Page 1, 22nd October 1954

22nd October 1954
Page 1
Page 7
Page 1, 22nd October 1954 — A BARE FLOOR

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Locations: Manchester, London, Salford


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Keywords: Religion / Belief

MISSION Sunday finds pioneer missionary " work beginning here in England—in London and Manchester.

In an 18-roomed house in Holland Park, London, a CATHO LIC HERALD reporter the other day found Mgr. John Coonan with papers, files and records piled up on a bare floor.

Mgr. Coonan, national chaplain for overseas students, had just moved in —and was almost literally camping out there.

The house has been bought by Cardinal Griffin. It is to be reconverted and redecorated throughout to become a national headquarters for the work among overseas students begun by the late Mgr. Kerr McClement two years ago and continued by Mgr. Coonan from the University Chaplaincy in Devonshire Place.

Worst problem

In Manchester—at 104 Denmark Road. Moss Side—Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley-Davenport, M.P. for Knutsford, 'last week opened St Gerard's Community and Social Centre for Coloured people.

This 30-roomed house has been acquired by the new English province of the Society of African Missions.

In Iondon Mgr. Coonan hopes the Holland Park house will open in a few months' time to provide living accommodation for about 12 students, to function as a national centre for spiritual, social and intellectual activities, and as a secretariat to cope with the spiritual and material problems of students all over the country.

"There are about 20.000 overseas students in Great Britain," he told THE CATHOLIC HERALD. "They are mostly Coloured people and the largest groups come from India, Nigeria and East Africa. Well over 3,000 of them are Catholics. And they are very fine people.

"The coldness of the social climate here is the worst of the many social and economic problems they have to face. It is a great strain on their Faith if they find themselves being treated in an offhand manner by Catholics. Too many have lost it altogether that way.

"Coldness is something these students cannot understand. They cannot identify it with Christianity.

Wasted labour

"Of course, British coldness is often a matter of national temperament. We arc cold towards each other. But if a young English student feels out in the cold when he first goes. say, to university, how do you suppose a sensitive African feels?

"It is extremely difficult for him to know where sheer national character ends and colour-bar prejudice begins.

"These overseas countries send the cream of their youth here. They will go back to wield great influence among their own people.

"It is quite useless to labour in the mission fields if the young men and women of those land.s coming over

Continued on page 7

here find themselves utterly ignored. All the good will be promptly undone."

1 asked Mgr. Coonan how best the Catholics of this country can help. "There are three practical ways of making things easier for them and saving them from loneliness," he said.

"I. Show friendliness whenever you meet them, especially at Mass.

"2. Offer them hospitality, regular or occasional, at week-ends, on weekday evenings, at Christmas and Easter, during the summer holidays. An invitation for a day or two's stay can make a big difference.

"3. Provide living accommodation for them in Catholic homes. This is especially important during the holidays. For this, of course, they will pay."

From his n e w address Mgr. Coonan will extend the work he has already been doing for a year in helping overseas students to find accommodation a n d employment (when they need it to help them financially through their training) and to solve all manner of spiritual and material problems.

900 invitations

During the summer months especially students have been arriving day after day to see him. With the help of voluntary workers-for he has no staff-the generous co-operation of many Catholic societies, the British Council and Government departments, much has already been done.

There are Catholic societies for Nigerians, Indians and students from Ceylon. Two days of recollection are arranged every term, Mgr. Coonan has just issued 900 invitations for the next one. Contacts are arranged with chaplains and parish priests all over England, for two-thirds of the students are in the provinces.

Mgr. Coonan appeals to all overseas students and Catholics in any part of the country who can help with hospitality, lodging or employment to write to him at once at 41 Holland Park, London, W.11.

In Manchester priests of the African Missions Society have swapped the jungle for the equally engulfing forest of bricks and mortar-and the heat for the damp, cold drabness of the city's "Little Harlem."

Since the war the Moss Side area of the city has been like a magnet to Coloured people. They now number around 3,500.

That is why the area has been called "Little Harlem." And people have worried, for, it is said, the Coloured folk have brought serious problems to the area.

But a new and powerful influence is now at work-four members of the African Missions Society.

At the invitation of Bishop Marshall of Salford these four prieststhey have 60 years' mission-field experience between them-are helping to solve the many problems of the Coloured people, difficulties far more complex than any they knew at home.

There are housing problems. colour snags, job difficulties and a vast need for advice, help and education. That is the material side of the picture.

On the spiritual side is the fact that many of the Coloured folk, Catholics at home, no longer practise their religion.

Last week Fr. Walsh and his helpers saw the end of weeks of bard work-painting, scrubbing, decorating. scraping bits of furniture together. organising a centre for the Coloured people of Little Harlem.

And all this on top of having to do the job on the inevitable shoestring-type economy.

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