By a C.H. Reporter The Church of St. Mary, West Croydon,' celebrated last week-end the centenary of its foundation.
In 1836 an old Spanish priest of 76 years settled in Croydon, his name, curiously, was Patrick O'Moore. He is believed to have been driven out of Spain by the defeat of the Carlists. For a little time he said Mass privately for his own small household. When he realised, however, that there were several Catholic families in Croydon, he rented a small house known as Southbridge Cottage and managed to have it licensed as a Catholic chapel.
Pump Pail Baptists on Warpath The first baptism in the chapel took place on April 13, 1838. By the end of 1839, at the petition of twenty-one householders, a licence for marriage was granted the chapel. But as Father O'Moore began to have success with his chapel, so local bigotry, under the inspiring lead of the Pump Pail Baptist Church, intensified; and in 1841 the priest was served with a notice to quit. He did.
At the beginning of April he moved into a tiny cottage, number eight Broad Green. For the information of those who like making.sentimental journeys, this place still exists behind a shop at 247, London Road. Southbridge Cottage also exists still, as 20, Southbridge Road.
An old shed by the side of the Broad Green cottage was used as a temporary Mass centre. A small brick chapel with a corbie stepped gable, familiar in buildings all over the Spanish Netherlands, was built by public subscription and opened on the Feast of the Assumption, 1841. It was a solid little chapel, with some of the gaunt simplicity of the Welsh Methodist chapels.
Sacrilege During Mass On Whit Sunday, 1842, a mob of ruffians broke into the chapel during Mass, and attacked Father O'Moore on the altar. The men tore the vestments from this old priest of 79, and wounded him in the head and in the chest.
The priest recovered in time from this attack; but by Christmas, 1842, he had to face serious financial difficulties. The same people who had driven him from the chapel in Southbridge Cottage had bought up all his debts to the various tradespeople and delivered their ultimatum : Pay or Get Out.
The priest could not pay; £111 9s. 6d. was the amount owing; so he went to prison. For three months he was in Marshalsea Debtors' Prison. He was eventually released in time to offer up Mass in his chapel on Easter Sunday, through the discharging of his debts by the Vicar General.
On Whit Sunday all the friends of the priest gathered round him to offer up prayers with him in reparation for the sacrilege that had been committed in the previous year.
The life of the priest went on more evenly. A few baptisms, a few marriages, Mass every Sunday at eleven o'clock; and Mass celebrated with proper dignity, according to a correspondent to The Tablet who wrote in the April 20 issue, 1844, with much praise of " the decencies of the sittings, the elegant arrangement of the altar, the demeanour of the four acolytes, and, above all. the venerable appearance of the holy old priest."
Toothbrush and Cup for Everyone All the time, of course, the priest had to struggle against incredible bigotry, which flared up occasionally to preposterous excess, as when the Poor Law Guardians attempted to prosecute the priest for administering the Last Sacraments to a dying Catholic in the Workhouse at Duppas Hill Terrace.
But nothing so serious happened as to interrupt his work.
The second Sunday after Easter, 1849, was the last time that Father Patrick O'Moore said Mass in the brick chapel of Saint Mary. Because of his great age he was retired. He lived in a small house in Camberwell until his death on October 21, 1853, at the age of 92.
Father O'Moore's successor was the Rev. James Waring Bradshaw, who was thirtyone when he came to Croydon. He stayed in the parish only two years.
A Redemptorist who preached Croydon's first mission, was so eloquent, that Father Bradshaw applied for permission to give up his parish duties and join the Redemptorist Order. Before he went, however, he wrote to The Tablet an elaborately worded appeal for the Norwood Orphanage.
The School Re-opened
The opening of his appeal is tediously ornate. When he gets down to facts, however, he states outright : " I have seen ladies' boarding schools with a pension of some £30 per annum but not one jot better in any respect that 1 could discover than the Orphanage at Norwood. What struck me particularly was the toothbrush and cup for each individual, which may give an idea of the attention paid to cleanliness."
This Orphanage, which had been established in 1848, was conducted by the Nuns of the Faithful Virgin, and it was from their Chaplains that Croydon was to be supplied after Father Bradshaw had gone away.
The Rev. Desire Michel Vesque began his duties in Croydon in 1850. The little school which Father O'Moore had started and which had been closed for some time was re-opened, and a Mlle. Rose Hauvelle was put in charge of it. Father Vesque knew little English but carried out his duties punctiliously.
In 1856 Father Vesque was made Bishop of Roseau, and left England for the West Indies.
The Rev. Alphonse David, another Chaplain of the Norwood Orphanage, became rector of Croydon, and remained in the parish until his death thirty-seven years later.
It was during his rectorship that the present church of St. Mary in Wellesley Road was built.
Mgr. Amigo's Tribute
The Archbishop-Bishop of Southwark, before beginning his sermon on Sunday at St. Mary's Church, West Croydon, in connection with the centenary celebrations of the church, announced that the Rev. W. H. McLaughlin, West Croydon's parish priest, had been made Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral.
The Archbishop said that he was very pleased to come to the centenary, and was unexpectedly delighted to find that a Forty Hours' Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament formed part of the centenary celebrations.
He reminded the people: " We are keeping the Octave of All Saints. There are a great number of Saints, men and women who died in the ,state of grace, who will join with you in offering thanksgiving to God for the Croydon Centenary, for all that has been accomplished in this parish during a hundred years. These Saints in Heaven are praying for Croydon and helping Croydon always."
Then the Archbishop described in outline the glorious record of the parish. He praised the tremendous work of the parish priests : the Rev. Patrick O'Moore who at the age of 76 founded the first small Catholic chapel in the parish after the Reformation, and worked unceasingly for the parish for 12 years; the Rev. James Waring Bradshaw who stayed only two years but helped the progress diligently; the Rev. Desire Michel Vesque and the Rev. Alphonse David who had great difficulties to face because of their ignorance of the English language.
The Archbishop paid tribute to the way the present parish priest, Father McLaughlin, has carried on the great tradition of hard work and self sacrifice, set by his predecessors.