History of St Patrick, Southport

 

Growth and Life (1957 -1995)

In 1958 Fr. Francis Fleming, came to St. Patrick’s. He had been a professor at Upholland Seminary for a number of years, (indeed he had the dubious honour of trying to teach science to the writer of this account in 1956/7!).

With some shrewd insight he developed the parish in a number of ways, not least in building a new school, his pride and joy, which was opened at Easter 1968, and in providing a new parish hall to replace the old hut in 1969. (Some in the parish did not approve, of course, and a supportive parishioner wrote a poem extolling his virtues and dismissing his critics!). He was determined to follow the lead of his predecessors and take the parish forward.

Each Saturday, he travelled up to Greaves Hall Hospital, near Banks, to say Mass for patients, staff and the people living close by. This continued for many years under his successor into the mid-nineties. He also acquired extra land for the future development of the parish. He worked hard to promote and develop the social life of the parish, and laid before the people in blunt but honest terms their responsibility to support the work and mission of the parish financially.

He launched the ‘Cathos Campaign’, a scheme of systematic and considered financial giving, which had been adopted at that time across the Archdiocese.

A man of great foresight he left the burgeoning parish well catered for.

St. Patrick’s was able to welcome a series of assistant priests during Fr. Fleming’s time, including Fr. James English, Fr. Thomas Hayes, Fr. Eugene Hopkins and Fr. Vincent Hughes – all of whom worked hard to build the parish community spiritually, pastorally and socially. They are all remembered by older parishioners with great affection to this day.

 

Fr. Ambrose Hickey became parish priest when Fr. Fleming died in 1969.

He was to continue the tradition of caring for his people, and with real zeal he saw the parish continue to grow in size.

In 1975 plans were drawn up to provide a more spacious church. The original, built in 1912, was proving to be quite inadequate for the numbers attending. An average Sunday congregation of 600 plus attended a church built to seat 200 ­with major problems at times like Christmas and Easter with 1,200 crowding into every available space. So much for Archbishop Whiteside’s pessimism all those years before! The church was also hopelessly restrictive for the proper celebration of the liturgy as required by the new norms coming out of the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Hickey had re-ordered the benches by adding a central aisle, and re-ordered the sanctuary with a new altar, but space was still drastically limited. A major project was required and extensive plans were drawn up to extend the church. Finances, however, were restricted and the plans were shelved until a satisfactory level of funding could be established.

Fr. Hickey was assisted with both Sunday (four) and weekday (two) Masses for a number of years by Fr. Frank Handley, a priest of the Salford Diocese, who had retired to his family home on Preston New Road, after many years of dedicated and expert direction with the National Catholic Marriage Advisory Service. He kindly stood in for Fr. Hickey at holiday times and proved to be a great asset in the parish.

Fr. Handley generously and enthusiastically continued this help until his health eventually failed in 1997.

Fr. Hickey continued his marathon run, ministering faithfully to the people of St. Patrick’s for 26 years. To his eternal credit, he conscientiously built a sound financial base which could be used to initiate a major rebuilding programme when the time came. Whenever he was asked, in his later years, about making improvements, or re-building, he would reply – “we’ll leave it to the next man”. And who could blame him? The prospect of the upheaval and implications involved would have deterred many a younger man. But he did have prodigious energy and this was spent conscientiously caring for the sick of the parish. Even at 80 years of age he could mount the stairs like a youngster; he enjoyed a stimulating swim in the sea, and 18 holes of golf was no problem to him. Forthright in his views, like many of his generation, he saw things in black and white, and found it hard to cope with anything that smacked of disloyalty to the church, yet he was always sympathetic and encouraging to those who wanted to introduce new ideas and ‘alternative’ prayer styles. He was a good friend to the ministers of the local churches, ploughing a friendly ecumenical furrow which is still producing good fruit to this day.

He returned to his native County Clare in Ireland in September 1995 to a well-earned retirement and his beloved golf. He has visited St. Patrick’s a number of times since to continue his close association with the parish, and was quite excited to be present at the Dedication of the New Church and complex on St. Patrick’s Day 2000. Both at the time, and in a letter he sent after his return to Ireland, he expressed sheer delight and great admiration for the new complex, and congratulated everyone concerned with the Millennium project at St. Patrick’s.

St Patrick’s Catholic Church

In the Pastoral Area of Southport and the Archdiocese of Liverpool

Contact:

Tel: 01704 228943 or 01704 531229

Email: stpatricks.southport@rcaolp.co.uk

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