Saint Josephs', Roman Catholic Church Luton
A Birds Eye View of St Josephs' History.
The Grain of Mustard seed
It was in November 1910 that the Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, in Castle Street Luton opened its' doors to serve the needs of its' three hundred Catholics. Two Sunday Masses were celebrated. one at 6:30 am and the second at 11:00 am. Eighteen months later a third Mass was added to accommodate the "noisy " worshipers.
The mustard seed spreads north....
St Josephs', Gardenia Avenue.
Canon O'Connor, the Parish Priest at that time was aware of the needs of his flock, in this rural area. with the help of influential friends he managed to buy one and a half acres of land between Gardenia Avenue and Blundel Road. On the 27th July 1934 a deal was also concluded with the purchase on number 68 Gardenia Avenue. An other Church at this end of the town was an absolute necessity. A plan was drawn up for a new building 70feet by 28 feet. It was built by Mr. Meade. It cost £950.00. Canon only had £400.00. The balance had to be found by the Diocese.
Finance was a big problem but despite this a new church was opened in August 1937. it could hold 500 people. At the Canons' request it was called the Church of St. Joseph the Worker.
In October 1937 Canon O'Connor moved from Castle Street to Gardenia Avenue. The first Mass was celebrated officially in November 1937. By the first of June 1941 the Sunday collection amounted to £3.15shillings. This year the first was celebrated in the church. Canon O'Connor was ill and needed help. Father J.J.Reidy arrived as curate on 20th July 1941.
Sunday Masses were at 8:30 am, 9:30 am and 11:00 am with Benediction at 6:00PM.
Whilst drives and dances took place in Neville Hall which was rented by the hour from Seaward Brothers (builders). A wooden "shack" was rented in Gardenia Passage (since named St. Josephs' close) for the use of Scouts, Guides and Irish Dances for the "War Workers".
In January 1944 Canon O'Connor retired to Lynford in Norfolk and Fr. Brewer came to St Josephs'. He said his first Mass here on the 23rd April 1944.
The collection was still small. On May 21st 1944 it was £18.12s. plus the Outdoor collection of £6.9s1d.
The presbytery was sparsely furnished. A Mr. Harry Hunt provided the priest with a "plank bed" to sleep on. Families helped with food. Fr. Brewer brought two dozen chickens from Norfolk to supply eggs. Apples from the orchard were sold and sometimes eaten.
May 1944 a corrugated hut 34 feet by 7 feet was bought for £100. Later Fr. brewer gave £300 from his own pocket to provide toilets and a kitchen. This building was used as a hall.
In September Fr. Reidy moved to Ipswich and was replaced by Fr. Doupe.
How the War years helped
The London Flying Club on the Dunstable Downs was used as a prisoner of war camp. Many of the prisoners were Italian. They came and helped to extend the Sacristy and did other voluntary work, together with the Immigrant Irish and English Catholics who had come down from the North in search of work.
The time had come for Luton to have its' first Catholic school. As far back as 1935/36 the local Education authority was approached for permission to build a Catholic School. This was not forth coming. An appeal was made to the Ministry of Education and permission was granted.
The Legion of Mary and The Catholic Parents Electors Association did the first census in the Parish.
In 1945 names of pupils for the proposed Catholic School were submitted to the Ministry. building could not begin because of the shortage of materials and manpower. Priority was given to housing and other projects of National Interest. It was not easy to make ends meet. Black-out curtains were used to make cassocks for the priests and alter servers.
Developing the Parish as a Spiritual Centre
The Legion of Mary already existed. In October 1945 the Guild of The Blessed Sacrament was formed. It was also thought fitting that a war memorial be erected to those who died during the war. a carved oak panel depicting Christ rising from the tomb was erected at the side entrance to the Church. It was carved by Dame Weberg Walsh of Stanbrook Abbey and had the names of the parish war victims inscribed on it.
A big chalice made by "Knights of Wellingborough" was presented to the parish in remembrance of those who died.
During February 1947 a children's' mission was given by two Redemptorist Fathers Dwyer and Deery. Eight hundred parishioners renewed their Baptismal vows. The snow and the bad weather did not keep them away.
The Building of a Catholic School
Pressure was now growing and fundraising took place to find money for a school. In the meantime the Parish Hall was being extended. This depended on volunteers who came after a hard days work.
The sacred Heart Parish in Stopsley was now developing and the parishioners of St Josephs' shared what they had between them.
The parish hall was built but still no trace of a school to share with Catholic parents in training their children in the Faith.
In the early 1950s the parish was allowed to build its' own school
but not one penny of a grant was given. Plans were drawn up to build the school but at a cost of £55,000.00. The Bishop had to get permission from Rome to increase the debt.
Eventually on 1st May 1955 the foundation of the school was laid.
The school opened its' doors to its' first pupils in September 1956. It was a great milestone in the history of the parish. The official opening was a memorable occasion and many Civic and Religious dignitaries were present.
The Daughters of the Holy Spirit accepted an invitation to open a Convent in the parish and Sister John Margaret became the first Head teacher of the school.
By this time many Catholic families from Ireland and elsewhere had moved to Luton in search of work. The school was too small as soon as it opened. The church hall had to be used to cope with the extra numbers.
Now that the school was in full swing the parish looked again at its' church. It had served its' purpose well. The growing number of Catholics made the need for a larger Church even greater.
The Church as we see it today.
In July 1958 work started on the new St Josephs' Church. The plan was based on the Tuscan Basilica type. It was to be 120 feet wide with two 11 feet wide aisles and seating for 500 people. There was also to be a rose window. The Architect was John Sterrett. On the 2nd October 1958 at 6:30 pm candles were carried in procession for the laying of the foundation stone. The statues were ordered from Italy. A polished metalwork teacher from Beech Hill constructed the metal cladding of the tabernacles. The fine silk lining of the tabernacle was also a gift from a lady in the parish.
The old Church was turned into classrooms and an extra wooden hut was erected near to the new Church to be used as another classroom.
In 1961 Fr. Brewer bought a clock for the Church for £20.00. This was to be a reminder to keep the sermons short! In November the first noise complaints were made. Fr. Brewer (now Canon) defended the use of the loud speakers and dances and the case was dismissed.
In May 1963 Cano Dalby R.I.P. died and Fr Bull came to replace him. He refused to contribute to the cost of the school building and asked the Bishop to move him else where . The Bishop then asked Cannon Brewer to go to Our Lady's Castle Street and Fr. Conlon was to be the new Parish Priest at St. Josephs'.
The parish was getting bigger and so was the School. Two more hutted classrooms arrived in 1964. They are still in us! An Infant School had to be built and was opened in 1967. Sister Mary Lucia was its' first Head.
Fr. Conlons' stay in the parish was short. He died suddenly on the 14th December 1966. In January 1967 Fr. Brian Frost came as the new Parish Priest.
In May 1967 the clergy were " at home" on the presbytery lawn. Coffees and teas were served all day and it was well supported by the parishioners.
Vatican ll was making itself felt even in Luton. Liturgical ideas were changing. The people were going to celebrate together. The altar was moved so that priest could face the congregation. Statues were re-arranged in the Church and a large wooden crucifix was donated by the Catholic Mayor in memory of Fr. Conlon.
The outdoor collection in August 1967 helped to pay for Fr. Conlons' headstone.
Ideas were being implemented to make the parish hall into a Social Club so that all activities could take place there . The parish hall was renovated and opened as a " Club ".
The First Catholic Secondary School
In November 1967 Mr. W. Davies was appointed the first Head of Cardinal Newman School. This secondary comprehensive school was to cater for pupils from all over the town. Many Catholic pupils were unable to get a place at the school, which was very sad. There was just enough room.
In 1968 a Unity service took place at St. Josephs'. March saw the beginning of the " Planed Giving Offertory Campaign."
in July Sr. Marie Lucia was transferred to Bedford and Mrs. O'Hare became Head of the Infant School.
In May 1970 work began on the £20,000.00 Parish Centre. In July the Education authority stated that the old church should not be used as classrooms, so permission was given for a four classroom block to be added to the Junior School at an estimated cost of £28,000.00. By December the club was complete and had cost £20,000.00. Voluntary labour completed the rest of the building. The parish hall was given back to the parish to be used by the UCM and other organizations, including football teams.
In 1972 contractors leveled and seeded the orchard area near the infant school, at a cost of £1,500.00. A new classroom was also added to the infant school.
On the 15th June 1973 Michael Griffin, one of the first pupils of St. Josephs' School was ordained.
Fr. Frost, Parish Priest was made Canon. Sr. John Margaret retired from the headship of the Junior school after 18 years. Sr. Mary Benedict, from St. Josephs' in Bedford was appointed and took up her post as the new head in September 1974.
In keeping with the current liturgical trends the Sanctuary was re-arranged and the Baptismal font was moved to the Altar where it could be seen.
In May 1975 Bishop Clark commissioned 14 people to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion.
On December 23rd 1975 Cano Frost celebrated the Silver Jubilee of his Ordination.
Although the parish has had a little church in Barton since 1961 it was decided that the Cardinal Newman school should have its' own Chapel. The estimated cost of this was £6,500.00.
The Missionary Horizons of St. Joseph's
As well as contributing to the parish needs here the Congregation took on a project in Kenya where the Kilegan fathers worked. Two churches called St Josephs' and St Matthews, on the equator, were built with pennies from this parish. They now serve as meeting places for the Catholics in Kenya.
Restoring the permanent Diaconate
On 30th May Rev. John Thompson was ordained as a permanent Deacon. This was something new for the local Catholics and needed to be understood in its historical concept.
Division of the Diocese
On 3rd June the Diocese was divided and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire became the Diocese of East Anglia. Bishop Grant stayed at Northampton and Bishop Clark left us for East Anglia. Happiness and sadness were mingled on this occasion.
Church Central Heating
This had to be updated at a cost of £2,623,000.00 plus £462 for the Gas Board to do the pipe work. Everything was ready just before Christmas 1976.
Parish Hall - extension
Plans were drawn up to join the hall to the old church and make it a complete unit. the church itself was repainted in November 1978 at a cost of £2,700. The amplification system was renewed at a cost of £900.
In July 1979 a new organ arrived. It replaced the old one which had deteriorated over the years. It cost £5, 334.
The National Pastoral Congress
This took place in May 1980 where 2,000 delegates were present from all over the country to discuss the role of the Church in the year 2000. Twelve delegates went from this parish.
Charity Fund Raising
Over the years the parish and the parish centre have contributed to many deserving projects. Missions, local and national charities have benefited from the generosity of the parishioners of St Josephs'.
This time, Seamus Keenan, another boy from St Josephs' School was ordained on 29th June 1979.
Canon Frost says Good-bye
In October 1980 Canon Frost left us to take up his new appointment at Rushden. The Canon had been responsible for many important events in the parish. He was involved in negotiations for the 4th phase of the building of Cardinal Newman School, the extension of the Parish Centre and planning permission for a Church/Hall in Hockwell Ring.
On 8th October Fr. Dan. Kiely came to St Josephs' from St Martins' Luton.
Curates at St. Josephs' over the years
Fathers Howlin; Peters; Bustin; Duane; Hughes; Breen; Speight; Beirne; O'Connell; Luckie; Kenny; Sawyer; Edmunds; Prior; Glanfield; Prior; Gilbridge; Reidy; Healy; Twomey.
A Parish Mission took place in October 1980. It was a source of spiritual renewal.
Canon Frost returns
A special presentation was made to him together with a Book of Remembrance.
U.C.M. Knights and Catenians:-
are groups that work solidly and silently in the parish. Many individuals work quietly too.
The U.C.M are represented nationally. They are responsible at a local level for a holiday caravan for those who could not otherwise have a holiday.
Vatican II - further developments
The idea of adapting the Sanctuary to be more in keeping with the mind of the Church in the 1980's was discussed and diocesan architects were asked to submit possible plans. One was eventually adopted. The change over was not easy. While waiting for the work to be completed, daily Mass was said in the Junior School Hall.
St. Josephs' Junior School - Silver Jubilee
This took place in the Parish Centre in October 1981. All former clergy and teachers were invited. A field day was organised at the School to celebrate this event.
The Papal Visit
The parish got very excited at the thought of the Pope coming to England. Parishioners were present at all the venues and the flowers at Coventry were arranged by our own Flower Arranger.
An open air mass for the children was celebrated in the field and each child was presented with a Papal Flag - 800 children waving flags in the breeze, on lovely hot summers day - a memory not easily forgotten.
The parish organised many events to promote this worthy cause.
Justice and Peace
In 1979 Bishop Grant commissioned our Deacon, John Thomson, to establish a Justice and Peace Group in Luton, in the hope that other groups would develop throughout the Diocese. Bishop Thomas appointed John as the Diocesan Coordinator for Justice and Peace. A Diocesan Commission was established.
Annual Field Day Events and Charitable Causes
This idea was born in the 1980'sd. In September 1983 the Parish Centre Fund Raising Venture collected £991.00.
Fr. Anthoni Szostask, an ex-pupil of Pope John Paul II, was helped in his Mission in Africa.
In 1984 funds were donated towards a kidney machine.
Aid was given to Poland more than once.
In 1986 St Josephs' Charity Appeal for the Orphans' Village in Ethipoa reached £4,355.
This year the Macmillan Nurses received a cheque for £5,000.
A Parish Mission was given by Fr. Jack Dillon, John Joe Spring and Paul Southgate.
Bishop Grant retired and Monseignor Francis Thomas was ordained as Bishop of Northampton in August 1982. The Parish was represented at the Cathedral.
Ordination to the Priesthood
Fr. Gerard King, an old boy of the school was ordained here for the Diocese of Los Angelus on Saturday, 21st June 1984.
Fr. Richard Barrett, another boy from the Parish and school was ordained for the Diocese on 1st June 1985.
The New Parish
This was officially opened on 13th February 1983 and the guest of honour was Canon Frost, representing the Bishop.
A Catholic Mayor
On the 3rd June 1984 a Civic Mass was con-celebrated with Bishop Thomas to mark the beginning of Mrs McCarroll's year of Office.
The Changing Times
St Josephs' Church, Schools and Parish are at the centre of the Community here. Unfortunately owing to an increase in the number of incidents of vandalism, security gates had to be erected and locked outside School hours - a sad reflection on today's society.
On 8th September 1986, we heard that Fr. Glanfield died suddenly at Northampton. He was a curate here thirty years ago.
National Youth Sunday
Mass was celebrated on Sunday 23rd November 1986 at 11.00am here in St Josephs'.
The ECC Butter Mountain
In February 1987 this was causing concern to Christian thinking people all over Europe. The Parish took part in the National Distribution.
Scouts and Cubs
At last, on the 7th June 1987 the Scouts and Cubs opened their new premises, near the Infant School. Up to then they had met in the Junior School Hall. Cannon Frost came to bless the building.
Changes in our Schools
In July 1986 Mr William Davies retired after eighteen years. In July 1987 Mrs O'Hare took early retirement from the Infant School after 29 years of devoted service.
Miss R.A. Smith has been appointed as the new Head of Cardinal Newman School.
The above is only a bird's eye view of the unfolding and growth of St Josephs' from its earliest days. We could have filled a whole book, uncovering the hardships and struggles that have lead to the development of the modern day St. Josephs' as we know it today.
It was considered that an appropriate way of commemorating the Golden Jubilee was to present its history in story form and to display some photographs of significant events over the years.
This parish owes its existence to the 'Founding Fathers and Parishioners'. Some, thank God, are still with us. Without their commitment and faith we would be the poorer.
A significant debt is owed to so many over the past fifty years for their hard work and effort in making the Parish what it is today - a focal point for our love for Christ and for each other - a place where God is present in the daily lives of so many devoted people. May God bless you each and every one.
This booklet has been complied by the Staff, Children and Parents of St Joseph's School.
Our thanks go to Fr. Michael Twomey for his assistance in researching the Parish history, Mrs Margaret Duggan (teacher) for writing the first draft and presenting photos and the children's work, Mr John Mears (teacher) for his research with the Luton News, Sister Mary Benedict for editing the final draft, original design and invaluable memory of past events; Mrs Mary O'Connell for artistically producing the cover; Doreen for diligently typing the end result and finally to the children, their parents and grandparents and to the many parishioners who contributed photographs and reflections on the past fifty years of St Joseph's Parish.
On 11th October 1987 the Parish collection was £893.29p and at St Matthew's Barton £71.18p. The collection for CAFOD's Family Fast Day was £878.61p.
At a survey done at Mass on 25th October 1987 just over 1800 people attended; 918 ladies; 752 gentlemen and 133 children under five years of age.
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