THE MAJOR PART OF THIS HISTORY IS TAKEN FROM "THE HISTORY OF THE SOCIETY OF JESUS IN WIGAN", COMPILED BY THE REV. J. G. MACLEOD, S.J. IN THE YEAR 1900.
The Catholic Church of St. John, Wigan.
Evidence exists of Wigan as a Roman Town, and in all probability there was a settlement of one of the Celtic tribes before the Romans built one of their chief colonising camps in the second century A.D.
A fairly good specimen of an altar of this period is to be seen in the parish church, and some Samian ware at Upholland College.
Wigan was without doubt a borough during Saxon times and is therefore among the oldest in the country though it was Henry III who gave the town its first extant charter in 1246.
The famous "Legend of Mab's Cross" arises out of the events of the 14th century. Sir William Bradshaigh, who married Mabel Norris, the heiress of Haigh, being implicated in the murder of Sir Henry de Bury, became outlawed and, though pardoned in 1315, concealed himself until the death of his enemy the Earl of Lancaster in 1322. In the meantime, Dame Mabel, his wife, believing him dead, had married again. Hearing of this Sir William returned in disguise, revealed himself to his tenants, and drove out the intruding Knight whom he overtook and slew at Newton-le-Willows. The Lady Mabel was ordered as a penance to walk barefoot once a week for a year from her house at Haigh to a cross just outside Wigan in Standishgate, a distance of about two miles. The cross, ever since known as "Mab's Cross" is still preserved in Standishgate and not far from St. John's Church. The tomb of Sir William and Dame Mabel is to be seen in the parish Church.
During the 15th and 16th centuries the town maintained its prominence as one of the chief towns in Lancashire and its church attained considerable influence during the religious controversies of Elizabeth's reign.
Wigan played a part in the Jacobite Risings, and particularly in the "Lancashire Plot" of 1690-1694.
The town was also concerned in the Risings of 1715 and 1745; during this latter rebellion the Young Pretender passed through Wigan both in advance and retreat and spent the night on each occasion at Walmesley House in Westwood.
Wigan formed one of the oldest missions of the Society of Jesus and prior to any connected history we have of this mission, we find evidence of its existence in short biographical notices of individual priests who were appointed to serve in it; and a letter from the Protestant Bishop of Chester to the Privy Council of 1583, testifies to the staunchness of the faithful of Wigan as being "stubborn and contemptuous recusants" or in other words, firm and constant Catholics. The importance of the position of the Society of Jesus in the town, both as missioners and as instructors of the youth may be gathered from the fact that in the time of James II it had a large school or college, accommodated originally in a spacious mansion outside the town and bought for the purpose, attended by more than a hundred scholars, and that Bishop Leyburn confirmed on September 14th and 15th, in the year 1687, 1,331 persons. As the chapel, attached to the school, was at first but small, it used to be densely crowded, and yet we read that the Mayor and his Councillors frequently assisted at the services. Just before the breaking out of the revolution in 1688, materials for building a new church and college were prepared and its erection begun, the site of the boarders' quarters having being marked out, when the excited mob tore up and destroyed the foundations.
The history of this Catholic college has, ever since those days, left its mark on an extensive neighbourhood alongside the river Douglas, and has given its name of Scholes (or Schools) to the whole district round where it stood. The existence of a school in this district, as far back as 1625, was indicated in the Annual Letters of the Jesuit Society. Local records describe the buildings which existed there in 1687: while alterations and excavations made in School Lane in the late 1890's brought into view the old demolished walls and rough ground, to which access was gained through the former College gateway by an entry in the main street of Scholes.
The Society of Jesus retained part of this property until about the year 1900, and as the present church of St. John's stands within a stone's throw from the old cottage on ground divised to the Society, it is probable that both stood on what was called the "Standish Gate property".
The ancient family of the Bradshaighs of Haigh Hall contributed members to the Society of Jesus in the persons of Father Peter Bradshaigh, twice rector of the Lancashire District; and Father Richard, a missioner in the County, Rector of the College of Liege and St. Ormer, and Provincial for four years, and Father Robert, who was sent into exile for his religion, and Father Thomas, a worthy brother of the two last named, Minister, Procurator, and Consultor in Rome.
The family of the Walmesleys of Westwood gave a member to the Society, Father Christopher, who joined in 1708, and became Prefect of Studies and Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Liege. To the same family belonged Father Henry Walmesley, who for a time was in charge of the Wigan Mission, while his nephew, Father Herman, was Rector of Stonyhurst. The Right Rev. Charles Walmesley, Vicar-Apostolic of the Western District in the latter half of the 18th century, was another member of the family.
As the lie and length of a road are marked by the succession of milestones, so may the history of a parish be traced out by its registers, and by the names of its successive pastors. The first Baptism entered in St. John's books take up back to March 16th, 1740, when Father Brockholes was parish priest. His registers were, however, very imperfectly kept, as Father Marmaduke Langdale states when he copied them in 1870. It is curious to note that in these entries that the word "christened" did not give place to "Baptised" until 1777; and also that the names of the fathers and mothers were not at first entered, but only those of the godparents, Father Charles Brockholes has generally been considered the father and founder of St. John's, although Father James Canell, the missioner at Wigan in James II's time, possesses some claim to the title, for he was the first fixed salaried priest in charge, probably from 1682 until 1722, when he died in Wigan, on March 27th at the age of 73. His name occurs in documents signed by Miss Clare Gerard, dated April 3rd, 1686, by which she directed the four executors named in her will to pay the interest of a small legacy towards the maintenance of a priest in and about Wigan: "and that after his decease it shall go to the Jesuit that shall come to help the poor in and about Wigan, but for want of such help of the Jesuits, then for the priest that shall help us aforsaid, be he of what order it pleaseth God he hapneth to be one". Father Canell is the first resident missioner that can be named, and he probably lived in or near Wigan when the college was destroyed. His annual income in 1701 is given as amounting to £20 drawn from the College District Funds, £10 subscribed by the people, and certain other small sums, making it not above £31 in all. Father Thomas Kirk was, it seems, his coadjutor from about 1710 to 1716.
Before the Society of Jesus found themselves settled in Wigan with a reasonable prospect of obtaining a peaceful and permanent footing in the town, they must have had to endure constant hardships and persecution; this is sufficiently indicated in the Society's records of the Lancashire Mission. Thus a definite tradition exists that they had at one time a small chapel and house attached, situated at the corner of Chapel Lane - a very likely position from its contiguity to Scholes Bridge, where there formerly was a ford, and just beyond which was, or had been, the Jesuit College.
Father Canell's successor was Father Edmund Smith, whose letters bore the address - "Mr. E. Smith, to be left at the Apothecary Gerard's in Wigan". Father Smith died in 1727 at the age of 61. his Superior seems to have had a tight hand over his expenses, for he allowed him only £20 a year for his "diet, washing, fire, candle, and attendance, and no more for these sort of necessarys. Item for his clothes and pocket-money £6 a year, besides forty-shillings a year as interest during his life for £40 he gave up in Mr. Billing's time, which as the forsaid are to be paid half-yearly".
The Rev. Sir Piers Mostyn, of Talacre, was probably the next missioner, and came in 1727 and died about 1735.
Father Charles Brockholes, whose name was the first to be connected to the mission of St. John's under that title, entered the Society of Jesus in 1704. He was Chaplain to the Andertons of Lostock, but he removed from that place to Wigan in 1740. Father Brockholes, on moving into Wigan, took up residence in Standishgate, where he built a house almost entirely at his own expense, and arranged the upper part of it as a chapel, in order to guard the Catholics worshipping in it from molestation. This house was built between Dicconson Street and Powell Street, just behind the Dicconson Arms which has since been demolished. It is interesting to note that this house still stands and is now occupied by the firm of V. Standish and Sons who are parishioners of St. John's. A priest's hiding hole is still to be seen over a fire-place in the house. At the time Father Brockholes built his house, his congregation (under the title of "customers") numbered 300.
On the death of Father Brockholes in 1759, Father John Worthington took his place, and served the mission for many years, dying in Wigan in 1777 at the age of 64. Father Marmaduke Langdale, his successor in the mission, came soon after his ordination at Cologne in 1776. In 1785 he erected the old chapel of St. John's, fronting the street, and having its altar close to the spot on which now stands the Walmesley Cross. At the same time he built a house also fronting the street, and divided from the chapel by a short narrow passage leading to a side entrance into it. When the priests left this house it was subsequently taken over by the Sisters of Notre Dame and later demolished to make room for the present Convent. The mission flourished under Father Langdale's care, although he died in 1784.
Father Richard Barrow came from Pontefract to succeed him and had care of the mission for thirteen years until he died in 1799 at the age of 61. The parish owes to Father Barrow an especial acknowledgment of the perfect order, neatness, and legibility of hand, in which he wrote out and preserved the parish registers.
Father Barrow's successor was Father Herman Kemper, a native of Westphalia, whose poor writing was more than made up for by his cultivation of the parish so that the help of another priest was needed to attend to its ever-increasing members. Father Barrow left the mission in 1808.
St. John's was next served by three brothers of the name Tate, in succession. The first of these was John Tate. He was sent in 1805 to assist Father Kemper, and continued until he was transferred to Lydiate in 1821. After him came his brother, Father Joseph, who began work in Wigan as a secular priest and became a Jesuit in 1810. The third brother, Father Thomas Tate, was universally esteemed and beloved for his frank and obliging disposition and belonged wholly to St. John's, Wigan, beginning his life's work there in 1811 and completing it at his death on March 29th, 1819. His kindness and devoted attention to the poor and the sick was worthily crowned by a martyrdom of charity, for his death was caused by an attack of typhus caught at the bedside of a parishioner.
As the year 1819 introduces us to a new era in the history of St. John's parish, and the erection of its present church, it will be interesting to trace by the help of its registers the development of the Catholic population during the time when the old chapel was in use. In the year 1766, 33 baptisms had been entered, but no marriages; in 1791 the baptisms had increased to 92, the marriages numbering 19. The year 1816 recorded 192 baptisms and 18 marriages; whereas the new St. John's registered in 1841, 254 baptisms and 28 marriages; and again in 1866 275 baptisms and 38 marriages. The bench-rent book also tells its tale: in 1786 there were 114 bench-holders - "Lancashire men all, sound and true". From 1786 to 1818, the bench-book is perfect; more so than the punctuality of the payments, for it tells of defaulters, that some "cannot pay", and others "will not pay".
In 1819 St. John's possessed three missioners, and the congregation increased from its original "300 customers" to 3,000. Both before and after this date the church in Lancashire began gradually to venture upon more public and independent action, and this we learn from the fact that on October 15th, 1824, a general meetings of the Catholics in Wigan and its vicinity was held in the schoolroom in Rodney Street, Roger Anderton, of Birkett Bank, being in the Chair. The purpose of this meeting was to found a Wigan Catholic Association, which should agitate, in every loyal and constitutional way, for the repeal of the laws then militating against full liberty of religious worship.
In 1817 the great increase of the congregation had convinced leading Catholics of the town that a new and more spacious church ought to be built, and a meeting was held at which a resolution, signed by 1,400 persons, was passed, that steps should immediately be taken to obtain the necessary funds for erection. The foundation stone was laid on January 27th, 1818, and the Church was opened on June 24th in the following year. It stands upon the plot of land lying behind the old chapel built in 1785. Subsequently to the building of the new church, the old chapel was pulled down, and two houses facing each other on either side of the entrance to the chapel yard were erected on its site.
A somewhat brief account of St. John's new church written at the time, describes it as a well-proportioned building, with a severely plain exterior, basilica shape. The plan and decoration of the interior were more ornate and elaborate, and were modelled on the Greek type of architecture, having a wide-spread panelled roof, unsupported by pillars, and a deep and richly moulded cornice carried round to sustain it. The high altar was placed within a wide recess immediately infront of a dome or canopy, of very elegant design, which served as a reredos, and it was flanked on either side by three massive columns resting on heavy pedestals. The proportions of the church are about 120 feet in length, by 50 in breadth, and close on 50 feet in height. By the help of the organ gallery the building can accommodate fully 1,000 people. The cost of the structure was about £9,000. No definite statement has been preserved as to the name of the architect of the church or the sources of its design. A rather vague tradition points towards the Fathers of the Society themselves as its originators, guided by their researches abroad and in Rome, and employing clever workmen taken from the neighbourhood. It is part of the same tradition that the exceedingly graceful and perfectly proportioned details of the interior ornamentation were copies from the designs of Andrea Pozzo, a Jesuit lay-brother, and a famous architect and decorator, who was born in Trent in 1642 and died at Vienna in 1709.
The earliest decoration of the church was carried out by a Mr. Scoles in the year 1834 at the request of Father Hegarty.
In the year 1849, during the administration of Father Mann, the interior of St. John's was again decorated, this time by a Mr. Bulmer at a cost of £400. These improvements included the addition of the pilasters which are carried along the sides of the church, and break the monotony of their flat surface. The four windows nearest the sanctuary were also filled with stained glass, representing their subjects, the Good Shepherd, the Blessed Virgin with the Divine Child, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, Patron of the church and parish. These windows were presented by Father Walmesley, of Westwood; and a memorial in the Church records the fact and date. The window immediately behind the high altar was bricked up by Mr. Bulmer, in order to give effect to the decorations. Subsequently, during the same Father's time, in the year 1874, the whole church, and more particularly the altar end, was richly and solidly coloured with designs more effective in themselves than in perfect keeping with the character of the architecture. It was in the course of these decorations that the window behind the altar was re-opened and filled with stained glass of a brilliantly coloured Byzantine pattern - the work of William Gardner, of St. Helens.
In 1885, under Father Gradwell's direction, the other portions of the building were thoroughly repaired and decorated; the church was for the first time paved with tiles; new benches were installed and new standard gases were placed as to light up brilliantly the whole interior.
After serving the parish for an unusually long period, Father Gradwell was succeeded by Father Vincent Bond. Father Bond was responsible for the erection of the altar-rails. The marble work was executed by Mesrs. J. and H. Patterson, of Manchester, and Mr. Preston, of Wigan, carried out the new flooring and alterations to the sanctuary. The altar-rails, of bold design, are straight in front, but curved at the sides, and are upwards of 52 feet in length. Their appearance is richly decorative. The balustraded portion is composed of finely delected light alabaster relieved by panelled pilasters, inlaid with spotted Serravezza marble. the base and broad capping are formed of richly-coloured Griotte marble, while the step on which they stand is bluish-grey dove marble. The pedestals of the large engaged columns near the altar were also panelled and cased with marbles. The flooring and the new arrangements of the steps were laid with narrow herring-bone pitch-pine boards.
Besides the smaller brass put up close to the sacristy door in memory of Henry Walmesley, the church has two memorial brasses, which are fixed to the wall on either side of the entrance door which read: -
"Pray for the soul of the Hon. Colin Lindsay, of Deer Park,
in the parish of Buckerell, in the County of Devon, 4th son
of James 24th Earl of Crawford and 7th Earl of Balcarres,
who departed this life on the 28th day of Jany., A.D., 1892,
aged 72, and for the soul of his wife, the Lady Frances, of
Deer Fold aforesaid, daughter and co-heir of William
Forward, 4th Earl of Wicklow, K.P., who departed this life,
20th August A.D. 1897, aged 76, on whose souls may God
have mercy. Amen."
Of your charity pray for the souls of Herman Kemper
Walmesley, of Gidlow, Wigan, who died 17th December,
1890, aged 74, and Ellen, his wife, who died 6th November,
1851, aged 36 years, fortified by the rites of the Church. In
affectionate remembrance of whom this tablet is erected by
their loving children."
The object which at once arrests the attention on entering the Church is the exceedingly chaste and perfectly proportioned canopy, the character of which is probably unique in this country. The lower part of the structure forms a large round drum which enclosed the tabernacle, and above this solid foundation rises the dome. It commences with a gilt balustrade passing round it and intersected, at different points, by the black marble base on which the pillars rest. These support the domed roof of the canopy, and with their Corinthian capitals form the chief beauty of the whole construction. The cupola is itself of original and effective design, being formed of a second gilt balustrade in due proportion, and surrounded by a pierced corona or lantern, bearing up a cross at the highest apex. The interior of the dome is divided into slightly tinted panels containing a religious emblem in light gold. The dome enshrines within its pillars a large crucifix, with figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John supporting it on either side.
From the year 1819 when St. John's was first opened the changes among the Jesuit Fathers became too numerous to admit of much individual mention. The first we name, Father William Cotham, brought the Jesuits into connection with the outlying district of Upholland, acting as Chaplain at Orrell Mount in 1820 to a community of Benedictine nuns. Still nearer Wigan stood Hayfield (Highfield) at one time the seat of the Gerard family. Among the missioners there was Father Richard Moore in 1701 and Father Bennet who died in 1761.
St. John's owes to Father Haggerty a very grateful acknowledgement of the excellent work which he achieved both in the church and in the district. Although at St. John's for only seven years he won in an extraordinary degree the love of his flock, and of the people of Wigan. He died in 1834 of typhus fever, the first of five priests who in succession succumbed to the same disease. In the May of 1831, an additional plot of land had been purchased and was at once used as a churchyard for the Catholic population, bodies buried close up against the walls of the priests' house, and as afterwards discovered very near to the surface, and this it was suspected, was the cause of the outbreak. The "Health of Towns' Act" fortunately removed this evil and arrested the succession of deaths attributed to such a cause.
Father William Ibbotson died in 1834, and in 1837 Father James Catanach fell a victim to the fever whilst attending to the sick. Father Francis Hearn was attacked by typhus and died on April 29th, 1847; while Father Robert Johnson closed the list by dying of typhus in 1847. In the same year Father James Walker recovered from the disease after being anointed.
In 1851 Father Thomas Seed took charge of St. John's and remained until he was transferred in 1859. He was succeeded by Father Hill who left in 1867 due to ill-health.
From 1819, St. John's missioners were three in number and the congregation increased from 300 to 3,000. In 1858 the increase reached 6,000. By the year 1872 confessions rose from 12,000 to 14,000 annually; the baptisms from 300 to 400; and the Paschal Communions had attained the number of 2,000.
On April 29th, 1854, Father Seed introduced into the parish the Notre Dame Religious. He left behind him a memorial of his term of office in the fine-toned bell fitted in the wooden belfry and weighing 11 cwts. The bell was consecrated by Bishop Goss, the Bishop of Liverpool, on June 8th, 1861. Father John O'Reilly signalled his term of office by the acquisition in 1868 of a new organ built by Conacher and Sons and supplied by them with an hydraulic blower.
In every Catholic district the parochial and ministerial work of founding schools, guilds and confraternities must be a matter of highest importance, and so about the year 1819, when 450 children attended the Sunday School, and only about 12 boys and 12 girls found room in the day-school, more suitable schools were built in Rodney Street facing the old Grammar school of the town. We read of appeals being made in 1830 and 1831 by the trustees and conductors of the Sunday Schools for an increased contribution towards their support.
As the congregation of St. John's increased, the building in Rodney Street was found too small and too far from the church. Father Hearn bought a plot of land in Dicconson Street before his death, in 1847. At the present time (1965) these buildings are still in use, but not as schools. The lower room is used as a parochial hall and the upper rooms as a Youth Club.
During Father Seed's time, Father Joseph Howell leased two cottages in the lower part of the town in Caroline Street (Wallgate) and had temporarily fitted-up there a school for the children who lived at too great a distance to walk as far as Dicconson Street. The school was named after St. Joseph in memory of Father Howell.
A Christian Doctrine Confraternity was formed in the parish of young and middle-aged men and was directed by Mr. Benson, J.P. In 1871 public Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the church was introduced
Shortly before the close of the decade, a St. John's Young Men's Catholic Club was inaugurated and a suitable home was found for it in the house occupied for many years by the Fathers of the mission, on the right side of the main entrance into the churchyard. On March 17th, 1905, St. John's Men's Sodality amalgamated with St. John's Catholic Club to form a society called "St. John's Young Men's Society". The first Chaplain of the C.Y.M.S. was Father Flynn, S.J.
St. Joseph's Association is now the name of the Women's Confraternity, but it was instituted as a purgatorial confraternity which had frequent masses said for the faithful departed. This Confraternity had a long and memorable history.
The year 1875 saw the building of the new Presbytery in Powell Street, and which is still used for that purpose.
Before the end of the century, the new school in Brick Kiln Lane was built. In December, 1893, when Father O'Hare was rector, the schools in Dicconson Street were condemned by the Education Authority. The price asked for was £2,000, but there is no record of the actual price paid. Plans for a two-storey building were approved in 1895.
The new buildings cost about £5,000 and the school for the girls and infants on March 4th, 1896. Father J. Turner was Rector when the new school was opened.
In the year 1933, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus found it necessary, due to other work to which the Society was committed, to relinquish the parish of St. John's, and so ended the long and glorious work of the Society of Jesus at St. John's and in Wigan and District.
From the beginning of the century the following Jesuit Fathers served as Rectors of St. John's:-
1898 - 1903 Patrick Hayden.
1903 - 1906 Joseph Flynn.
1906 - 1910 George Carolan.
1910 - 1923 George Wilcock.
1923 - 1932 William Fitzmaurice.
1932 - 1933 William Gough.
Whilst at St. John's, Father Wilcock installed a new bell in the tower which replaced the bell installed by Father Seed in 1861 and which was found to be cracked. He had the four stained-glass windows taken out and re-leaded at cost of £371 10s. 0d., and built the new Confessionals which were first used in May, 1922.
Father William Fitzmaurice succeeded Father Wilcock in 1923, his first job being to have the church redecorated. In November, 1927, he was instrumental in the organisation of a parish Bazaar when the magnificent sum of £3,000 was raised for this and other church purposes. in the year 1928 he founded the St. John's Operatic and Dramatic Society and he himself was producer. The Society is still in existence.
Father William Gough's Rectorship, though short, was historic, for he was the last of a long line of Jesuit Fathers who were Rectors of St. John's.
In the year 1933, the first Secular priests came to minister at St. John's and Father Philip Mahon was inducted as Rector of the parish on October 8th of that year. With him came two newly-ordained priests - Father William Hall and Father George Houghton. Father Mahon's death came with tragic suddenness when he collapsed and died whist reciting his Office in the churchyard of St. John's on March 23rd, 1939.
Father James McKenna succeeded Father Mahon for just one year as he died from a painful illness on April 13th, 1940.
Monsignor Joseph Moss, D.D., was Vice-rector of the Beda College in Rome, when he was appointed to succeed Father McKenna. Monsignor Moss had been evacuated to Up Holland College during the war years. This well-beloved priest, after a period of indifferent health, collapsed and died in Oldham on August 31st, 1949. His ministry at St. John's was during the difficult years of the war when nothing in the way of repairs or improvements could be carried out, but during the year of his sacerdotal silver jubilee the interior of the church was "washed down", and he did much to improve the parochial hall in Dicconson Street after it had been vacated by the R.A.F. who had occupied it throughout the war years.
In October, 1943, Father William O'Connell, Assistant priest, formed St. John's Youth Club for boys and girls. The Club first met in the Lower room of the C.Y.M.S. Club, but soon afterwards moved to more spacious quarters at the "Elms" in Wigan Lane. These premises were eventually taken over by the Wigan Education Authority and the Club moved to the upper floor of St. John's Parochial Hall in Dicconson Street. To enable the rooms to be put in a satisfactory condition to house the Youth Club, the Ministry of Education made a grant of £1,000 for structural alterations, and £250 for furnishings and equipment. The Youth Club occupied their new premises in August, 1950, which were opened and blessed by Bishop Halsall, the auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool. The Club has gained many successes over the years in drama and athletic events, and is still flourishing.
The present parish priest, the Rev. John Walter Campbell, D.D., Ph.D., B.A., Vice-Rector of Up Holland College, succeeded Monsignor Moss and was inducted parish priest on September 25th, 1949.
During the war years, 1939 to 1945, no big redecoration or renewal schemes could be undertaken and the church and parish properties had suffered in consequence. Doctor Campbell set about the task of remedying this and on October 27th, 1949, called a meeting of parish representatives when it was decided to organise a three-day bazaar. The bazaar was held in the Parochial Hall in Dicconson Street in April, 1950, and the magnificent sum of £3,500 was raised.
During the five succeeding years, 1951 to 1955, Garden Parties were held on the Wigan Athletic Football Ground at Springfield Park, which resulted in a total profit of £2,580 for the parish. Springfield Park had been booked for one Saturday in each of the five years for the total sum of £100.
The success of these efforts was due in a large measure to the inspiration and organisation of Father John Kielt who was an assistant priest at St. John's. Father Kielt was transferred to the Sacred Heart, Chorley, in 1957 where he died suddenly on July 28th, 1960, at the age of 47.
As a result of these efforts, the church was decorated, and on July 15th, 1951, a special service was held at which Bishop Halsall, Auxiliary of Liverpool, presided. The re-roofing of the church and the presbytery was carried out along with many other necessary repairs.
On July 12th, 1956, Doctor Campbell celebrated the silver jubilee of his ordination, and at a crowded meeting of parishioners in the parochial Hall, he was presented with a spiritual bouquet and a cheque for £575. As a result of this, Doctor Campbell purchased and installed two new permanent altars. The high altar, which was made of wood, was replaced with a permanent marble altar and a new tabernacle, and a marble Lady Altar was also erected. These were completed in 1959 when the church was "washed down".
The permanent altars enabled the church to be consecrated and on June 17th, 1959, the church was consecrated by Bishop Boisguerin, an exiled French Bishop from China resident in the Liverpool Archdiocese. At this consecration ceremony, the Society of Jesus was represented by Father L. Darbyshire, S.J., a one-time curate at St. John's.
On Monday evening June 22nd, 1959, John Carmel Heenan, Archbishop of Liverpool, and now Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, assisted at High Mass and preached to mark the 140th anniversary of the opening and the recent consecration of the church.
In November, 1961, Archbishop Heenan gave his approval for plans to widen and improve the Powell Street approach to the church; to build two sacristies - one for the clergy, and one for the altar-servers - and a new baptistry. The architect was Mr. T. B. Marsden, of Southport. This building was ready for use in November, 1962.
It is impossible to discover the names of the priests who over the years have been assistants at St. John's, but here are the names of a few of those still remembered.
The Jesuit Fathers were - Fathers Melling, Coverdale, Lomax, Darbyshire and Pye. Father Pye is especially remembered as a keen and devoted chaplain of the Boys' Guild and the C.Y.M.S.
Secular assistant priests have been - Fathers W. Hall, G. Houghton, J. J. Barry, B. Flynn, W. O'Connell, J. Kielt (R.I.P.), T. Rattigan, C. McEnroe, P. Higgins and J. Kennedy.
The present assistant priests are Fathers Francis Smith and Victor Bridges.
Much has been written in this history of the material side in the growth of St. John's, and many are the names of the priests who have ministered here. But buildings and priests do not make a parish. We must not forget the many layfolk who down the years have assisted at Holy Mass, received the Sacraments and supported by their generosity and organised the various schemes proposed by the clergy. They may not be mentioned in any human record, but their names are inscribed in letters of gold in "The Book of Life".
The full story of St. John's is not yet told; there is no doubt that many who come after us will add to its glory, for we can only pay our debt to the past by putting the future in debt to us.