On Sunday 16th February, parishioners at Our Lady Help of Christians in Kentish Town marked the 50th anniversary of worship in their present church with a special Mass celebrated by Cardinal Vincent.
The first gathering of Catholics in Kentish Town was led by Fr Hardinge Ivers, who made several attempts to establish a church in the local area in the 19th century. Eventually, after the Restoration of the Hierarchy, Cardinal Wiseman gave funds for a new church in Fortess Road, thus providing a permanent home for the parish.
From 1859 until 1970 the parish was based in the small church in Fortess Road, but, as more Catholics moved to the area, a larger building was needed. Fr Bernard Ferry arranged a deal whereby the local Methodists and Catholics exchanged their buildings. In 1970, the Methodists moved to Fortess road and the Catholics took over their church in Lady Margaret Road. It was Fr Bernard Ferry who recognised the overcrowding in the 1960s and negotiated the swap with the Methodist community, although he didn't live to see the move.
In his homily for the anniversary Mass, the Cardinal quoted Jenny Rossiter, who wrote a history of the parish: ‘If you're ever bored at Mass, look at these wonderful pillars, and the ones up above as well, and wonder how such slender pillars are strong enough to hold up the whole of the balcony around the church. The wonders of Victorian engineering.’ He also pointed out the stained glass window at the back with the image of Our Lady which was brought from the old church.
The Cardinal also paid tribute to the parish priests who have served Kentish Town. ‘One of the priests who played a big part in shaping this church is not here. Fr George Stack is now Archbishop in Cardiff, but while he was here, he reshaped the aisles, restored the organ and generally put a great deal of effort into creating here a place that was home for this Catholic community.’
Cardinal Vincent went on to name the former parish priests of Kentish Town who were present: Canon Pat Browne, Parish Priest in Pimlico and Duty Priest to Parliament, Canon Stuart Wilson, Spiritual Director at Allen Hall Seminary, and Fr Tom Forde (recently retired), and thanked them for ‘all the work that they've done and the love and support that they've received from you all. And of course we come to Fr John Deehan, new here comparatively speaking. I know that he gives his all and keeps this community together and present before the Lord.’
Cardinal Vincent reiterated the message shared by Cardinal Hume when the church was consecrated in 1979. The church is a building, but ‘we are all of us, you and me, also the church. That moment of consecration of the church was like a renewal of our own dedication, consecration, our baptism, by which each one of us is drawn into the Body of Christ, and becomes a member of this living church.’