St Mary's and St. John's
 

A SHORT HISTORY OF ST. MARY’S WIGAN

Part One 1818 – 1914.

St. Mary’s Church dates from the year 1818.  On March 17th, 1818 the First Foundation Stone was laid, and on April 23rd of the same year a second one.  The Church was solemnly opened on January 27th, 1819.  The first Baptism is recorded as taking place on March 7th, and was performed by he Rev. Father Sergeant: the child’s name was Alice Roper, daughter of James and Anne Roper.  At the next two Baptisms Father Thomas Lupton was the officiating priest.  Eight enteries follow by Father John Anderton, and then comes the first entry by Father Charles Middlehurst.  From these facts we gather that:
1. St. Mary’s was served in the beginning from Manchester, Father Sergeant being at Rook Street (now St. Chad’s), and Father Lupton at St. Mary, Mulberry Street, known today as ‘The Hidden Gem’.
2. That Father Middlehurst, the first Rector, began his strenuous career in July 1819.

It is a pity that he left no records of the early days of St. Mary’s.  We know, however, that he built a school in the year 1824: the following inscription was on the wall of  the building:

St. Mary’s Catholic Sunday School 1824.
Sit Jesu Dei Filio et Mariae Deiparae.

It is interesting to read of the efforts made in those days to educate children.  The following is extracted from a report issued in 1838 by the Committee responsible for this great work:

“In the Sunday Schools there are upwards of 100 persons who, as Teachers and Monitors, render both institutions (i.e. St. Mary’s Day and Sunday Schools) an invaluable support by their diligent and gratuitous services”.

We find by reference to old Wigan Papers that Father Middlehurst was not only anxious about his flock but also entered on the stormy ground of controversy.  Thus in 1837 he published some vigorous letters in defence of Catholic doctrines against the Rev. Dr. O’Neill.

It also appears from old records that the Ince Mission was served from St. Mary’s about this time.  The great work, however, that claimed attention was the growing Catholic population of Scholes.  Father Middlehurst at first opened a Chapel in that district which was served from St. Mary’s.  The late Mr. J. Wood, J.P. , once told Father O’Donoghue that his father accompanied Father Middlehurst in his rounds when collecting funds to build St. Patrick’s Church.  The notice books left by Father Wells who succeeded Father Middlehurst, tell us clearly that the staff of St. Mary’s worked St. Patrick’s for some time as a Chapel of ease.  Father Middlehurst caught the fever whilst attending a case in his parish and died on January 19thy, 1848, a victim in the cause of Priestly piety.  He was buried in the vault beneath St. Joseph’s Chapel, and a beautiful brass tablet marks the spot.

Father William Wells was the next Rector.  He began his work by a number of improvements in the Church fabric.  We find him appealing for funds to redecorate and improve the Church, one being the erection of a bell.  But soon more serious things engaged his attention, for in 1849 Wigan was visited by the awful scourge of cholera, and in the notices of the time now appear solemn invitations from him to his people to join in earnest public prayer to avert the scourge of pestilence.  Thus he wrote on September 16th: “On Thursday evening the penitential Psalms and Litany of the Saints will be said and continued on that evening during the awful visitation which is breaking over our town. “  Again on November 4th: “There will be no tea party on Wigan Fair Monday on account of the cholera.”  The epidemic appears to have died down before Christmas and a solemn Te Deum was sung in St. Mary’s in thanksgiving to God.”

The Church was reopened on the 19th October, 1851.  The Bishop of Liverpool sang Mass, the preachers being the Bishop of Southwark and Doctor Roskell, V.G. of Salford.  A new Lady Chapel was opened about a fortnight afterwards.  No doubt this was the time when Father Wells completed his task of designing and making the present large East Window. 

In 1859 Father Gerard O’Reilly became Rector and, during his time, the organ wa rebuilt (1861), and the Church rebenched (1867). 

The infant Schools were added to the Mission in 1878.

The period of the greatest extension was during the Rectorship of Father John Melling.  The present beautiful Presbytery, the High Altar and Chancel, and schools for both boys and girls were erected by him.

A notable event in the history of St. Mary’s  occurred in August 1891.  The Y.M.S. that year selected Wigan as the place of Conference.  The Bishop sang Mass in St. Mary’s, the preacher being Monsignor Bilsborrow, afterwards Bishop of Salford.  The Duke of Norfolk was present on the occasion.

New stained glass windows replaced the old plain lights in 1893.  Additions were made to the Infants’ School and improvements in the grounds around the Church and Schools effected in 1900.  The Church was reopened, after renovation, in 1905, on Trinity Sunday, the Bishop singing the Mass and giving Ponitifical Benediction.

The last notable events in connection with the Church were the completion of the Memorial to the late Father Webster, Rector from 1899 to 1904; the unveiling in 1907 of a series of sculptured panels in the Sanctuary, specially designed and modelled by T. M.  Crook, Esq., R.B.S., R.B.A. ; and the erection in 1911 of a new Lady Altar.  The beautiful white marble statue of Our Lady, by the same sculptor, unveiled on the latter occasion, is a true work of art of which St. Mary’s people are justly proud.

LIST OF RECTORS OF ST. MARY’S      
The Rev. Charles Middlehurst 1819 – 1848
The Rev. William Wells 1848 – 1859
The Rev. Gerard O’Reilly 1859 – 1873
The Rev. Thomas Wells 1873 – 1878
The Rev. John  Daly 1878 – 1879
The Rev. John Dorran 1879 – 1881
The Rev. John Melling 1881 – 1892
The Rev. Thomas Joseph Walshe 1892 – 1894
The Rev. Robert Etherington 1894 – 1899
The Rev. Isaac. Webster 1899 – 1904
The Rev. Daniel O’Donoghue 1904 – 1923
The Rev. James Whitely 1923 – 1946
The Rev. Patrick Mason 1946 – 1948
The Rev. John Gore 1948 – 1971
The Rev. Patrick Murphy 1971 – 1973
The Rev. Thomas Cummins 1973 – 1991
The Rev. John Johnson 1991 – present day

To be continued at a later date.