HISTORY OF THE RC PARISH of PENZANCE.
POST - WAR YEARS
In writing a history, there comes a cut-off date beyond which events are too recent to draw any final conclusions, and to spare the blushes of people who may still be around. For the purposes of this booklet, I have made that date the end of the Second World War. What has happened, and is still happening, since then will be dealt with less definitely and personally.
The Penzance Catholic Parish today covers not only the town, but also the villages of the south of the Penwith district, plus the Isles of Scilly. This gives it a general population of some 30,000 people. An educated guess at the total Catholic Population is 700 people, something over 2.3% (which is a bit above average for Cornwall). The average Sunday Mass attendance was 376 in 1992 during the winter; obviously this increases in the summer with the many visitors to the district.
This shows some increase in recent years, partly due to the general movement of population, particularly of retired people, to the westcountry.
The financial stability of the parish has also increased since the war. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most Catholic missions depended almost entirely on the generosity of the well-to-do; the majority of ordinary folk were very much on the bread-line, and so congregational collections produced little. But since the war, as in most places, the Penzance parish has seen more better-off people working in or retiring to the district. The introduction of planned giving and the reclaiming of income tax through covenants has enabled the parish to increase and stabilize its income. But the traditional Bazaar in St. John's Hall, Coffee Mornings in response to various appeals, a 200 Club and other fundraising events still have their place. And some of the recent improvements have been paid for by very generous donations.
Parish Priests have changed more frequently since the war - none staying for 40 years, like Canon Wade. And there have been curates assisting the parish priest for most of the time. The workload in the parish has increased greatly, particularly since the Isles of Scilly have become the responsibility of the parish. A list of all the priests who have served the parish is to be found on the inside of the back cover of this booklet.
The sisters of the Daughters of the Cross order, who had worked so devotedly in the parish since 1902,withdrew from their convent in Fenzance in 1947. They were replaced immediately by a group of Presentation Sisters from Cheshire, who took over their work in St. Gertrude's and the parish schools. St. Gertrude's Girls Convent school had to close in 1969. But the Parish School has flourished, so much so that in 1979 a brand new building was built by the diocese in Peverell Road. It is only in this year, 1993, that the first lay headmistress of this century has been appointed after 90 years of dedicated teaching by the sisters.
The sisters have moved into a new convent at Medrose. This has enabled them to develop in the old convent buildings their work with elderly people, opening a Day Centre in 1984; later in 1987, the residential St. Mary's Haven was purpose-built in the grounds, with the co-operation of the housing corporation.
On 15th December 1982, the church was consecrated by Bishop Restieaux; the reasons why so many of our older churches were not consecrated earlier remain obscure, but the omission was remedied in the case of this historic church in Penzance with great ceremony and celebrations.
During the fifty years since the war, a great deal has been done to restore the old church. The exterior of the church has been in scaffolding for weeks, while the stonework was cleaned and re-pointed, the belfry releaded and a lightning conductor fitted.
Adaptions to the old church were necessary for the celebration of the new forms of liturgy introduced by the Second Vatican Council. The altar has been brought forward so that the priest celebrates Mass "facing the people". Taking down the altar rails and pulpit has opened up the sanctuary. The removal of Canon Cantell's baldachino allowed the East window to be re-opened, bringing in much-needed light. The old "mission cross now hangs above the sanctuary. The Lady Chapel looks splendid with the statue repainted and the altar refurbished. The lovely new stained-glass windows, paid for entirely by the people of the parish, and 3 parishioners in particular, have brought light and brightness to the whole church.
The refurbished church is the centre for much of the regular parish life. The Sunday Masses are at 9 and 11a.m. (with a Saturday evening Mass at 6 p.m. at St. Just). Weekday Masses are usually early in the morning or in the evening to fit in with the sisters' teaching duties, but occasionally in the school or in the houses of the sick. Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church is a frequent accompaniment to Mass. Devotions include Evening Prayer of the Church and Benediction, Stations of the Cross, the Angelus and, recently, a 38-strong Exposition Group watches before the Blessed Sacrament on Tuesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. A Rosary Prayer Group meets on Tuesdays.
Lay participation is the key to ensure that all this runs smoothly. About 30 Readers and the same number of Ministers of the Eucharist, 17 Altar Servers, the Bell-ringer, Sacristans, Flower arrangers, Brass and Church Cleaners all have their part in the mounting of the various services. Mr. McAlister's organ was thoroughly overhauled in 1967 and supports the congregational singing; occasionally the young people participate in the Mass, playing a variety of instruments.
The sacramental life of the parish is thriving. 6 babies were baptised in 1992 in the new font placed between the sanctuary and Lady Chapel. A successful RCIA group has helped 15 people join the church over the past 3 years. 17 children made their First Holy Communion, and Holy Communion is regularly received under both kinds. The old confessional has been converted into a Reconciliation Room allowing the choice of private or face-to-face confession. Perhaps the most amazing statistic was that in 1992 the Bishop had 54 candidates for Confirmation.
The elderly and the sick have a high profile in parish life. St. Mary's Haven has joined the Cheshire Home as specifically caring establishments. Ministers take Holy Communion to the Sick, and occasionally Mass is said in their homes.
In these days of Ecumenism, United Services in many of the town's churches are a part of the town's religious scene. At Christmas Carol services, in the January Christian Unity Week, the Seaman's Mission all draw people from various churches. Their ministers meet regularly in a Fraternal.
A number of special occasions occur from time to time. The May Procession in honour of Mary and the Corpus Christi Procession both take to the streets, accompanied by the Hayle Town Band. An annual Pilgrimage is becoming a regular event - Fatima, Assisi and Rome are recent destinations. Councillor Brian Spigelhalter was the first Catholic Mayor in the town and brought the Civic Mass to the church.
These are some of the signs that the parish is in good heart due to the prayer and hard work, over the 150 years we are celebrating, of so many:
priests, sisters and parishioners. We pray that God will continue to bless the work and reach far and wide into the town and the villages of the parish.
'The Holy Family' Parish - 2008 onwards
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