Statement to the Parish of St Albans

Fr Carl Tranter, MSC, Provincial Superior, Irish Province.

June 2019

Good evening/morning

As we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, I’m here to speak to you about our presence and service to the parish of St Alban and Stephen as Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

Over the last 18 months, three members of the St Albans MSC community have died. While Frs Sandy Murray and Henry Twohig were retired members of the community, Fr Tom Hewitt was very much a key member of the Parish Team and is deeply missed. Your Parish Priest, Fr Tom Plower, has recently had a heart attack and since then has been trying to take things a little easier. He has, however, been urged by his doctors to retire from full-time ministry. I have been grateful to Fr Alan Neville for coming to St Albans to offer part- time support to Frs TJ and Jimmy over the last year while continuing his other work. But Fr Alan’s appointment as Vocations Director will come to an end soon and he is destined for another appointment in the Province.

It is in this context that I am here to share with you the sad and very difficult conclusion of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart that we can no longer continue with our ministry in St Albans. With deep regret we have decided to hand the parish back to the pastoral care of Westminster Archdiocese later this year.

Like many Religious Congregations in Europe, we are currently experiencing a period of rapid decline and diminishment in the Irish Province of the MSC. Ten of our members have died in the last year alone, and not all of them are elderly. We have only one young man in formation, preparing for final vows and later for ordination to the priesthood. As a missionary Congregation we are committed to continuing our presence and ministry in Venezuela and South Africa, but here too the last remaining Irish and English missionaries are about to retire. Sadly, the reality is that we simply do not have the personnel to provide continued ministry here in St Albans.

We began our service in St Albans 120 years ago, in 1899, at the initiative of our Founder, Fr Jules Chevalier, and it is our longest serving place of mission in England and Ireland. It has been a graced place to live and minister for successive generations of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. It has been a wonderfully alive, passionate and committed parish and it has been a privilege to be part of the joys, struggle, growth and development of the Catholic community here for the last 120 years – a time which has seen enormous changes in our country and Church as well as in this city and the parish.   Together as MSCs and parishioners many generations have celebrated their faith here through the best of times and the worst of times, including two world wars, and despite challenges and failures along the way, I know we have all sought to be authentic and credible witnesses to Christ and his Church here in St Albans. Our collective experience and memory are embedded in countless partnerships, friendships and human relationships. You will, I’m sure, appreciate how hard it has been for us to make this decision.

On this day of Pentecost especially however, we are reminded that the Church is Christ’s; assured and animated by his Spirit. It is not the possession of any one of us. The parish of St Albans does not belong to the MSCs- we are simply missionaries; those who like the disciples in today’s Gospel, have been sent by the Lord to serve. For us as MSCs our special missionary mandate is to give witness to a God who loves us with a human heart in the person of Jesus Christ. We have had the joy, honour and privilege of serving that mission here for 120 years. Now it is time for others to be sent to continue that service.

I have been in contact with the Cardinal and have been informed that he has already nominated a Parish Priest and Assistant Priest for St Albans with a view to us handing over the parish to them at the beginning of September, this being the usual time for diocesan appointments.  I understand that these appointments will be made public by the Cardinal in coming days.

I know there will be many of you who are saddened by this decision, as also there will be many MSCs. There will be ample occasion over the coming months to give thanks to God and to one another for the experience and memories of our shared Christian pilgrimage together over the last 120 years, as well as to seek forgiveness for our failings and bid farewell of each other. In the meantime, know that we will do all we can to work closely with the Archdiocese in facilitating a smooth transition.

Thank you for continuing to work in close partnership with Frs TJ, Jimmy and Alan over the coming months as we prepare for September’s handover. May the Holy Spirit who empowers us all to live fully and boldly our faith, continue to abide in and inspire the local Church here in St Albans now and in the years to come.

 

 

The formation of the parish really began in 1899, when the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were invited to take charge of the mission of St Albans centred on a small church in London Road. By 1900, it was decided a larger, more ornate church was required, so in 1903, the current church was built in Beaconsfield Road. The church was dedicated and blessed on New Year’s Day 1905. In 1959, a Mass centre started at Skyswood Primary School and later transferred to St John Fisher’s School.

Following construction of a modem presbytery and new parish centre, and with all debts cleared, the church was solemnly consecrated on the 4th May 1977.

In 2005, the church roof and all the top windows were replaced. In the mid-1960s, side aisles were added, the Church was lengthened towards the railway, and the tower added. The Church was then very much as we see it today.

Over the years, parishioners have responded to the need for collaborative ministries in sacramental preparation and liturgical participation. From the 1970s there has been a continuing outreach to other churches. This is a very active parish with over 40 groups serving its various needs. Many small Christian communities meet to share their understanding of the Faith.

Another great spiritual resource is the Prayer Room which enables Parishioners to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

In 2013, the Sacred Heart Centre was opened, following a complete renovation of the meeting rooms and hall, and provides a welcoming space for parish groups to interact.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were founded by a diocesan priest, Jules Chevalier, in Issoudun, France, in 1854. He was touched by the sufferings of the people and saw this human tragedy calling for compassion. He baceme a missionary of God’s love and dedicated his life to a single goal: ‘May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved.’ The MSCs are represented in all continents, where they continue Fr Jules’ missionary ministry of love.

A more detailed history of the parish from the first beginnings in 1840 and of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in St Albans since 1899 has been written by one of our late parishioners, James Corbett.

James Corbett “Celebration; The story of a parish. SS Alban and Stephen 1840-1990” 1990
ISBN 0 9517037 0 6

James Corbett “The Faithful Years; The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in St Albans 1899-1999” 1999
ISBN 0 9517037 3 6