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160 Years of Catholic Presence in Commercial Road

On Gaudete Sunday, 11 December, Bishop Nicholas visited the parish of St Mary and St Michael, Commercial Road, to celebrate Mass on the 160th anniversary of the founding of the parish.

In his homily he compared the parish to John the Baptist in the way in which both make it their mission to point to Jesus as the one to save the world:

'“He is the one.” That is what John the Baptist was saying. “He is the one who will save the world.” For one hundred and sixty years, St Mary & St Michael’s has been saying the same: “He is the one. Jesus is the one who will save you.” Lots of traditional paintings of John the Baptist show him with his finger pointing behind him. Why? Because his mission was to point out the one who was coming to save the world.

'The one hundred and sixty years a church has stood on this site, it has been doing the same: pointing the way to Christ. Standing here all these years on Commercial Road, it has been an extraordinarily powerful sign of Jesus’s presence among us. It stands like John the Baptist, saying, “Here is the one: come, enter, see and believe.”'

Bishop Nicholas paid tribute to the generosity and devotion of parishioners in the nineteenth century who, despite facing financial hardship, persisted in the great work that was to become known for many years as the Cathedral of the East End:

'It took your ancestors fourteen years to create this church, from the building of a simple brick wall around the land in 1844 to the opening of the church on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1856. The church was built out of the generosity of parishioners who paid their penny every week to Fr William Kelly as he made his regular visit. Just one year before the opening, in 1855, there was the famous freezing over of the Thames: it meant many parishioners lost their livelihoods because they depended for employment on a flowing river.

'Still the Catholics of this parish achieved their target and the church was opened on 8 December of the following year. In this Mass, we give thanks for the generosity of all who made the building of this church possible.  We thank God for all the graces given in and through this place.'