History of the Parish

In July 2009 the Whitefield parishes of St. Michael’s and St. Bernadette’s were amalgamated into one parish. Below is a brief history of Whitefield. Expand the links below for a more detailed history of the individual parishes.

Early days

3rd December 1952 Fr. Denis Lee, of Our Lady of Grace, Prestwich is appointed by the Bishop, Right Rev H V Marshall to start a new mission in the Whitefield area

Sunday 21st December 1952 The first Mass is celebrated at 9am in the dance room of the old Liberal Club in Morley St in the presence of about 120 people. The second Mass is at 11am.

Christmas Eve 1952 to Good Friday (3rd April) 1953 Fr Lee lives as the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin of 7 Pinfold Lane.

February 1953 A dwelling house, 388 Bury New Rd Whitefield, is secured as a Presbytery.

7th April 1953 After prolonged negotiations, Whitefield Council agrees to the transfer of approximately 4 acres of land to the Diocese of Salford for the purpose of erecting a Church, School and Presbytery.

21st July 1954 Permission is granted by the Finance Board, and the plan is passed for the erection of a new church, although only the first stage is permitted with the plan for extending the church in future years approved. The presbytery plan is approved, but the build is postponed for financial reasons.

26th March 1955 The Foundation Stone of the church is laid by the Vicar General, Monsignor J Cunningham. Bishop Marshall is ill and unable to officiate.

(However, Bishop Marshall’s name appears on the stone)

11th February 1956 St Bernadette’s Church is opened and blessed by the Bishop, Most Rev G A Beck. Solemn High Mass is celebrated by Fr Lee with Fr O’Keeffe of Nottingham Diocese as Deacon and Fr V Fay as Sub deacon in the presence of many clergy and a full church.

Architects Reynolds and Scott. Builders Thomas Campion and Son.

Total contract £22,446.10s.

Bishop Beck suggests that a presbytery is built as soon as possible.

14th August 1958 Fr Lee takes up residence in the new presbytery (same architects and builders) the property at 388 Bury New Road is sold.

1960 A Parochial Chalice is purchased made from parishioner’s offerings of old gold and silver amounting to a value of £80.

26th November 1961 The parish hall is opened and blessed by the Vicar General, Monsignor A McNulty. The architect, Leo Bellotti and the quantity surveyor, Patrick Norton are both parishioners, saving the parish ‘many hundreds of pounds’ (Fr Lee).

The hall is made possible by a gift of £5,000 towards the parish debt from Our Lady of Grace parish through Fr Denis O’Brien.

The site (2,232 sq yds) is purchased from Whitefield UDC for £325.00.

17th February 1965 The new Sanctuary and side chapels are blessed by the Bishop, Right Rev T Holland.

28th January 1966 Bishop Holland makes the first formal Episcopal Visitation of the parish.

Clergy

3rd December 1952 - 18th September 1974 Fr Denis Lee Parish Priest.

On 18th September 1974 Fr Lee died following a heart attack. He is buried in St Mary’s Cemetery Moston.

March - September 1967 Fr Thomas Lyons assistant priest (afterwards PP St Michaels Whitefield)

10th September 1970 - 16th May 1975 Fr John Williams assistant priest (afterwards assistant priest St Mary’s Levenshulme)

9th October 1974 - 1994 Fr Michael Joseph Feeley Parish Priest (afterwards?)

16th May 1975 - 9th September 1980 Fr Myles Sheahan assistant priest (afterwards assistant priest St Catherine’s Didsbury)

1994 - 1997 Fr Terence P Drainey Parish Priest (afterwards Spiritual Director at the English College, Valladolid

15th September 1997 - Present Fr Christopher Lough Parish Priest

7th October 1997 - 31st August 1999 Fr Philip Brady assistant priest (afterwards Chaplain to Trafford General Hospital)

31st August 1999 - 25th August 2001 Fr Christopher Dawson assistant priest, also Chaplain to St Matthew High School Moston (afterwards to Rome, at the request of the Bishop, undertaking further studies in Canon Law)

Buildings

8th January 1968 The new Primary School is opened for classes and on 22nd May 1968 the Solemn Blessing and opening of the school is performed by Bishop Holland.

November 1970 The Parish Hall and Social Club is extended at a cost of £6,361.

30th October 1975 Following a proposal by Fr Feeley, the Members of the Social Club pass a resolution that the club should in future be known as St Bernadette’s Social Centre.

July 1989 After three years of fund-raising and construction work completed by voluntary labour the Scout Group open their new building.

23rd April 2001 St Bernadette’s Nursery opens. Funding from the LEA being repeatedly refused, the three prefab units are provided by a former parishioner, Mr. Eamonn O’Donoghue, refurbished and equipped by a combination of government grants, PTA and school fund, plus a loan from parish funds, with the approval of the Board of Administration.

Events and visitations

14th January 1973 Bishop Holland Visitation

12th June 1973 St Bernadette’s Church is consecrated by Bishop Holland 11th February 1975 Fr Feeley is inducted by Very Rev P Mulcahy

6th February 1977 Bishop Geoffrey Burke Visitation. Confirmation of 220 children.

22nd June 1977 Parish Celebration of Fr Feeley’s Silver Jubilee of Ordination 21st December 1977 Parish Celebration of the Silver Jubilee of the foundation of the Parish.

30th April - 14th May 1978 Parish Mission led by Passionist priests.

Sunday 11th August 1979 The school is badly damaged by fire. After the summer holiday 60 children are temporarily accommodated at St Michael’s school. The Junior Department is re-opened on 1st September 1980 after reconstruction costing £67,000.

24th April 1981 At St Bernadette’s, Bishop Burke Commissions about 60 Lay Ministers of Holy Communion, for parishes in the Bury Deanery.

5th July 1981 Bishop Holland Visitation. Confirmation of 200 children.

February 1982 Announcement of the Pope’s visit to Great Britain 28th May - 1st June. Preparations, practical and spiritual, begin immediately. Many parishioners contribute in various ways to both the organisation and celebration at Heaton Park.

July 1982 Brian Kealey ordained Deacon at Ushaw College Saturday 23rd July 1983 Fr Brian Kealey is the first man from the parish to be ordained priest. Bishop Burke performs the ceremony followed by a Reception in the Social Centre. Celebrations continue on Sunday 24th with Fr Kealey’s First Mass and ‘general rejoicing…an epoch-making day in the history of St Bernadette’s Parish’(Fr Feeley)

June 1984 Fr Frank Moran appointed by the Home Office Chaplain to Strangeways Prison takes up residence at Rufford Close Whitefield

September 1984 After consultation, Saturday evening Mass is introduced. At 6.30pm it replaces the Sunday evening Mass.

3rd March 1985 Bishop Burke Visitation.

July 1985 Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament started on Saturdays 11 - 12 noon.

31st December 1985 The outstanding debt of £5,039 owed by the parish to the Diocesan Trustees is paid off.

‘The Parish is clear of debt for the first time.’ (Fr Feeley)

18th July 1987 Fr Barry O’Sullivan is ordained by Bishop Burke at St Bernadette’s.

13th October 1989 Bishop Patrick Kelly Visitation. Bishop Kelly opens and blesses the new Scout Headquarters and also opens for use the new ramped entrance to the Church.

July 1991 Mr. Ron Greenall retires as Head Teacher of St Bernadette’s Primary School. Mr. Desmond Burns is appointed to replace him.

29th March - 5th April 1992 Parish Mission led by Fr Don O’Connell and Eamonn Flanagan CM.

6th March 1993 Celebrations to mark the 25th Anniversary of the opening of St Bernadette’s School.

4th July 1993 Fr Gerard Murphy is ordained by Bishop Kelly at St Bernadette’s.

4th September 1993 Dom Matthew Carney OSB (Mark Carney) is ordained at Belmont Abbey Hereford.

Christmas 1993 ‘Splendid attendance at all three Masses. Total attendance estimated at 1160.’ (Fr Feeley)

15th September 1997 Fr Christopher Lough takes up residence as Parish Priest. He also continues his role as diocesan advisor for adult education.

14th August 2000 Fr Lough relinquishes his post as advisor for adult education. He leaves for a study sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California. In his absence Fr Dawson is appointed priest-in-charge.

19th December 2000 Fr Lough returns as full time Parish Priest.

23rd April 2001 St Bernadette’s Nursery opens.

1st January 2002 The parish enters its Golden Jubilee year. A number of pastoral, spiritual and social events are planned.

24th February - 2nd March 2002 A week of guided prayer led by Salford Prayer Guides. 24 parishioners take part in preparation for the parish Golden Jubilee.

20th - 21st April 2002 An exhibition of Parish Groups and Organisations Takes place in the Social Centre.

29th June 2002 the Manchester Chorale give a concert in church, the first time the building has been used in this way.

6th December 2002 Bishop Terence Brain presides at a Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving for the 50 years of St Bernadette’s Parish. Priests who worked, were ordained or originated from the parish were invited, as were other local parish communities. ‘Organisation was superb and it was a great team effort by the parishioners’ (Fr Lough)

22nd July 2003 Fr Chris Lough, and the Parish, celebrate his Silver Jubilee of Ordination to the Priesthood.

October 2003 The Bishop decides that St Bernadette’s parish will amalgamate with St Michael’s Whitefield at an unspecified date in the future. There will be two churches, two schools and one priest.

10th February 2004 An open meeting is held at St Michael’s Whitefield for parishioners of both parishes to discuss the future amalgamation. The meeting is friendly and open to prepare the way for change.

Early days

The foundations of St. Michael’s Parish, Hillock, under the auspices of Bishop Holland of Salford, were laid - in builder’s hut!

Hillock was built in three phases and as each phase was completed the workmen’s hut moved on and so did the parish Masses, for it was indeed here where the early Masses were celebrated.

The first hut was just off Mersey Drive. Mrs. Lamb tells us that old curtains donated by neighbours were used to cover the workmen’s coats, shoes and tools. "They looked like Joseph’s coat of many colours," she added. The workmen’s dinner table became the altar and sheets were used as altar cloths. Joe Murty remembers that they "…had to watch out for nails" as they knelt down and Diane Musk recalls that "…the hut had a large fire burner at its centre…..to be late meant a seat by this fire and to be roasted alive for an hour." Marie Mardy says that sitting round that fire was "like Christmas at Bethlehem!"

As the estate developed, the hut moved to Derwent Avenue and it was Mrs. Garvey’s job to light the fire before Mass started. It was here that Bishop Burke, the auxiliary Bishop of Salford, paid the "parish" a visit. Bob Johnson (St. Michael’s Matters) says that it was "…a happy, sunny day and the mud had dried, leaving the hut looking quite respectable!"

The third and last hut where Mass was celebrated was near Elton Close. It was at this time that evening Masses had been introduced and as winter approached and the days shortened, electricity was needed. Power was carried from a kind parishioner’s house nearby. Mr. Johnson smiled as he reminisced about the time when there was a power cut and "…light was provided from the headlights of a car by having it as near as possible to the hut and by lighting candles on the altar."

Fr. Lyons, the first parish priest of St. Michael’s, used his Morris Minor Estate car as the parish sacristy and storeroom except for the confessional. This was constructed from two 6ft by 3ft sheets of hardboard and wooden frames hinged together. For many months this contraption lived in a garage and was transported on a car roof-rack back and forth to the hut each Saturday evening. One can imagine the puzzled look of passing motorists and pedestrians!

The key to whichever hut was in use was always left under the flag near the door. Using this, every Saturday a few energetic ladies - Alice Schofield, Ethel Kenning, Mary Morley and Miriam Lamb - with mops, buckets and disinfectant attempted to clean the hut. Bob Johnson describes the scene for us "…mud, dirty tables, benches and floors, muddy wellies, sometimes muddy pin-ups, pot and enamel mugs on rafter nails, muddy donkey-jackets, spades, shovels, half a sandwich and general clutter…" But the Mass was celebrated with great joy and reverence!

The early days were hard work but exciting and amidst the Hillock mud the parish spirit became alive. But the parishioners remember that it was through the generosity of Manchester City Council that the parish community was able to meet at all.

St. Michael’s Infant and Junior Schools were completed and ready for use in 1968. It was then that the parish had the luxury of celebrating Mass in a clean environment with electricity in the Infant School. Eventually, in 1969 the new Church hall, designed by L.L. Bellotti (Architects) and built by Arthur J. Franks Ltd. at a cost of £8000 became the home of parish masses and social events. This building was essentially a wooden structure in which approximately 250 members of the congregation could meet.

Most people on the Hillock Estate at this time were struggling to furnish new homes that were larger that those they had left behind. And it was the same with the new Church. It is reported that members of the congregation used to donate 15 shillings to buy a chair for the Church. Dedicated men such as Joe Murty, Joe Durkin and Bernard O’Connor helped to build up the parish practically and spiritually. Furniture that was no longer needed was collected from former parishes, such as St. Alban’s near the centre of Manchester, and George Sambrook, one of the parishioner’s, made the altar that has been in use ever since. The 4ft high crucifix that is still on the wall behind the altar was paid for by a donation of £25 from the Mothers’ Union and £4 from another source, known only to Fr. Lyons. The Moran family, formerly of Hillock Farm, on whose land the Hillock estate was built, donated a chalice to the parish.

Bishop Burke performed the ceremony for the opening of St. Michael’s schools and Church hall on 23rd July 1969.

The parish of St. Michael’s was up and running!

The Church hall, now the Church itself, was intended to be a temporary building, to last no longer than 25 years. The fact that it has served St. Michael’s community for over 30 years is a testimony to the architects and builders in that it has sustained spiritual and community needs for so long.

Over the thirty-four years that St. Michael’s has been in existence, the parish has grown, expanded and encroached in the area that encircles the Hillock estate and has officially incorporated parts of St. Bernadette’s and Our Lady of Grace parishes.

A new church

As far back as 1969, the field next to the presbytery was set aside in readiness for the building of the new church and money was raised through social events and Christmas and Summer Fairs. Since then several presentations were made to the Diocese for permission to construct a permanent place of worship, always with a less than positive outcome. Diane Musk tells us that "we believed that a church would follow the church hall but despite Fr. Lyons’ dreams and the endeavours of Fr. Cunningham and Fr. Hughes we "were" still using the same hall." Mrs. Chrissy Garvey a parishioner for thirty-four years speaks for many when she says that "I never thought that I would see "a new church" open."

So, what brought about the change of heart?

It all started at the Parish General Meeting in October 1993 when the parish community made it clear to their then new Parish Priest, Fr. Rowan, that they were annoyed, disappointed even angry that they still had no new church after twenty-five years of waiting. Fr. Rowan’s response was, "If you want it, do something about it!" The parish then, with Fr. Rowan’s support, did just that!

A new church planning committee was established. This committee re-opened discussions with the Diocesan Administration Board during which they made the case for the new church. The main tenet of the argument was that the twenty-five year old temporary church building was not going to last. This was ratified by committee member Barry Kavanagh in his capacity as a structural engineer. It followed that if there was no church building then the parish of St. Michael’s would not survive and amalgamation with neighbouring parishes was in the offing. That would have been "really grim" commented Angela Still. In its favour, however, St. Michael’s had a thriving Primary School and a parish school needed a parish church.

In 1994, after lengthy consideration, the Diocese decided to allow St. Michael’s to build - if viability could be proven.

The requisites laid down were:

  • that the parish had to have sufficient weekly income
  • it had to show that the parish was growing
  • it had to have saved 75% of the total cost of the building

The Diocese had thrown down the gauntlet and the parish picked it up!

The weekly collection was augmented by direct debit donations and an extra Building Collection every month, by the 200 Club, by the ‘Buy a Brick’ promotion and by the covenant scheme. A parish census was taken and Mass attendances counted.

The greatest problem was deciding what type of building was needed in the twenty-first century, what would it cost and how could the parish raise the necessary 75%.

Bishop Kelly, on a visit to St. Michael’s in 1996, suggested that the parish should build the church "from the inside out" by looking at all the parochial needs - spiritual, physical and social - and then design a modern, vandal-proof building around those needs. "Bishop Kelly even took the trouble to draw us a pencil sketch", John Green tells us. He also encouraged parishioners to visit other parish centres in order to clarify what would be best for St. Michael’s.

As a result, it was agreed that a church centre of 300 square metres would be required at a total cost of approximately £347,000. The parish now had a target to aim for.

From then on serious fund-raising events were undertaken. They included, amongst others, dances, sponsored walks, race nights, car rallies, jumble sales etc. The event that proved to be the most humorous was the Donkey Derby, whilst the most profitable without a doubt were the extremely successful car boot sales, particularly as they brought in money from a wider area. Angela Still recalls that these started very tentatively in a small way and grew to become one of the "big four" in the locality. But not only did they fill the building fund coffers, they put the small parish of St. Michael’s on the map. Whitefield now knew the name of St. Michael’s, where it was and that it was a force to be reckoned with.

The Diocesan Administration Board was very impressed with the raising of building funds, with the negotiating committee who, according to Fr. Bulfin, the Diocesan administrator, "were full of enthusiasm and seemed to have the pulse of the parish" and with the good case that they had made. Paul Keane, a member of the planning committee says that "we (the negotiators) were not going to go away … we collected facts and meticulously built up a momentum….we produced statistics from other parishes of a similar size….we showed that new houses were being built in the area….and that the parish was not dying."

But in the ongoing absence of a bishop, as Bishop Kelly had moved on to Liverpool, making a decision was proving difficult. It was with "relief"(Paul Keane) then that on his arrival the new Bishop of Salford, Bishop Brain, committed himself to St. Michael’s cause when he expressed his view that the church building is "a sign of the community" and is a place where a priest could visit if there was a shortage of clergy. So it was in April 1998 that the Board finally gave its consent to St. Michael’s to build the new church at long last.

And only 50% of the costs had to be met before the building began!

Everything moved very quickly from then on. Three architects’ plans were posted in the church for the parishioners to peruse and the one designed by Greenhalgh and Williams was chosen. The parish was persuaded by the Diocese to opt for this design in preference to the parishioners’ first choice, primarily for security reasons. The tender by the builders Carefoot was accepted and in January 2000 the first sod was turned. St. Michael’s new church was on its way! Back once again to the mud!

Prior to the nineteenth century, Whitefield was only a hamlet housing hand-loom weavers, small tradesmen and farmers.

The commonly held belief that Whitefield derived its name from the fields where white woollens were spread to be dried and bleached is somewhat doubtful as Whitefield had its name before the Flemings settled in Bury and established woollen crafts. Rather the name may mean a field of white flowers or may be a derivation of "Wheatfield".

In the early nineteenth century cotton became king and four factories with power looms were erected in the Unsworth and Moss Lane area so that by 1852 workers’ houses had been constructed and hand-loom weaving had almost died out.

By 1866 the hamlet of Whitefield had grown larger and combined with other villages to become the township of Whitefield.

In the year 1879 the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway opened a line from Bury to Manchester. Now as it was no longer a country district, Whitefield developed into a dormitory town of Manchester, and so by the first half of the twentieth century Whitefield had become far more residential.

It was in the 1950s when Whitefield U.DC. agreed that Hillock District should be used as an overspill estate for 8,000 Manchester people. Hillock, probably named after a small hill to be found at the north-eastern end of Albert Road (Ordnance Survey map of Whitefield, U.D. & P.H., 1965) was only a tiny linear hamlet straddling Hillock Lane, now part of Oak Lane. In 1965-1966 the area between Oak Lane and Moss Lane was transformed from meadowland into a Manchester council estate. The council houses were built to accommodate families who were living in the older areas of Manchester such as Ancoats, Beswick, Cheetham Hill, Collyhurst and Miles Platting, which were due to be demolished and made ready for urban renewal.

This became known as the Hillock Estate.

It was populated by strangers who became the first settlers of a new suburb; strangers who brought their different qualities, a variety of cultures and their diverse religious beliefs with them to become the close-knit neighbourhood of Hillock, Whitefield. The Lamb family, who left Miles Platting and their parish St. Edmund’s in 1965, were one of the first to settle on the estate. They came to a house with the "luxury" of a garden. In 1966, Diane Musk (St. Michael’s Matters Magazine) tells us how excited her parents were at moving to a "brand-new house which had an inside toilet" and "a bathroom…"

St Bernadette’s Parish had been formed in 1952 but the rapid growth in Whitefield’s population from 14,370 in 1961 to 21,830 in 1971 meant that additional services and amenities were required. It became obvious that with the ever-growing Catholic community on the Hillock estate a new church was needed. Ex-parishioners of St. Anne’s, Ancoats, St. Bridget’s, Bradford, St. Aloysius’, Ardwick to name but a few, found that the nearest parishes were St. Bernadette’s, Whitefield and Our Lady of Grace, Prestwich. Chrissy Garvey says that they all walked to Our Lady of Grace church whilst Diane recalls that "…Sunday became like an expedition. We were hauled out of bed even earlier than usual to make the hike to St. Bernadette’s. It was like miles to us little ones…"

It was on the Hillock estate, where there was no Catholic church or school, that the Parish of St. Michael’s was born.

PHOTOS