A Decision to Save and Secure English Martyrs’ Church, Preston – now and for the future




(Part of the Parish of St John XXIII)


Sunday 9 July 2017

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It is 150 years since the current church of St Thomas of Canterbury & the English Martyrs was officially opened by Bishop Goss of Liverpool. Of course, the mission of English Martyrs was not always so majestic. Bishop Goss appointed Father James Taylor to a house called Wren’s Cottage half a mile or so away from the present church. The stable at Wren’s Cottage was converted into a chapel which could hold 145 people!  The first Mass was celebrated here on 25 December 1864. Plans were very quickly drawn up to build a church that could accommodate a larger congregation.  This church, where you sit today, was designed by the renowned Edward Welby Pugin.

On 1 December 1867, the new church was officially opened by Bishop Goss and, after significant enlargement, later re-opened on 8 February 1888 in a Mass with as many as seven bishops present. It was only on 14 September 1921 when all the debt was re-paid that the church was consecrated.

Of course, with the city centre depopulation in the 1950s and 60s Mass attendance declined significantly at English Martyrs with the parishes on the suburbs benefitting from this movement and the replacement population not being of the Catholic Faith. Consequently, the internal volume of the nave was reduced in 1965 by the creation of a narthex and baptistery at the west end. Subsequent internal changes also acknowledged this trend towards smaller numbers.

You will remember through your engagement with the Fit for Mission? consultation in 2007/2008 and a subsequent Preston review how the future of English Martyrs’ church – among others – came into very serious question in the light of much smaller and older congregations. In a bid to grapple with this reality since April 2009 there have been a series of parish linkings and mergers until 8 October 2014 when the parish of Saint John XXIII was created. Today, this parish has two churches and the pastoral care of numerous schools.

In recent years, the situation has become more acute – especially in terms of a lack of parishioners being actively involved in parish life and helping with the care of the church and grounds. In all these considerations for the future mission of English Martyrs’ Church – this capacity issue has been central.

Of course, there are those who tell us that the presence of the Catholic Church in this part of Preston is finished. I cannot agree. However, the shape of our mission will certainly have to change. On the other hand, many will criticize any effort I make to address these challenges and yet seem to offer no constructive solutions of their own. If we ignore this situation things will continue to deteriorate around us to such a point where public worship could not happen yet reactive repair and security costs would soar.

It is therefore, in the light of this undeniable reality that I can announce to you that Monsignor Gilles Wach, Prior General of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and I – together with Canon Adrian Towers – have agreed, that the Institute will assume the direct administration of English Martyrs’ church – hopefully this autumn. I am extremely grateful to the Institute for this – as they are inundated with similar requests from bishops across the world and have the proven skill, aptitude and record of expertise in the care of large and historic churches.

Already, the young priests of the Institute are doing wonderful work at St Walburge’s since their arrival there almost three years ago.  Inspired by their patron, St Francis de Sales, the Institute strives to form its people in holiness according to their motto of “teaching the truth with charity”.

This decision will enable the sustainability and care of your magnificent church so that it can be open each day for prayer and worship as a fully operational shrine church dedicated to the devotion of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs on the old Gallows Hill – with a renewed zeal and energy.  English Martyrs will remain part of the Parish of St John XXIII but will specifically provide for the celebration of Holy Mass and the other Sacraments in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite in a similar way to St Walburge’s.  I would certainly want to encourage everyone at English Martyrs to be fully involved with all that will be offered by the Institute. It is envisaged, however, that the ordinary form celebration of Mass in English, will continue to be celebrated in the church, at least for the next 12 months, each Saturday evening instead of Sunday morning – once the Institute arrive.  Attendance levels at this Mass will be carefully monitored.

Today’s decision offers a much-needed practical and pastoral help to you and your priests in order to preserve your church.  I appeal to you to give thanks to Almighty God for this diocesan initiative, which represents nothing less than my own clear and active support to save and secure English Martyrs’ Church.  This noble and historic church (a grade II listed) building will be a place of devotion and worship – open each day for everyone.  I ask for your full and active support for this decision and of course, a warm and kindly welcome for the Institute.

A unique moment of opportunity and promise lies before us.  Let us thank the Lord in this Jubilee Year for the Church of English Martyrs, for us saving and securing this landmark church and for its renewed legacy going forward. Today is indeed a day to make Catholics proud of Preston!

With sincere thanks for your attention and generous cooperation, and with the assurance of my prayers and a blessing,

As ever in Christ our Lord,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

P.S. Last Saturday we were blessed to have the Priestly Ordination of Father Daniel Etienne at St Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster.  Daniel had trained for the Priesthood for the last seven years in Rome and Oscott – as well as in several parishes of the Diocese so it was good to see the Lord’s work come to fulfillment.

Many people gathered for the Ordination as well as Father Daniel’s parents and family as well as his many friends across the parishes of the Diocese.  An Ordination is always an ‘ecclesial’ moment – when the whole Church gathers in faith – filled with joy and celebration of a new priest!

We keep this new priest in our prayers as he begins his service of God’s people in the name of the Lord who has anointed him. Father Etienne has been appointed to Blackpool and will be assured a great welcome there.

Please God, the Ordination will be a spur for more priestly vocations in the Diocese. We need many more good priests!

What was particularly striking was the great attendance of the seminarians from Oscott College supporting Father Daniel – I know many people commented upon that as a great encouragement to their faith.