desperately ill with cerebral meningitis. Their doctor struggled through the snow in the middle of the night to reach the patient and have her removed to hospital. Awaiting her arrival, having walked through the snow because the appalling road conditions prevented him from riding, was Fr. Galvin, who made the trip daily whilst her life hung in the balance. In spite of his age Canon Galvin recovered from being knocked off his bicycle and from a major operation. These two events affected his memory, but he was such a good and methodical administrator that his work was not affected. Later in 1964, although ill, he insisted on carrying out the Palm Sunday liturgy, but on Maundy Thursday he had to be rushed to the hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth suffering from viral pneumonia. Although he was then eighty he eventually recovered, but his days at Watford were over and he retired to Twyford Abbey Nursing Home.

Fr. Galvin became Rural Dean in 1950, and he was appointed a Canon in 1951. He was parish priest at Holy Rood Church for nearly twenty years and was without doubt a very devout priest, full of compassion for those in trouble and very hard working, never sparing himself. To criticise, it could be said that except for having the church rewired in 1954, he failed to spend money on needed repairs and restoration to the church and presbytery and to provide reasonable comfort for an assistant priest, leaving money to accumulate in the bank. His reserved and shy nature resulted in him having little contact with the clergy of other denominations in Watford.

In the long period Canon Galvin was in Watford he had only one assistant priest, Fr. Norman Kersey. Fr. Kersey was born in London in 1918, educated at St. Edmund’s College and ordained in Westminster Cathedral in 1945. At twenty-seven and only a priest for a few months he followed the Canon to Watford, where he resided until the Canon resigned in 1965. Knowing Canon Galvin’s reluctance towards spending money, Fr. Kersey hit on the idea of collecting Green Shield Stamps from the parishioners and realising them for cash. With the money this produced he was able to purchase much needed Mass vestments in each of the liturgical colours.

Fr Berry

Documentary evidence of all that went on in the parish prior to 1965 is scarce. However, records, particularly the Parish Newsletters, commenced in March 1968, still exist making it possible to give a much more detailed account of the life of the parish in Fr. Berry’s time. Moreover it has been possible also to talk to people who recall what went on in the parish in those years.

Richard Berry was born in Aden in 1911, where his father was an official of the Port Authority. When war broke out in 1914 he returned to England with his mother. They settled in Sheringham with the intention that he would eventually go to Gresham’s School at Holt nearby. However his mother took instruction and she and her son became Catholics, and Richard became an altar boy at the local church. In 1925 he went instead to St. Edmund’s College as a lay boarder, leaving at eighteen to work in an insurance company in London. Meanwhile his father, whilst still in Aden, also became a Catholic. Now the whole family, including a younger brother and sister, were united in the Catholic Faith.

In 1931 Richard decided he wanted to become a priest and went to Allen Hall. He was ordained in Westminster Cathedral on 6th June 1937. Fr. Berry was appointed to the cathedral becoming Prefect of the Sacristy, in addition to having some parochial duties. In 1945 he went as assistant priest to Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Bridget, Isleworth. Two years later he was posted to Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, which had been bombed. It was a somewhat chaotic, make-shift existence. The parish priest hired a disused church in Allen Street and Mass was said there and also at a local convent. Whilst at Kensington Fr. Berry started the Kensington Catholic Calendar, a monthly printed magazine. In 1956 he became parish priest at Our Lady of the Assumption, Potters Bar, and whilst there he built a school and introduced Planned Giving.

In 1966, not very long after coming to Watford, Fr. Berry hosted the first Parish Dinner Dance. The event was repeated in 1967 with Bishop Butler as the principal guest. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of Papal Medals to three long serving parishioners, Mr. De Luca received the Papal Cross “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” in recognition of his having been a sidesman for over thirty years. and a regular visitor to the sick and poor at home and in the local hospital, and for the help he had given as a translator to the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Angelo Carminati who was looking after the Italian community. The “Bene Merenti” medal was presented to Mr. Dunham who had sung in the choir almost since Holy Rood church was opened and to Mr. Stanton who had been organist and choirmaster for many years. Miss Doris Sheridan also received the Papal Cross “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” a few years later, as did Mrs. Rigby, who had been a teacher at Holy Rood school for twenty-six years, since 1948. Other parishioners who have received the “Bene Merenti” medal were Mrs. Dorothy Ryder who for over thirty years was counsellor and tutor to the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, Miss Dorothy Hearn for her work for the mentally handicapped pilgrimages to Lourdes and Mr. W. J. (Pat) Carney for his services to Catholic Education. Mr. Reginald Bennett was made a Knight of St. Gregory for all his work in connection with the Pope’s visit to England, and his other work for the diocese of Westminster Fr. Berry also recommended to the Arch-Confraternity of St. Stephen that his Master of Ceremonies, Mr. John Wright, should receive the Guild’s Gold Medal for having served on the altar for fifty years.

Fr. Berry was fortunate in inheriting a parish that had never been in debt. In fact, Canon Galvin had left a considerable sum in the bank. However, some repairs to the fabric of the church needed doing. The heating system needed improvement and a public address system was very desirable. Fr. Berry also had the interior of the church redecorated, although he was not well advised for the work seems to have been carried out in complete ignorance of Bentley’s stated views. For example, the interior doors had been painted grass green instead of Venetian red, and the grilles and altar rails cream. All this ate into the parish reserve and Fr. Berry was much concerned at the huge cost of the proposed parish centre at a time of ever rising costs due to inflation, and the increased amount required by the diocesan authorities. In an effort to meet the situation, he sought to introduce a Covenant Scheme and Planned Giving, which he had introduced when parish priest at Potters Bar. Apart from producing the much needed extra income and the benefit of tax relief obtainable, it was a good way of convincing the bank, from which a substantial loan would be required, of the parish’s ability to repay the loan.

Fr. Berry worked hard for the well-being of the parish and sought close co-operation with his parishioners. Unfortunately, from 1973 his health suffered and he had to go into hospital several times, sometimes for surgery. In the fifteen years he was parish priest, four Diocesan assistant priests and four Irish priests worked with him in the parish. Few priests look forward to retirement, many dread it, for the presbytery is their home, but through failing health and no longer being able to get about easily, Fr. Berry found himself forced to retire in 1980.