Our Lady of Lourdes R C Church
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Hessle
by Marie Nicoll
Before the Second World War there were approximately 70 Catholic families in Hessle, but this number increased rapidly during the war. The Connaughton family moved in to the area in the mid-1930s, and I am very grateful to Dot, one of the daughters, and to Parish Priest Father Marsden and Martin Craven for giving me much of the following information.
The Presbytery in Oaklands Drive was built in 1928 by Arthur Barker, a parishioner. Until then the priest serving Hessle was the incumbent of the Church of the Holy Cross inCottingham. The first Hessle parish priest to take up residence there was Father Brunner: he now had a lovely new house but no church, and services continued to be held in the leaky, draughty ‘hut’ in Oaklands Drive. He was succeeded as parish priest by Father Connelly, and eventually became bishop of the diocese.
When the three Connaughton sisters first attended Mass, the organist used to arrive by bicycle from St Wilfred’s Church in Hull. Father Connelly asked if any of their family could play, and the strong musical relationship between the Connaughton girls and the church was born. Kitty played the first night and Mary took over to become the resident organist. Bob Luke was the original choirmaster, followed by Dot, and the girls continued to be the bedrock of the church music for many years.
Father Fox was the next parish priest, but he retired due to illness and was followed by Father Toner, who had been the first curate. The parish included St Joseph’s at Fiveways at this time. After the war, Mass centres were set up in Brough and Anlaby, and St Joseph’s became a separate parish with its own Presbytery.
When Father Currie became the parish priest, church services were still held in ‘the hut’, a wooden structure in Oaklands Drive which had been an Army hut in the First World War. The roof leaked and it was freezing cold in winter, except for the area round the stove, which grew so hot that the thud of bodies was not uncommon as the nearest members of the congregation succumbed to the heat. The seats were wooden benches, some of which had been reclaimed from the bombed St Wilfred’s Church in Hull, and were made of ash, with metal ends. They were so rickety that if one person began to shiver the entire row shook, making a welcome diversion for some of the children and more frivolous members of the congregation.
Father Currie discovered that plans had been drawn for a new church, with the main door facing Oaklands Drive, but realized that if they were adapted so that it faced south on to Swanland Road the church could be made bigger. He was a dynamic man who wanted his parishioners to worship in comfort, and began to work seriously on raising money for the new build. The foundations were laid in 1939 but construction was held up by the war and the bricks were used to build air raid shelters.
Before the outbreak of war, a group of 12 ladies had approached Father Currie, intending to form a sewing group to raise funds for the new church. He gave them £20 (a lot of money in those days) and asked if they thought they would be able to double it (mindful, perhaps, of the Parable of the Talents). The ladies responded to the challenge magnificently and doubled the money many times over – in fact, Dot says they ‘knitted the church’. The group met socially once a week at each other’s houses, taking orders for anything from jumpers to pyjamas, and when the funds for the church were complete they started on the church hall.
Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in Hessle and the surrounding villages was increasing as people moved out of Hull due to fear of air raids. One half of the church was now khaki as there were troops stationed in Hessle (the Norfolk Regiment, followed by the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers) with one splash of shocking pink due to ‘Winnie’, a flamboyant local lass who liked soldiers.
Miss Kerwin started a catechism class. Initially there were seven children and a dog, all from the same family, some of them with hearing difficulties. Mary Connaughton joined Miss Kerwin as teacher and the class began to grow.
After the war, plans for the new build took shape and Bishop Brunner laid the foundation stone on 6 August 1950. The church was built by local builder, Dave Smith, costing approximately £14,000. It opened in 1951 and was one of the first Catholic churches to be built in England after the war.
The statues of Our Lady and The Sacred Heart were transferred from the ‘hut’ to the new church. That of St Theresa was donated by a parishioner, but the history of the statue of St Joseph is not clear. The Crucifix above the altar was also donated at a later date. The Stations of the Cross were each paid for by a different family, with the bishop instructing Father Currie to buy something traditional that the parishioners could understand! The congregation looked forward to using the brand-new pews which did not creak, wobble or threaten to collapse, but they were found to have woodworm and the church had to be fumigated before they could be used.
Father Currie was conscious that some of the congregation came by public transport from Brough. The return bus did not wait for laggards, and the priest used to speed up as the service progressed to ensure they did not have a long walk home. The regulars were used to this, but visitors were sometimes shocked as his words came faster and faster and the congregation bobbed up and down like the characters in a 1920s film. Dot recalled one memorable sung Mass when he warbled ‘it’s twenty past eleven’ in the middle of the Latin chant.
The church celebrated its golden jubilee in 2001 with new stained glass by Stephen Hunter of Retford. The design chosen is entitled ‘The Stream of Life’; it depicts water flowing from the sash of the Virgin Mary into the hands of Bernadette, very appropriately for the name of the church.
From its small beginnings in a hut, the church has grown into a beautiful building, but as Father Michael O’Connor stated in the church’s golden jubilee year, it is the people – not bricks and mortar (and safe seating!) – which make the church the lovely place it is today.
REFERENCES and ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Connaughton, D. (May 2009) conversation
Craven, M. (April 2009) conversation
Marsden, Fr M. (April 2009) conversation
People of the Parish (November 2001) Middlesborough Catholic Voice
O’Connor, Fr M. (August 2001) Jubilee leaflet